Obesity may make student-athletes vulnerable to cardiovascular disease and other health problems, including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), according to American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).
Dr. William Kohler, director of pediatric sleep services at University Community Hospital in Tampa and an AASM pediatric sleep expert, warns that such health problems should serve as a wake-up call to not only student-athletes and their parents, but also to their instructors and coaching staff.
"OSA can increase the risk for stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. When the child or teen puts on weight, the throat can narrow, and anything which narrows the posterior pharynx can lead to the development of OSA. OSA is a serious disorder that can be harmful, or even fatal, if it is not recognized and treated," says Dr. Kohler, who is also the medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill.
He says that OSA causes children to stop breathing during sleep, and can disturb their sleep several times on any given night, resulting in daytime sleepiness. Children who are chronically tired may have cognitive, attention or behavioural problems, whether in the classroom or on the playing field, he adds.
OSA symptoms may prevent a student-athlete from participating in a critical game or deter the ability to perform well in individual or head-to-head competition, besides leading to poor academic achievement, which can make a student ineligible to compete in after-school activities, says Dr. Kohler.
"Parents need to watch for signs of OSA such as snoring, morning headache, morning dry mouth and excessive tiredness. It is important for the parents of a child or a teen who may have OSA to consult with a sleep specialist, who can evaluate, diagnose, treat and manage OSA or any other kind of sleep disorder," he warns.
Visiting a sleep specialist may prove beneficial for children diagnosed with OSA, for there exist some safe and effective treatments for the condition. Scientific evidence shows that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which provides a steady stream of pressurized air to patients through a mask that they were during sleep, is the best treatment for OSA.
Dr. Kohler says that children can get a good night's sleep if they follow a consistent bedtime routine, and establish a relaxing setting at bedtime. Avoiding foods or drinks that contain caffeine, and medicines that has a stimulant can also prove beneficial.
The expert also suggests that students do not stay up all hours of the night to "cram" for an exam, do homework, etc. If after-school activities are proving to be too time-consuming, consider cutting back on these activities.
The students have also been advised not to go to bed hungry, not to eat a big meal before bedtime either, avoid rigorous exercise within six hours of bedtime, make their bedroom quiet, dark and a little bit cool.
Students can also benefit by keeping computers and TVs out of their bedroom, as well as by getting up at the same time every morning, notes Dr. Kohler.