Millions of people across all walks of life, at any age, can suffer from sleep apnea. But, most that do, don’t even know they have it! Including a HUGE number of athletes. Sometimes, suffering from this sleep disorder for years before ever getting treatment. If they only knew to get tested… it could significantly improve their performance both on and off the field. Take it from Baltimore Ravens player Ryan Jensen… in an interview with ABC news he said that being diagnosed with sleep apnea literally “saved my career.”

A quick explanation of sleep apnea

When you have sleep apnea, your airways become obstructed throughout the night, causing your body to repeatedly wake up to open your airways. As a result, when you wake up you may feel like you have not slept at all, and this can greatly affect your productivity and performance. 

Some of the known links between sleep apnea and performance include: increased instances of injury, decreased endurance, decreased metabolism, and increased pain. We will go into these in greater detail later in this article.  

Here are some stats about athletes and sleep apnea

Studies have estimated that about 14-19% of NFL players have sleep apnea, including one study which reported that 50% of retired NFL players who were included in the study had suffered from it.

Many athletes make an effort to raise awareness about the importance of treating sleep apnea because they don’t want you to feel like you’re alone, and they know how much treatment can help other athletes.

Many famous athletes suffer from the disease

This includes Shaquille O’Neal, who is one of the most well-known athletes in the world, Roy Green, Warren Sapp, Percy Harvin, and Josh James. Unfortunately, Reggie White, an NFL player for 15 seasons, died of cardiac arrhythmia which many believe to have been a result of his untreated sleep apnea. After his death, his wife started the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Foundation to raise awareness for sleep disorders including sleep apnea, and to emphasize the importance of getting treatment.

How exactly does sleep apnea affect athletes?

Sleep Deprivation

To put it simply, sleep apnea inhibits your ability to achieve a good night’s sleep and therefore leaves you feeling tired and less productive. Researchers have conducted many studies on this topic, which show strong correlations between decreased quality and duration of sleep, and lessened performance. One study surveyed 600 athletes and found that sleep duration and quality in the days leading up to competition can significantly affect the outcome of an athlete’s performance.

Other studies have found that sleep deprivation—which is worsened by untreated sleep disorders—can decrease total sprint times, accuracy in tennis serves, and reaction time. In each of these studies, researchers first conducted baseline tests, followed by performance testing after the athletes had conformed to a shortened sleep schedule the night before. The study for serve accuracy in tennis showed “significant impairment to serving accuracy after sleep restriction.” In addition, “caffeine had no beneficial effect for those on the shortened sleep schedule.” In the study that focused on reaction time, researchers collected data using college student athletes before and after one night of sleep deprivation. The results showed that short-term sleep deprivation “adversely affects cognitive function such as reaction time.” Overall, there is no reason to leave sleep apnea untreated as it will only harm your athletic performance and overall quality of life. 

Thicker Neck Dimensions

An issue for many athletes (and particularly NFL players) that makes them more susceptible to sleep apnea is that they have larger necks than the average person. This characteristic might be due to weight lifting and the larger physique that is often required for contact sports. According to the National Institutes of Health, having a thicker neck can contribute to the thickening of one’s windpipe. A thicker windpipe means that it’s harder for air to pass through, even when the muscles are relaxed and especially when the person is asleep. 

What Can You Do?

Download the Ognomy app on your smartphone! Ognomy can help diagnose and treat your OSA to start you on your journey to better sleep and increased athletic performance. 

For more information, contact us or install Ognomy today to book your first virtual consultation.

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  10. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/nfl-star-ryan-jensen