Asian Journal of Social Health and Behavior

: 2022  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 18--23

Anxiety-induced sleep disturbances among in-school adolescents in the United Arab Emirates: Prevalence and associated factors

Supa Pengpid1, Karl Peltzer2,  
1 ASEAN Institute for Health Development, Mahidol University, Salaya, Phutthamonthon, Nakhon Pathom, Thailand; Department of Research Administration and Development, University of Limpopo, Turfloop, South Africa
2 Department of Research Administration and Development, University of Limpopo, Turfloop, South Africa; Department of Psychology, College of Medical and Health Sciences, Asia University, Taichung, Taiwan

Correspondence Address:
Karl Peltzer
Department of Psychology, College of Medical and Health Sciences, Asia University, Taichung, Taiwan.


Introduction: The goal of the study was to estimate the prevalence of anxiety-induced sleep disturbance (AISD) and assess its relationship with psychosocial distress, socio-environmental variables, and health risk indicators among adolescent schoolchildren in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Methods: Cross-sectional data from the 2016 UAE “Global School-Based Student Health Survey” (n = 5849) were analyzed. The nationally representative sample of all students in grades 8–12 in the UAE was selected through a two-stage cluster sampling procedure. Schools were included with probability proportional to enrollment size, and classes were randomly selected, with all students present in selected classes being eligible to participate. Results: The overall prevalence of AISD was 16.2%, 11.9% had AISD among males, and 20.5% had AISD among females. In adjusted logistic regression analysis, older age (16 years or older), lower economic status (hunger), loneliness, frequent bullying victimization (10–30 days), frequently physically attacked (≥6 times), parental emotional neglect, parents never check homework, parental disrespect of privacy, passive smoking on all past 7 days, sedentary behavior (>8 h/day) during leisure time, and multiple (≥4 times) injuries were positively and being male was negatively associated with AISD. Conclusion: Almost one in six participants reported AISD, and several factors associated with AISD were identified.

How to cite this article:
Pengpid S, Peltzer K. Anxiety-induced sleep disturbances among in-school adolescents in the United Arab Emirates: Prevalence and associated factors.Asian J Soc Health Behav 2022;5:18-23

How to cite this URL:
Pengpid S, Peltzer K. Anxiety-induced sleep disturbances among in-school adolescents in the United Arab Emirates: Prevalence and associated factors. Asian J Soc Health Behav [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 16 ];5:18-23
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Mental disorders constitute a major burden among adolescents,[1] including 6.5% of any anxiety disorder globally.[2] “Generalised anxiety disorder in a child or adolescent is excessive worry and tension about everyday events that the child or adolescent cannot control and that is expressed on most days for at least 6 months, to the extent that there is distress or difficulty in performing day-to-day tasks.”[3] During adolescence, sleep problems may increase due to various stressors, such as substance use, emotional problems, and worries, contributing negatively to physical and mental health.[4],[5] “During adolescence, worry becomes more prominent with the development of abstract thinking and the cognitive ability to foresee multiple negative outcomes.”[6] Worry or anxiety-induced sleep disturbance (AISD) could be conceptualized as one of the psychological distress, including “symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and somatic complaints.”[7]

In a large multicountry adolescent school survey,[8] 7.8% of the students reported AISD “worried about something that you could not sleep at night in the past 12 months”, with 17.9% in Qatar and 18.9% in Kuwait, as examples of countries in the Middle East. In two small local school surveys in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), high proportions of depressive symptoms (17.2%)[9] and anxiety disorders (28%)[10] have been reported. National studies on AISD among adolescents are needed to inform school health policies, which, to our knowledge, are lacking in the UAE.

Factors associated with AISD among adolescents many include psychosocial distress[11] (loneliness,[12] social isolation,[13] and aggression[12],[13]), socio-environmental factors[11] (hunger,[14] and low support[13],[14],[15],[16]), health risk behaviors[11] (substance use,[14],[17],[18] internet addiction,[19] injury,[20] and poor diet and sedentary behavior[8],[20],[21],[22]), and respiratory symptoms.[23] The present analysis aimed at estimating the national prevalence of AISD and assessed its relationship with psychosocial distress, socio-environmental variables, and health risk indicators among adolescent schoolchildren in the UAE.


Study population and sampling

Cross-sectional secondary data from the “2016 UAE Global School-Based Student Health Survey (GSHS)” were analyzed;[24] the overall response rate was 80%.[24] The 2016 UAE GSHS dataset is publicly available from the World Health Organization Noncommunicable Disease (NCD) Microdata Repository.[24] “A two-stage cluster sampling design was used to generate a national representative country sample.”[24] “Schools were selected with a probability proportional to the sample size, and school classes of students in grades 8–12 within schools were randomly selected.”[24] “All students in the selected classes were eligible to take part in the survey regardless of their age.”[24] Data were collected with a self-administered instrument translated into Arabic, and pilot tested in the field and fine-tuned for use in the survey.[25] Test and retest reliability has been proven for the US Youth Risk Behavior Survey instrument, which is similar to the GSHS instrument,[26] and for the GSHS instrument, the test–retest reliability found that “the average agreement between test and retest was 77%, and the average Cohen's kappa was 0.47.”[27] The UAE Ministry of Health provided ethics approval and written informed consent was obtained from parents and students.[24]


AISD was measured with the item “During the past 12 months, how often have you been so worried about something that you could not sleep at night?” and defined as “mostly or always,” as in previous research.[8] “Emotional neglect was defined as never parental, or guardian understanding of your problems and worries? AND never parents or guardians really know what you were doing with your free time when you were not at school or work?”[28] Cronbach's alpha for the emotional neglect index was 0.7 in this study. Further items of the questionnaire are indicated in [Supplementary File 1].[INLINE:1]

Ethical consideration

As the study was secondary data analysis from the “2016 UAE Global School-Based Student Health Survey (GSHS). So further ethical code was not acquired.

