Sleep disorders require attention

A healthy lifestyle is the best way to tackle sleep apnoea, which is now affecting children

Healthy living can help prevent sleep apnoea in children and adults.  Jaime Puebla / The National)
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Sleep apnoea, a debilitating and potentially fatal condition that affects many adults, is now being diagnosed in children. A study of a relatively small sample of 147 children aged between 4 and 12 suggests that as many as one in three children have some form of sleep disorder. And, as The National reports today, there seem to be clear links between sleep apnoea – which causes a drop in blood-oxygen levels, causing frequent disruptions to sleep – and lifestyle factors such as obesity.

The most obvious indicator of sleep apnoea is loud snoring, and its most common symptoms are fatigue and restlessness, which can affect performance at work and in school. As Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi notes on its website, people who suffer from sleep apnoea can also experience headaches, depression or anxiety. The condition can trigger the release of stress hormones, which raise the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, heart failure and arrhythmia. In its severest forms, it is a life-and-death issue.

While more study is needed into the links between obesity and sleep disorders, especially in children, the evidence we have already suggests that – as with type 2 diabetes and several other conditions linked with poor diet and obesity – sleep apnoea is manifesting itself earlier in the UAE than in comparable countries. The common contributor to these conditions is our unhealthy lifestyle.

As The National has said before, the combination of too much sugar and fat in our diets and not enough physical activity has created a problem across the community. When children are showing symptoms of a condition that more commonly affects people in middle age and older, there is not just a cause for concern but a compelling reason to embrace proactive health measures. While there is a need for a more extensive study, with a larger data pool, into the incidence of and treatments for sleep disorders, it is clearly established that proper diet and physical activity play an important role in the prevention of illness. The sooner we start on the path to healthier living, the better the quality of our lives.