College officials are saying that the rate of stress and emotional health problems for incoming Freshmen are on the rise. The New York Times did an article recently about the epidemic of mental health problems in our college campuses. They blame the typical reasons such as stress during high school and the poor economy.
As expected, the one thing that they didn’t touch on is the importance of poor sleep as a major aggravator of stress, anxiety, and depression. Even when sleep is sometimes mentioned, it’s usually assumed that poor sleep is a consequence of depression or stress. While that may be true, college is a time of major disturbances in sleep from a physiologic and behavioral standpoint, so it’s no wonder that college students are not only majorly sleep deprived, but are also prone to common conditions such as anxiety, depression, or even eating disorders.
It’s safe to assume that college students don’t get enough quality sleep. This is not surprising, since with newfound freedom, young adults will stay up longer, eat at irregular times, or even pull all-nighters. Not to mention drinking more alcohol later at night. While at home, teens have more regular, structured meal and sleep times, but in college, this is almost nonexistent. Lack of sleep is a major aggravator of physiologic processes that can promote anxiety, overwhelm, and depression.
(Sleep physicians have even stated that teens’ sleep times are shifted later, leading to what’s called delayed sleep phase syndrome. This means that they go to bed later and wake up later. I sometimes wonder if this is a real problem or a consequence of modern society. From what I can tell, hundreds of years ago, teens went to bed at the same time that their parents did.)
But one thing that’s never even considered is the fact that anatomically, the transition from teenage years to adulthood (puberty) also changes your upper airway anatomy. As the voice box drops down in your throat, your voice changes or deepens. Physically, as the voice box drops lower, a larger space is created between the soft palate and the epiglottis, which is called the oropharyx. The more the voice box drops, the more the back of the tongue can rotate back, causing breathing problems when sleeping on your back, especially when you’re in deep sleep, with muscle relaxation.
It’s during the tail end of this transition when teens are let loose on their own at college. I’m guestimating that if some simple sleep hygiene and sleep-breathing principles were followed at your typical college, you can have about 25 to 50% less mental health issues, as well as achieving higher test scores and better academic performance.
In retrospect, if I had implemented what I know now during my freshman year in college, I wouldn’t have had such a hard time adjusting or have had so much trouble handling the coursework.
Do you think this is a feasible proposal, or am I fooling myself in thinking that college students will ever change their habits? What do you think?