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Sleep disorders common on college campuses

USF is entering the last week of classes before finals week, a time of higher stress levels and less sleep. Some students will pull all-nighters studying notes, finishing projects or writing essays either at home or in the USF library, which is open 24/7 during finals.

An article on stated all-nighters are “an accepted part of surviving college,” but warns against the effects of losing sleep. A simple Google search of keywords “sleep” and “finals” generates a slew of articles providing advice on how to get sleep during finals, or at the very least how to recover at the end of it. 

However, sleep deprivation isn’t always associated with finals week. For college students, sleepiness is not a rare feeling, and it may be linked to a prevalence of risk for sleep disorders in college students.

On Nov. 27, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine professor Dr. W. Mcdowell Anderson wrote an article for the Tampa Tribune about insomnia, focusing on how it affects certain age groups (mainly the elderly), the medicine used for it and the importance of sleep. 

The problem isn’t as small as some might think — about 30 percent of adults show symptoms of insomnia, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). Anderson said in the article that insomnia affects 15 percent of the adult population. 

“The brains in those of us who can’t sleep may be programmed differently than efficient sleepers,” Anderson said in the article. “As a result, we wake up more often and can’t get back to sleep because of excessive worry, racing thoughts and attention to arousing events (TV, cell phones, computers, a neighbor’s barking dog, family up late).” 

Anderson said insomniacs can develop “unhealthy habits” to deal with the disorder like staying up late until they become excessively tired, drinking alcohol or using sleep aids. Besides these habits, sufferers of insomnia or other sleep-related disorders are at high risk for other health problems.

“We may not necessarily assume that a young, generally healthy population would be equally at risk, but maybe they are,” associate professor of psychology of the University of North Carolina Jane Gaultney said in an interview with Medscape Neurology. 

“And since risks for things like high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes can be associated with sleep problems, it’s probably important to figure out when that starts.”

In college students, sleep disorders and sleep deprivation can lead to binging on sleep during the weekends, which statistics show is becoming a widespread phenomenon.

According to Health Research Funding, “Another online survey found that many students ‘crash’ on the weekends, sleeping more than 8 hours. … 28 percent sleep more than 10 hours on weekends.”

However, Anderson did not mention in his article the scope of sleep deprivation and sleep disorders among the college population.

Brown University Health Promotion reported, “According to a 2001 study, only 11 (percent) of college students have good sleep quality, and 73 (percent) have occasional sleep problems. This same study found that 18 (percent) of college men and 30 (percent) of college women reported suffering from insomnia within the past 3 months, and over half reported feeling sleepy during the morning.”

A 2007 study across southeastern state universities found 27 percent of the college students surveyed showed risk for at least one sleep disorder, with narcolepsy and insomnia being the two most frequent.

Regarding students’ GPAs, the study found students with higher GPAs showed little to no risk. There may be other academic consequences for sleep deprivation, as sleep disorders can have significant effects on student performance in both the short- long-term. 

“(Pulling) all-nighters can interfere with your ability to learn new material. You can memorize facts during an all-night study session and recall the information through short-term memory for a test the next day, but you will most likely have to re-learn the material for a later cumulative exam,” Brown University Health Promotion stated.

There are various kinds of insomnia and of sleep disorders. One such type is adjustment insomnia, often caused by stress lasting for a short period of time. According to the AASM, “studies indicate that the one-year prevalence of adjustment insomnia among adults is likely to be in the range of 15-20 percent.”

Another type of insomnia is psychophysiological insomnia, stemming from anxiety over lack of sleep, affecting “1-2 percent of the general population” according to the AASM. 

Other reported sleep disorders from the 2007 study were restless leg syndrome/periodic limb movement disorder, circadian rhythm disorder, affective disorder, obstructive sleep apnea and hypersomnia, as reported in an article on Medscape.