Assuming that doctors are also human, it’s safe to say that doctors are susceptible to obstructive sleep apnea at the same rate compared to the general public. Considering that about 1/4 of all men have untreated obstructive sleep apnea, 1 out of every four male doctors that you see will likely have obstructive sleep apnea. In addition, the older your doctor, or the more overweight he is, there’s an even higher chance of having this condition. For women physicians, it’s about 1/10, but if you look at post-menopausal doctors, the rates for sleep apnea are going to be much higher.
Knowing that doctors make the worst patients, and most likely to be in denial, all these numbers mentioned above may be a lot higher. So let’s say, on average, one out of every 3 doctors that you see has untreated obstructive sleep apnea. It’s known that it can cause impairment in memory, judgement, executive functioning, and motor skills. How does that make you feel?
Actually, you can say the same thing about anybody in any profession. Every time I see an overweight bus driver, I wonder if he or she’s being treated for sleep apnea. I look at people in elevators, subway trains, sidewalks. I analyze faces of young, thin people, wondering if they have upper airway resistance syndrome, only to turn into obstructive sleep apnea after they gain weight later in life.
One of the main points that I make in my book, Sleep, Interrupted, is that all of us, to various degrees have sleep-breathing problems. Sometimes they’re temporary (such as in pregnancy), or more permanent (in obesity or menopause). You can’t escape it if you’re human and can talk.
How many of your doctors do you think have obstructive sleep apnea?