DUBAI // After living in the UAE for three years, Peter, an Irish lawyer in Dubai, had gained 17 kilograms. Even though he exercised five days a week, he was unable to lose weight.
What the expatriate did not know was he was caught in a vicious cycle between obesity and sleep apnoea, a disorder in which a person experiences shallow breaths or pauses in breathing during sleep.
“I couldn’t sleep well and used to snore loudly,” Peter said. “I trained but I was still gaining weight.”
Peter weighed 85kg when he came to Dubai in October 2013. By last year, his weight had increased to 102kg, and four months ago he was found to be suffering from sleep apnoea.
The oxygen deprivation caused by sleep apnoea exacerbates obesity. When it is treated, metabolism can normalise and it is easier to lose weight.
Peter blamed a sedentary lifestyle for his weight gain, as well as a deviated septum that contributed to his sleep apnoea.
“Dubai is too warm to walk anywhere usually, so you miss out on even the minimal exercise like walking to work or walking to the bus or walking about at lunchtime,” he said.
With his sleep apnoea treated, he is now able to lose weight and hopes to soon be in good shape again.
UAE doctors estimate that 7 per cent to 10 per cent of the population have sleep apnoea and said sleep medicine services needed to be further developed.
Globally, between 4 per cent and 6 per cent of people have sleep apnoea.
Dr Mayank Vats, specialist pulmonologist and sleep physician at Rashid Hospital in Dubai, worked on a study on sleep apnoea in the UAE.
“The population prevalence of sleep apnoea is about 7 per cent to 10 per cent and this includes Emiratis and expatriates,” said Dr Vats. “We need more sleep clinics and sleep technicians.”
The high number of cases in the UAE is linked to sedentary lifestyles and eating habits.
Most of the patients Dr Vats sees are obese, older than 40, have snoring and sleeping problems, and feel tired and drowsy all day.
A 2013 study found that more than 20 per cent of people coming to one primary healthcare clinic in Dubai were at risk of obstructive sleep apnoea.
A review article recently published by sleep medicine doctors in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah concluded that sleep medicine services in the country were undeveloped.
“We need many more dedicated sleep labs and trained physicians and technicians,” the doctors said.
It is possible that many people suffering from sleep apnoea do not know about the symptoms.
“Signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea are considered part of life by patients and they learnt to live with it many years ago, without knowing about its significance and the risks of not getting treatment,” the article said.
Training programmes are needed to better treat sleep apnoea as well as more collaboration among hospitals, health authorities and insurance companies, experts said.
Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, medical director at the London Sleep Centre in Dubai, said the condition could be chronic and dangerous, and could cause or worsen hypertension and diabetes.
“At least 60 per cent of our patients come to us complaining of sleep apnoea,” said Dr Ebrahim. “If you have body mass index over 30 and you snore and feel sleepy in the day, you have a 97 per cent chance of having sleep apnoea.”