Freshman 15, or Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

With the start to the new school year, millions of college freshmen will begin their academic endeavors, gaining knowledge, newfound independence and new life skills. But there’s one more thing that many students will gain this year: 10 to 15 pounds. Weather or not the Freshman 15 actually exists (on average they gain about 5 pounds), this commonly seen phenomenon is thought to be due to a lack of exercise, eating buffet style cafeteria food, late meals and snacks, unhealthy diets, and excessive alcohol.

However, there’s one more important, but under-appreciated condition that is expected to occur when you gain even a small amount of weight: Fat cells take up space in your throat, leading to a gradual progression into obstructive sleep apnea. As I’ve mentioned before on numerous occasions, eating late promotes more obstructions and arousals, as well as increased gastric contents reaching the throat. This causes more swelling and damage to the protective upper airway receptors in the throat, leading to more frequent and prolonged breathing pauses. Poor quality sleep promotes weight gain, through hormonal, metabolic, and neurologic mechanisms. Drinking alcohol close to bedtime an also relax your throat muscles, leading to more frequent apneas. There’s no need to remind you about sleep deprivation and poor sleep hygiene in college students.

It’s also no coincidence that anxiety and depression peaks in college-aged men and women. Poor sleep quality can not only cause neuro-biochemical changes, but also promotes poor sleep habits and hygiene. It’s no wonder college students are at higher risk of delayed sleep phase syndrome, where one’s sleep clock cycle is shifted many hours later. I suspect that students who are most prone to weigh gain have narrowed jaws and dental crowding to begin with, prefer to sleep on their sides or stomach, and one or both parents probably have undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea.

Have you or any of your children experienced the Freshman 15?



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