By Gina Roberts-Grey
A growing number of studies confirm what parents and teachers have known for generations: Good sleep is vitally important for college students.
In the past decade, the field of sleep medicine has made great progress in recognizing the link between a student’s quality and quantity of sleep and their daytime function, said Dr. Nitun Verma, medical director of the Washington Township Center for Sleep Disorders. “How a person sleeps has a tremendous impact on cognitive performance including learning, memory, and overall health.”
According to a University of North Carolina study in the Journal of American College Health, roughly 4 percent of college students have sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous disorder wherein a person repeatedly stops and starts breathing while sleeping. And because sleep apnea doesn’t allow for a restful night’s sleep, it can leave college kids feeling fatigued and groggy all day long.
Sleep apnea often can be treated with continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine. “This is historically the safest and most effective treatment,” Verma said.
But sometimes it just isn’t a good fit with college students who are self-conscious or embarrassed about requiring a CPAP. In those cases, a doctor may consider prescribing a dental jaw advancement appliance, which moves the jaw forward and allows better air flow, for those with mild sleep apnea.
However, Verma noted, an oral appliance isn’t for everyone. “It’s only an option for mild apnea. It’s not a first line treatment option for moderate to severe apnea where there is a risk that the oral appliance may not treat the whole problem, so students should consider CPAP first.”
For students with sleep apnea, educating their peers can reduce much of the potential embarrassment around using a CPAP. “Explain the importance of CPAP usage with obstructive sleep apnea and the potential complications of not being treated,” Verma said. “I have found my patients’ friends are very understanding of it, and are quite comfortable with it.”