When we think of people with sleep apnea, a couple of stereotypes stand prominent. After all, many patients with sleep apnea are in their late forties or older and many have underlying health problems. Most sleep apnea sufferers are heavy as well: according to WebMD, more than 50% of people with sleep apnea are either overweight or obese.
Sleep apnea doesn’t just target the overweight and elderly, however: anyone can have sleep apnea, including young children, healthy teenagers, and professional athletes. This week, another prominent sports star announced that he will be receiving treatment for sleep apnea: Boston Red Sox first basemen Mike Napoli.
While Napoli isn’t a nimble base stealer or a lightning-quick center fielder — weighing 220 pounds, he’s better known for his home run power than his speed — we don’t tend to think of someone like him as a prototypical sleep apnea patient. After all, he’s only thirty-two and he gets far more exercise playing baseball and working out than people in more sedentary professions.
Unfortunately for Napoli — and other athletes with sleep apnea, like Shaquille O’Neal and Percy Harvin — many of the physical treats that help a sportsman on the field can also hinder their breathing at night. Many athletes have thick necks and strong upper torsos, both of which can make breathing at night difficult.
The lesson from Napoli and these other athletes is that anyone can suffer from sleep apnea. While certain physical characteristics make an individual more or less likely to develop sleep apnea, the condition can be onset by a number of factors beyond age and weight. Instead of using body type as a prognosticator for sleep apnea, it’s best to carefully monitor your personal experience for signs of the condition.
If you regularly wake up at night sweating, snore regularly, or feel tired and fatigued all day long, there’s a good chance that you have a sleep disorder of some kind. While some amount of snoring is not unusual, prolonged and audible snoring is often an indicator of sleep apnea. Likewise, extreme and regular grogginess is also a common trait in sleep apnea patients.
Napoli is set to begin treatment for sleep apnea this fall, but his story provides another reason why everyone who experiences signs of sleep apnea should get tested: his case is reportedly getting worse. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington confirmed that Napoli has had sleep apnea for years, but that the condition had finally worsened to the point where the player had no choice but to seek treatment.
For many people, waiting for sleep apnea to disappear is a mistake. While some of the conditions and body characteristics that trigger sleep apnea can be reversed, using a CPAP machine in the interim is a great way to maintain health and fight the disease. For many people, symptoms won’t fade into the background over time, making it all the more important that people get treatment as soon as they need it. Sleep apnea is a dangerous and debilitating condition, and should be treated as soon as possible.