//Dr. Vaishal Shah//
Regular bedtimes encourage restorative sleep, which supports the immune system and helps regulate appetite-control hormones
Protective measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including social distancing and studying and working from home, will inevitably have an impact on how Ramadan is observed this year, and on lifestyle habits such as sleeping patterns. A sleep medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic in the U.S. points out that greater flexibility in working hours, lack of late-night social events and increased screen time could all impact on sleep quality, which in turn affects immune system response.
According to Vaishal Shah, M.D. of Cleveland Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Center: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, people are seeking ways to optimize their immune systems, and sleep is an important component in this process. Many studies have determined that our immune response is suppressed if we do not get sufficient and consistent quality sleep, making us more susceptible to infections in general, with recovery also taking a longer time.”
He explains that during sleep, the immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help to protect against infection and inflammation. Sleep deprivation can lead to decreased production of both cytokines and infection-fighting antibodies.
In addition to supporting effective immune functioning, Dr. Shah adds that quality sleep is important during Ramadan as it regulates the hormones that control appetite, and lack of sleep could make fasting more challenging.
He advises that to get a sufficient amount of quality sleep for optimal functioning, consistency in sleep schedules is key.
“Whether you are sticking to your regular daytime schedule during Ramadan, or adapting it in accordance with mealtimes, or even staying awake at night and sleeping during the day, it is important to try to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day. This will help regulate your circadian rhythms, or internal body clock, and encourage restorative sleep,” he says.
For those people who choose to divide their sleep into a number of sessions, he advises that they should make sure there is at least one consistent longer block of continuous sleep that is at least five or six hours long.
For those who turn night into day, his additional advice is that at the end of Ramadan, they should adjust back to their normal routine slowly, moving their bedtime and waking-up time by a few hours every day, so that their body clock can adjust more easily.
Another factor that could influence quality of sleep during this specific Ramadan, according to Dr. Shah, is screen time as many countries have imposed partial or complete lockdowns, and are encouraging social distancing, so people will turn to screens for entertainment.
“Looking at any screen that is backlit – whether it is a television, cellphone or tablet – can disrupt the body’s natural rhythms and suppress the release of sleep-regulating hormone melatonin,” he says.
He suggests encouraging children – who could be looking at screens more often than usual during homeschooling – to try to find other forms of relaxing activity at night close to bedtime that does not involve screens. He emphasizes that both children and adults should at least aim to turn off their screens within an hour before going to bed, as part of a good sleep-hygiene routine.
Other sleep hygiene factors conducive to sound sleep include ensuring an ambient temperature, a dark room and no noise.