Statistical analysis

Statistical procedures were conducted with “STATA software version 15.0 (Stata Corporation, College Station, Texas, USA).” Sampling design and weighting of the data were taken into account in all analyses with Taylor linearization methods. Associations between psychosocial distress, socio-environmental variables, health-risk indicators, and AISD were tested with univariate and multivariable logistic regression; variables significant in univariate analysis were included in the multivariable model. Missing values were excluded from the analysis, and P < 0.05 was accepted as significant.


Sample and anxiety-induced sleep disturbance characteristics

In all, 5849 school adolescents (median age: 15 and interquartile range: 2 years) participated, 50.3% were female, and 9.0% reported experiencing frequent hunger (or low economic status). Almost one in six students (16.2%) reported AISD, 20.5% AISD among females, and 11.9% AISD among males. Further sample details are described in [Table 1] and [Table 2].{Table 1}{Table 2}

Associations with anxiety-induced sleep disturbance

In adjusted logistic regression analysis, older age (16 years or older) (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]: 1.70, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.26–2.31), lower economic status (feeling hungry) (AOR: 1.62, 95% CI: 1.22–2.14), loneliness (AOR: 4.78, 95% CI: 3.77–6.06), frequent bullying victimization (10–30 days) (AOR: 3.09, 95% CI: 1.83–5.21), frequently physically attacked (≥6 times) (AOR: 1.81, 95% CI: 1.11–2.97), parental emotional neglect (AOR: 1.98, 95% CI: 1.43–2.75), parents never check homework (AOR: 1.24, 95% CI: 1.02–1.52), parental disrespect of privacy (AOR: 1.69, 95% CI: 1.21–2.37), exposure to secondary smoke (AOR: 1.54, 95% CI: 1.11–2.13), sedentary behavior (>8 h/day) during leisure time (AOR: 1.65, 95% CI: 1.18–2.30), and multiple (≥4 times) serious injuries (AOR: 2.49, 95% CI: 1.28–3.68) were positively and being male (AOR: 0.37, 95% CI: 0.28–0.48) was negatively associated with AISD. Moreover, in univariate analysis, school truancy, having no close friends, frequent involvement in physical fights, and soft-drink and fast-food consumption were associated with AISD [Table 3].{Table 3}


The proportion of AISD (16.2%) found in this investigation among adolescents in the UAE was similar to Kuwait (18.9%) and Qatar (17.9%) but much higher than globally (7.8%).[8] Findings seem to confirm the high prevalence of mental problems (depressive symptoms 17.2% and anxiety disorders 28%[9],[10]) among adolescents in the UAE, emphasizing the need for mental health promotion in this school population.

In agreement with former research,[20] female sex was associated with AISD. Al-Yateem et al.[10] propose that several contextual factors may be contributing to higher anxiety symptoms in girls than in boys in the UAE, including being raised to a great extent by a maid[29] and strict traditional rules placing “extra pressure on girls and women, and limiting their life choices (e.g., study, career, and travel).” Furthermore, sex-specific coping styles to respond to stressors may make girls more vulnerable to AISD.[13],[30] Consistent with a study in Tanzania,[14] AISD increased with age. Compared to younger adolescents, older adolescents engaged more likely in tobacco use, truancy, sedentary behavior, passive smoking, parental emotional neglect, and were more lonely (analysis not shown) in this study, contributing to an increase of AISD among older adolescents.[5]

In line with previous results,[12] loneliness increased the odds of AISD. Social skills programs to address loneliness may be indicated to reduce AISD.[12],[31] Furthermore, being physically attacked and bullying victimization was associated with AISD, which is consistent with previous studies.[12],[13] The worry of being attacked or bullied may negatively impact on the sleep of adolescents.[12],[32] Consistent with other studies,[13],[14],[15],[16] the association between low parental support and AISD emphasizes the importance of parental support programs.

In line with previous research,[8],[14],[18],[20],[21],[22] various health risk behaviors (sedentary, injury, and substance use) were associated with AISD in this study. The link between high sedentary behavior and sleep disturbance has been shown in a systematic review,[33] which may increase with longer screen time.[34] Several possible mechanisms, such as increased inflammatory processes, have been described to explain the association between sedentary behavior and AISD.[8],[35] Students with AISD may accumulate sleep debt over time, making them more vulnerable to sustain injuries.[36],[37]


Limitations were that only in-school participants were included in the sample, the self-report of the data, and the cross-sectional nature of the study design. Furthermore, the GSHS instrument assesses AISD only with one item, and future studies should include more comprehensive scales.


The study found that more than one in five students reported AISD in the UAE. Several risk factors for AISD were detected, including older age, lower economic status, having sustained a serious injury in the past year, and loneliness, and in unadjusted analysis, ever cannabis use, school truancy, having no close friends, and multiple sexual partners. Health-care providers may want to address psychosocial distress and social-environmental factors in order to reduce and prevent AISD in this adolescent population.


“The data source, the World Health Organization NCD Microdata Repository (URL:, is hereby acknowledged.”

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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