Sleep medicine has been gaining popularity, making an entrance into universities in the North Carolina area. UNC Charlotte and UNC Chapel Hill have teamed up to develop a sleep science degree to give students an opportunity to study diseases that affect the sleep/wake cycle, the nervous system and psychiatric and behavioral disorders.

The Neurodiagnostics and Sleep Science bachelor’s degree is a two-year online program designed for students who have previously earned an associate’s degree at a community college. Once a student has completed a required two-year training in sleep medicine or neurodiagnostics from a community college, they can become a registered sleep technologist and complete a board exam. Following these prerequisites, they may apply to earn their bachelor’s in NDSS.

The program began accepting applicants in 2011 and within a two year span it produced a graduating class with the first sleep science degree of its kind in the world. These students endured a curriculum dedicated to recording and studying the electrical activity of the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves, the function of the cardiovascular system, and the function of the respiratory system. The program provides students with the advanced knowledge of sleep science that they need to later engage in roles of managerial, leadership and teaching positions in the sleep medicine field.

The UNC Sleep Disorders Center is one of many opportunities for students with an NDSS degree. This center is made up of a team of sleep neurologists that focus on treating and researching various sleep disorders. This team offers an array of services to people who have trouble sleeping too much or too little, those who suffer from limited function during the day from tiredness and sleep walking.

“These are the people who are changing the face of sleep medicine,” said Mary Ellen Wells, the degree’s Program Director.

Dr. Brad Vaughn, Director of the UNC Sleep Disorders Center, describes the process of the individualized treatment plans for patients as one of the most complete studies currently performed in North Carolina. When a new patient visits the center, they undergo appropriate testing for their sleeping patterns, which could involve an overnight sleep study. During the course of the study, doctors measure over 25 different parameters to later determine the necessary care needed. Along with treating patients, the center also does a handful of research ranging from therapeutic trials to psychological projects and the team also observes the influence that abnormal sleep has on the brain.

Wells clarifies that we spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping and approximately a quarter of the population is impacted by sleep disorders. Sleep plays an essential role in your health and well-being throughout the course of your life. Getting enough quality sleep has many benefits, including caring for your physical and mental health, quality of life and personal safety.

“One of the things about sleep disorders is it’s something in which you can intervene and get a lot of benefit for people.” said Dr. Heidi Roth, Co-Director of the UNC Sleep Clinic.

With the collaboration of these two universities, the study of sleep science has evolved from the unfamiliar to a now advanced and well known practice that is allowing emerging students to contribute to the well-being of those around them.

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