College students are notoriously sleep deprived. It is seen as common for college students to get less than the recommended eight hours of sleep on any given night, or even “pull an all nighter” if worst comes to worst. Yet, serious sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, are often overlooked and the patients with such disorders are often misdiagnosed.
Julie Flygare, a former Boston College Law School student, recently wrote an article bringing attention to the effects sleeping disorders can have on the person suffering from one. Flygare suffered from narcolepsy with cataplexy. However, it was not until after arriving to class one day without knowing how she arrived there, even though she had received ten hours of sleep the night before, that she thought she might have a serious problem and consulted a doctor.
Flygare initially visited her primary care doctor and told the doctor that she thought she had a serious sleeping disorder. The doctor ignored her concerns, told her “everyone gets tired” and suggested that she might have thyroid issues or depression. However, Flygare found this to be untrue when she was diagnosed with narcolepsy with cataplexy, a serious neurological disorder of the sleep/wake cycle.
An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from sleep and circadian disorders. Yet, all too often people suffering with sleeping disorders are misdiagnosed. This may be the result of a gap in education in the medical field. In 1993, only 63 percent of medical curricula included sleep medicine, with an average of 2.1 hours of class time devoted to all sleep disorders. And there does not seem to be any signs of improvement. A 2007 review of medical specialty textbooks found that sleep and sleep disorder information made up only 2 percent of all content.
In order to spread the word about sleeping disorders and educate the public about this serious problem, Flygare founded Project Sleep, a non-profit organization designed to raise awareness about sleep health and sleep disorders. Project Sleep organizes campaigns and programs to educate and provide support for those suffering from sleep disorders.
Education is an important step in improving health and well-being. Boston College does have resources to educate the BC community about the importance of sleep. For starters, approximately 20% of students report that sleep has in some way impacted their academics. Getting the right amount of sleep can help to improve the immune system, reduce stress, improve alertness, and even prevent depression. A deficiency in one's sleeping pattern can result in long-term health effects, including anxiety and cardiovascular disease.
Boston College’s Office of Health Promotion has resources available for students who feel that they are struggling to balance healthy sleeping habits with academics, social activities, clubs, and any other barriers to sleep. Students can visit http://www.bc.edu/offices/healthpro/health-campaigns/sweet-dreamzzz/Sleepforhealth.html for more information.