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7 Athletes With Sleep Apnea: Breaking the Common Misconceptions About OSA

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According to a recent study by ResMed, as many as 54 million individuals in the United States struggle with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)—additionally, they noted that 80 percent of moderate to severe OSA cases go undiagnosed!

Surrounding these statistics are misconceptions about sleep apnea that keep an individual from receiving a diagnosis and being treated.

Two Common Sleep Apnea Myths:

1. Sleep Apnea Only Affects People Who Are Overweight

False! Anyone can get sleep apnea. While OSA is often closely linked to an above-average BMI, there are still many people with sleep apnea who are at an ideal weight for them. This is because genetics can also play a factor in whether or not you are more predisposed to sleep apnea.

2. Sleep Apnea Only Affects Men

False! While men do tend to receive a higher rate of positive sleep apnea diagnoses, women make up 45 percent of sleep study referrals. Most women develop sleep apnea following menopause, with around six percent of them having it.

Breaking the Myths: Athletes With Sleep Apnea

Not only does sleep apnea affect both men and women, but athletes with sleep apnea aren’t uncommon! Many famous athletes have or had sleep apnea and are working to spread awareness.

shaquille o' neal

1. Shaquille O’Neal, also known as “Shaq,” is a retired professional basketball player in the United States. He has helped to raise awareness for sleep apnea through the video, “Shaq attacks sleep apnea,” where it shows him interacting with sleep specialists from Harvard as they prep him for an overnight sleep study. He’s also the global ambassador of ZYPPAH, a solution to snoring.

ryan jensen

2. Ryan Jensen, who is an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, told ABC News, “a sleep apnea diagnosis saved my career.” Before diagnosis, he had lost some of his strength and was cut from the team. After using a CPAP machine for several nights, he shared how it “changed everything.” And after one month of use, his strength returned and he was invited to return to the team.

reggie white

3. Reggie White, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, died prematurely because of sleep apnea. His widow, Sara, created the Reggie White Foundation, which helps to raise awareness of the condition.

roy green4. Roy Green, a retired NFL wide receiver, has now started focusing on promoting awareness of sleep apnea all over the country to help improve both current and former professional athletes’ health. He’s teamed up with David Gergen, dental icon, and the Pro Player Health Alliance to help hold free local community public awareness events all over the nation.

warren sapp

5. Warren Sapp, Super Bowl champion, was prompted to seek treatment after the death of Reggie White, his friend, and fellow football star. Through the Sleep Apnea Prevention Project, he now helps raise sleep apnea awareness.

percy harvin

6. Percy Harvin, former NFL wide receiver, received a sleep apnea diagnosis in 2010 after collapsing at practice. He talked to reporters during an interview about how CPAP therapy made him immediately feel much better. In fact, in an interview with the associated press, he said: “It’s a 100 percent difference.”

josh james

7. Josh James, a pitcher for the Houston Astros, found his performance was lacking in between the 2016 and 2017 seasons. He sought help from a sleep specialist and was diagnosed with sleep apnea. After starting treatment, he saw his symptoms (and performance on the field) improve dramatically.

Why Some Athletes May Be at Risk for Sleep Apnea

In recent years, sleep-disordered breathing like OSA has gained notoriety within the athletic community. The prevalence of OSA in the NFL is around 14 to 19 percent and has a 2 to 5 percent estimated prevalence rate in the general U.S. population.

NFL players have a higher susceptibility of possibly developing OSA due to risk factors like having a large waist circumference and high prevalence of obesity.  NFL linemen could be especially susceptible because they usually have a higher BMI.

Athletes, while often in excellent physical condition, have thick necks due to excessive weightlifting and having to carry around extra weight required for pushing others around the football field. This is another risk factor of sleep apnea.  The excess fat or muscle tissue on the neck can cause the wall of the windpipe to become thicker and make it more challenging to keep the airway open when the body’s in a relaxed state.

Other muscular athletes, such as football players who carry extra weight, have a risk for sleep apnea-related health concerns like stroke, high blood pressure, and other life-threatening problems.

Today, we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture. Because of this, professional athletes that have sleep apnea can help raise awareness of the condition, making a difference toward public education. When the public sees athletes with sleep apnea that are tackling it, it makes a great impression.

Get Sleep Apnea and CPAP Therapy Information at CPAP.com

It’s become very clear sleep apnea can affect anyone. You don’t have to deal with the symptoms and complications of the condition. CPAP therapy can help improve your quality of life. CPAP.com is your one-stop-shop for all your sleep apnea needs. From CPAP machines to masks to supplies, you’ll find everything you need all under one roof.

Think You May Have Sleep Apnea? Take Our FREE Sleep Apnea Quiz!

Discover your risk for sleep apnea with just a few clicks! Our FREE Quiz is super simple and easy to use. You’ll receive a personalized score that will tell you how likely you are to have this sleep disorder and the next steps you can take for diagnosis and treatment.

  • David Repasky

    David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it's like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient's perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.

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