Sleep Apnea Goes To The Super Bowl…And Virtually Every Other Sporting Event

Dr. Jonathan Greenburg, DDS
Snoring and Sleep Apnea Expert
February 6, 2014

Whether you are a Seahawks fan, a Broncos fan, or just love Bruno Mars, record numbers of people tuned into Super bowl 48. While you were watching these modern-day gladiators do battle, did it occur to you that while these guys are at peak physical condition, many of them have a dramatically shortened life expectancy? Shockingly low depending on which study you follow; however, the fact that there isn’t more being done to improve professional athletes’ quality of life after they stop playing is tragic. Undiagnosed sleep apnea is at the core of their shortened life expectancy in my opinion and something needs to be done. It is our duty as snoring and sleep apnea experts to spread the word but we need help…we need your help.

Thanks to ESPN and TMZ, we are fully aware that professional athletes and celebrities have problems, don’t always live the optimal life, are not always in impossibly great shape and may suffer from health-related problems—like sleep apnea. Yep, it’s true. Some of your favorite stars and athletes, whom we revere, and think of as always having the absolute best, with the world’s finest doctors on speed dial, don’t always have it all!

Dr. Greenburg, Are You Pulling My Leg? Tell Me More…….

Seriously, we don’t pull legs around here. For those of us who don’t know what sleep apnea is and why it’s a problem that deserves your serious attention, obstructive sleep apnea or OSA is a condition where you essentially stop breathing for short periods of time while you sleep during the night. According to the American Association of Sleep Medicine, sleep apnea “occurs when the muscles relax during sleep, causing soft tissue in the back of the throat to collapse and block the upper airway. This leads to partial reductions (hypopneas) and complete pauses (apneas) in breathing that last at least 10 seconds during sleep.” In some instances of sleep apnea you can stop breathing for 1 minute or more. What?! No it’s not marketing hype, it’s all true, and left untreated, sleep apnea could take your life.

How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed And Could I Be Affected?

Yes, sleep apnea can happen to you and the person you share a bed with. But before you go self-diagnosing with Physician’s Desk Reference in tow, the condition is diagnosed in a doctor’s office. Please understand that. Although if you’re a big snorer, your bed partner can probably tell you better than you can, that you have a problem. It’s best to get it checked out.

Yes, Yes All That’s Wonderful But I Wanna Hear The Dirt On My Favorite Athlete……..Dish The Dirt.

Pardon us. Well, according to Dr. Archie Roberts, a doctor whom since 2003, has screened more than 1,200 retired athletes across the nation, notes certain types of athletes are more at risk than others for sleep apnea and sleep-related problems. Who, you ask???? Well those who play football, and in particular, linemen, wrestlers and sumo wrestlers are the most likely candidates to suffer from sleep apnea. And that makes sense if you consider a segment of the typical profile of those most likely to get it—people who are overweight (Body Mass Index of 25 to 29.9) and obese (Body Mass Index of 30 and above) and men and women with large neck sizes: 17 inches or more for men, 16 inches or more for women. Of course there are other risk factors, such as smoking and genetics, but when you consider athletes who have large neck sizes or by medical standards are considered overweight, this makes sense.

According to Dr. Roberts, linemen are the “big guys,” with necks typically greater than 17 inches. They, then, are most susceptible to sleep apnea.

Consider the story of legendary football defensive star Reggie White. Reggie White was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and an ordained minister, known as the “Minister of Defense.” Reggie played a total of 15 years with Philadelphia (1985-92), Green Bay (1993-98), and Carolina (2000).

He retired after the 2000 season as the NFL’s all-time leader in sacks with 198 in his record.

But in 2004, Reggie White died suddenly at the age of 43, and it was believed to be related to untreated sleep apnea. According to family spokesperson Keith Johnson, White wasn’t a sick man. He was in good health and had lots of energy.

If it can happen to Reggie White, it can happen to you.

In fact, many of us were blown away by the almost superhuman speed and overall performance of Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin during the Super Bowl, would you ever have imagined that he struggled with health issues for most of his life? More to the point, would you ever have believed that according to him, his lifelong battle with debilitating migraine headaches ended when he was diagnosed with sleep apnea and properly treated? According to this ESPN interview, he is medication free and the key to his optimal health and overwhelming success was recognizing and treating his sleep apnea. Yet another reason why we as professionals need to raise awareness; Harvin runs a 4.4 40-yard dash and he nearly lost his battle with sleep apnea; sleep apnea can take anyone down…rookies of the year, all-pro linemen, doctors, teachers, laborers, stay-at-home moms, etc.

Like basketball? Rumor has it……….. that basketball giant Shaquille O’Neal “Shaq” met with Dr. Charles Czeisler, director of the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, to attack his sleep apnea problem. At 7’1” and an estimated 325 pounds, Shaq certainly fits the profile. After hearing him snore off and on and then suddenly seem to stop breathing one too many nights in bed, Shaq’s girlfriend made him go see a doctor.

The moral of the story? If you love someone and suspect they have a sleep apnea problem, say something!

Some Others You Might Not Know Who’ve Either Been Diagnosed With Sleep Apnea Or Treated For It:

JaMarcus Russell, NFL Player

Stu Voigt, former Minnesota Vikings great, who now wears an oral appliance and says he wishes he had been correctly diagnosed with sleep apnea when he was a professional player. Now, he says, he’s not so tired.

Former Syracuse University star Kevin Mitchell–3-time All Big East Conference nose guard who went on to win a Super Bowl championship as a linebacker with the San Francisco 49ers. He died at the age of 36. According to reports, the cause of his death was unclear, although sleep apnea was strongly suspected.

Wrestler Ted Petty (“Flyboy” Rocco Rock) (who died in 2002).

What Can I Do?

Glad you asked! Education AND early diagnosis are key in our estimation. Think you have sleep apnea? Don’t take a chance. Go to your doctor. Get tested. Please. We need to look out for each other and take responsibility for the simple changes we can make that will not only improve our quality of life, but also keep us alive! I have devoted my life to raising awareness about and treating people (and families) struggling with snoring and sleep apnea; with your help, we can raise awareness and save lives. If stars can admit their faults and failings and open up about potentially deadly health problems, so should you. Your life, or the life of someone you love, could depend on it.

-Dr. Greenburg


Source:, “Former Vikings Players Tackle Sleep Apnea at Upcoming Minneapolis Event–Former Minneapolis Vikings players are coming together to tackle sleep apnea”