The Shaq has sleep apnea. Besides Michael Jordan, the Shaq is probably one of the most popular professional basketball players that we have. He recently made big news by announcing that he had obstructive sleep apnea, and even had his sleep study taped by Harvard Medical School and placed it on YouTube. If you look at his physical structures, it’s no surprise that he has significant obstructive sleep apnea.
But one thing that you may be surprised about is that many of his fellow players probably have sleep apnea, and won’t get diagnosed for years. Basketball players don’t fit the typical profile for sleep apnea (male, overweight, big neck, snorer), but as you can see, many basketball players are not only tall, but somewhat bulky on top.
We already know that up to 1/3 of NFL linemen have significant obstructive sleep apnea. Anecdotally, most bodybuilders and weightlifters probably have undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea. Now you should add basketball players as well.
It’s well known that some professional basketball players may have gigantism, or acromegaly, which is a disorder where too much growth hormone is secreted by the pituitary gland. We also know that acromegaly patients have up to 75% chance of having obstructive sleep apnea. It makes sense that you don’t have to have formal acromegaly, but only mild gradations.
You may be asking by now, if they have sleep apnea, how can they be so fit and almost superhuman in their athletic abilities? Perhaps their drive to overcome the fatigue is what leads to intense workouts and 110% effort during competitions. This situation may also apply to professional distance runners. I know for a fact that many top elite runners can’t sleep on their backs and have trouble waking up in the morning.
Sometimes, the sport itself can make sleep apnea worse. Football players or body builders typically bulk up their upper bodies as well their neck muscles, which can narrow your upper airway even more. It’s not only fat that can compress your breathing passageways.
Whenever I watch a top level sports program, whether live or on TV, I always look at the jaw structures of the top athletes. In many cases, you’ll see jaw narrowing or recessed chins. Often the bite is off, and if you can sometimes peek into their mouths, you’ll see a high arched hard palate. One great example of this is Michael Phelps.
Do you know any elite or top level athletes, and if so, how well do they sleep? Ask them which position they like to sleep in. Do either of their parents snore? You’ll be surprised at the consistency of the answers you hear.