Sleep Disorders Adversely Affect Female Students – but Not Male Ones

Sleep disorders are highly prevalent among students. Researchers from Sultan Qaboos University studied over 600 students and uncovered that nearly 90% are affected by narcolepsy. They also discovered that sleep disorders are more harmful for female students’ academic achievements, while male students are largely resilient to their injurious effect.

One of the most common complaints among college students is lack of sleep due to the stress incurred in the course of their academic studies. Some students’ sleep patterns are also adversely affected by the new environment, the new social opportunities and many other factors involved in college studies. 

While seemingly harmless, insufficient sleep is considered a serious health risk in adolescents and young adults. Sleep deprivation has a significant impact on the health and wellbeing in general, but in college students it can also harm academic performance. Constant fatigue due to inadequate sleep makes it more difficult for students to concentrate in classes and to maintain alertness. It can also harm memory formation and attention to detail – all of which are critical for college students. It is no wonder that students with sleep disorders are at a significantly higher risk of failing their classes.

Remarkably, it seems that the prevalence of sleep disorders among college students stands at nearly 70%. This statistic, however, changes according to the students’ gender, socioeconomic status, and even culture. Nightmares, for example, are more common in female students.

Researchers from Sultan Qaboos University have recently evaluated the prevalence of sleep disorders among college students in Sultan Qaboos University, and to understand their relations to factors such as academic performance, gender, and age. 637 students, most of whom were older than 20 years, and 57.8% of them female, responded to the survey. Nearly half lived on campus.

The most frequent sleep disorder among the surveyed students was narcolepsy – the tendency to fall asleep in daytime. Nearly 90% of students were diagnosed with this disorder. Another common disorder, afflicting 41.1% of students, was Restless Leg Syndrome, which is expressed as involuntary bodily movements in the evening or nighttime. Actual insomnia was only diagnosed in 36.4% of students. Finally, nearly 5% of students reported incidents of sleepwalking – a phenomenon that can be dangerous by itself.

Both narcolepsy and insomnia was more frequent among female students. Insomnia was also more prevalent in older students. Finally, insomnia and narcolepsy were affected by students’ place of residence, with those living on campus being affected disproportionately by these disorders.

The study revealed that certain sleep disorders have a negative impact on female students’ academic performance. Surprisingly, it turned out that male students’ academic performance was largely unaffected by any of the sleep disorders analyzed in this study. The reason for that phenomenon is still unknown.

While more research is needed, this study may indicate that male students are more resilient to the negative effects of some sleep disorders. If that is indeed the case, then healthcare services should pay extra attention to female students and address their sleeping disorders so as to help them achieve better success in their academic studies.

The researchers involved in this study were Asma Ali Al Salmani, Asma Al Shidhani, Shahad Ahmed Al Yaaribi, and Aysha Muslem Al Musharfi from Sultan Qaboos University, and Shatha Saud Al Qassabi from the Family medicine training program, Oman Medical Specialty Board.

Original content by Nawartna

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