Sleep Disorders in College Students

Matthew Gower

Most college students’ daily lives are already busy enough, but a large portion of them have trouble sleeping at night – which can lead to an impact in their daily schedules.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Up to 60% of all college students suffer from a poor sleep quality and 7.7% meet all criteria of an insomnia disorder.”

Lack of sleep can impact someone in multiple different ways such as impaired brain development.

Assistant Clinical Professor at the Yale School of Medicine and the Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center’s Sleep Center  Dr. Lynelle M. Schneeberg commented on such effects in an article by Affordable Colleges Online.

“If students are deprived of sleep during this period of their life, they’re more likely to have decreased activity in this part of the brain, [the striatum/basal] which is the part that affects risk-taking behavior,” Dr. Schneeberg said.

There are also other consequences of a lack of sleep like poor coordination which can impact a student’s driving and a student-athlete’s performance. Lack of sleep can also push some students to have more negative feelings, hopelessness and in more intense cases even feeling suicidal.

In a study that was published following Fairfax County, Virginia high school students “who had very early school start times and found that each hour of sleep a teenager lost was associated with a 38% increase in hopeless feelings and 42% increase in suicidal thoughts.”

According to the same study, as written in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, “Each hour of sleep lost was also associated with a 58% increase in actual suicide attempts.”

There are many kinds of sleep disorders and treatments are available for many of the most common disorders such as insomnia. Insomnia is a disorder which makes it difficult to go to sleep or stay asleep and it comes in two different forms. Short-term insomnia is typically triggered by a stressful life event such as a death or relationship issues, but is not always easy to pinpoint. Chronic Insomnia typically lasts for more than a month and takes place when individuals wake up feeling like they have gotten no sleep at all and when they have persistent difficulty falling or staying asleep. 

Sleep Apnea is another common sleep disorder. Sleep apnea occurs when an airway is blocked, which can result in choking or loud snoring. There are treatments for this as well such as CPAP therapy (continuous positive airway pressure therapy) or trying to sleep in a position that is not on one’s back. 

Narcolepsy is another sleeping disorder.

According to Oxford Languages, narcolepsy is “a condition characterized by an extreme tendency to fall asleep whenever in relaxing surroundings.”

This can affect an estimated one in 2,000 people generally between early childhood and 50 years.

Another common condition is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, RLS “causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them. Symptoms commonly occur in the late afternoon or evening hours and are often most severe at night when a person is resting, such as sitting or lying in bed.”

This is typically treatable with medications or behavioral therapy.

The final most known sleep disorder is REM sleep behavioral disorder. This occurs when a person acts out their dreams while they are asleep. According to Stanford Health Care, “Behaviors can include twitching, utterances, flailing, kicking, sitting up and leaving the bed. . . In terms of management, precautions to ensure the safety of the individual and others in the environment are key. Treating coexisting sleep disorders is important and medications are often changed and started to reduce symptoms of this disorder.” However, this disorder only affects between 0.5 and 1% of adults and is more common in men, according to Sleep Foundation.

Some ways to avoid these common disorders include taking limited naps during the day, but no longer than twenty to thirty minutes and before four o’clock p.m. to avoid grogginess. An individual could avoid caffeine or coffee in the late afternoon because it could impact the ability to go to sleep. Another option to help get better sleep is to set a schedule for sleep and study time and try to stick to it.  Technology and social media overload could also be an impact on sleep, scrolling through feeds typically keep the brain stimulated and can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Finally, individuals suffering from any of these disorders could speak with their doctors or a behavioral health specialist. 

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