by Andrew Pancroft
Can Sleep Apnea be deadly?
A number of recent studies have found obstructive sleep apnea in high-performance athletes!! Where’s the link…
Obstructive sleep apnea affects over 20 million American men, women, and children, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association. Of course, certain risk factors such as smoking or having a family history of the disorder can increase the odds, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has discovered a direct link with athletes with sleep apnea.
According to this study, professional football players are five times more likely to develop sleep apnea than their non-athletic counterparts. Those with the highest risk were linebackers and defensive players charged with stopping quarterbacks and rushers alike – 34 percent of these athletes experience sleep apnea, the study noted.
Not only can sleep apnea – which can leave sufferers feeling fatigued or sleep-deprived – impact sleeping quality, the study noted it also can wreak havoc on the gridiron. Players with sleep apnea had a lower reaction time of as much as 11 percent, according to the study.
SO what’s the link between sleep apnea and typically healthy young athletes?
Though young, and in peak physical condition, athletes having a “thick” neck – something common in those who regularly exercise with excessive weight as well as carrying the extra pounds needed to push people around the football field – is one of the risk factors for sleep apnea! That’s because the National Institutes of Health says all the extra tissue (muscle or fat) on the neck can thicken the wall of the windpipe, making it harder for the airway to stay open when the body is relaxed.
Like high school football players, wrestlers and other muscular athletes who carry extra weight are at risk for health concerns related to sleep apnea, including hypertension, stroke, and other life-threatening issues.
Many athletes are affected – Upon his retirement from the NBA, basketball great Shaquille O’Neal announced that he had been diagnosed with sleep apnea.
Death can be a consequence – Sleep apnea was listed as a contributing cause of the 2004 death of Reggie White, a former NFL defensive end. His widow has since founded the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Foundation to educate the public about sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.
A medical doctor or dental sleep expert can diagnose and develop a plan to treat obstructive sleep apnea, increasing the odds an affected athlete can get a good night’s sleep and stay healthy off the field.