10 Athletes in the U.S. with Sleep Apnea

10 Athletes in the U.S. with Sleep Apnea

Health and Fitness

10 Athletes in the U.S. with Sleep Apnea


Sleep apnea is a common sleeping disorder among Americans, affecting as many as 22 million Americans as per the American Sleep Apnea Association, with 80% of moderate to severe cases undiagnosed. This is also why many companies offer continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) machines and CPAP cleaners. 

And athletes aren’t exempted from this condition. In fact, a 2003 study says that professional football players in the United States are five times more likely to develop sleep apnea than their non-athletic counterparts.  While we have previously discussed 10 famous celebrities with sleep apnea, this time we’ll be taking a look at some athletes who suffered from sleep apnea.

  • Reggie White

Oct 27, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Florida Gators former players Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin look on from the sidelines during the first half against the Georgia Bulldogs at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

White was an example of an untreated sleep apnea case gone awry. The NFL legend succumbed at the age of 43 from a cardiac arrhythmia which was believed to be partly caused by his sleep apnea.  His CPAP machine was found on his bedside unused. White’s widow, Sara and the Sleep Wellness Institute co-founded the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Research & Education Foundation which aims to help people to understand the symptoms and risk of leaving sleep apnea untreated. The foundation also donates CPAP machines to those who can’t afford it. 

  • Percy Harvin

The former football pro was suffering migraines for a while, but it wasn’t until collapsing in practice in 2010 was his sleep apnea condition unveiled. Doctors diagnosed Harvin with sleep apnea, which was one of the major causes of his episodes of migraine. Harvin has undergone an overnight sleep test following the incident and revealed that his heart stopped beating 8 times for up to 10 seconds at a time. Harvin has been treating his sleep apnea using a CPAP machine and a sleep apnea machine cleaner and has already stopped taking migraine medications.  

  • Shaquille O’ Neal

Shaquille O’ Neal is one of the athletes that has been very vocal about his sleep apnea and how CPAP therapy has helped him. His ex-partner became concerned that Shaq snored loudly in his sleep, and suggested for him to visit a sleep clinic to get checked.  True enough, he was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.

In 2011, Shaq partnered with the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School about understanding and treating sleep apnea. They released “Shaq attacks sleep apnea”, which features the NBA legend going through a series of sleep tests to diagnose his condition. He then gets fitted for a CPAP nasal mask to wear when he sleeps. O’ Neal notes that the CPAP machine helps him get a well-needed 7 to 9 hours of sleep.

  • Anthony Bennett

Bennett’s sleep apnea case story has a lot of twists. Not only was Bennett battling with sleep apnea, he was also dealing with asthma, weight issues, and poor eyesight.

While getting CPAP treatment, Bennett had his tonsil removed to deal with the sleeping disorder. In an interview, he said that after getting his tonsils out, he now has a lot of room to breathe which gives him quality sleep. He also dropped 20 lbs. to improve conditioning as his weight was also directly linked to his sleep apnea and asthma. Bennett also got laser eye surgery to treat his poor eyesight. 

  • Johnny Grunge

Michael Durham, popularly known by his professional wrestler name Johnny Grunge, died in 2006 due to sleep apnea complications. Grunge was rushed to the hospital after he stopped breathing in his sleep while at a friend’s house, but medics were not able to revive him. 

There were no reports indicating if Grunge was treating his sleep apnea or was aware of being diagnosed with the condition at the time of his death. 

  • JaMarcus Russell

The quarterback admits that sleep apnea slowed him down and ultimately ended his NFL career. Russell was set off to a promising start in the football field, but because of his untreated and undiagnosed sleep apnea, his work ethic and performance suffered, making him one of NFL’s biggest busts. 

Russell admits that his sleep apnea caused him to become lethargic at practices and less-than-alert during games. It wasn’t until coach John DeFilippo suggested that he undergo a sleep study that his sleep apnea was diagnosed. 

  • Mike Napoli

Sep 6, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Mike Napoli (5) reacts with shortstop Elvis Andrus (1) after hitting a two run home run against the Atlanta Braves during the fifth inning at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Major league pro Mike Napoli has been suffering from sleep apnea for a long time. Napoli’s case took a turn for the worse when he would wake up as many as a hundred times a night. His sleep apnea has caused him to miss practice or sleep during practice. Worse, he sometimes felt dizzy after a game.  

In 2014, Napoli made headlines when it was reported that the baseball player underwent a major sleep apnea surgery so he can finally get the quality sleep he needs. The procedure, called bimaxillary reconstruction, breaks the upper and lower jaw to permanently adjust their position and open the airways for proper breathing. Napoli notes the surgery changed his life noting improved conditioning and most of all, getting better sleep. 

  • Josh James

The Houston Aston pitcher took matters in his own hands regarding his sleep apnea. James was noticing that he was feeling sleepy and lethargic regularly. He then searched for potential causes and found that his laziness was a sign of a much bigger issue. 

He sought a sleep specialist and was eventually diagnosed with sleep apnea. He uses a CPAP machine and a CPAP cleaner to get better airflow during slumber and attributes better sleep to his CPAP treatment. James notes that after using his CPAP machine at night, he wakes up feeling refreshed and doesn’t need to take a nap in the afternoon to get through the day. 

  • Warren Saap

The death of his friend Reggie White prompted Sapp to get a home sleep test. The football hall of famer grew concerned of his excessive snoring, fatigue during daytime and the health risks it came with. Following multiple sleep tests, he was officially diagnosed with sleep apnea. 

Saap has been using a CPAP machine and a CPAP cleaner to get better sleep. He also reported fewer symptoms of sleep apnea upon continued CPAP treatment. 

  • Ryan Jensen

Jensen has stated that his sleep apnea diagnosis saved his NFL career. The football player was finding it hard to understand why he was losing strength despite getting 8 to 9 hours of sleep. When his performance was getting affected, he was sure he was going to be cut off from the team. 

In an interview with ABC News in 2017, the offensive lineman said that it was his dad that suggested him to get tested for sleep apnea. Via a home sleep test, it was revealed that because of sleep apnea, he was only getting 90 minutes of proper sleep per night. Jensen has been treating his sleep apnea with a CPAP machine, and a month into using the device, he notes that his weight and strength went back up.

Final Thoughts

Sleep apnea can really happen to anyone, so it’s best to stay on top of our health by eating healthy, exercising regularly, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding sedatives or sleeping pills, and more.

However, if you’ve already been diagnosed with sleep apnea and you’ve been advised to undergo CPAP therapy, please be reminded that cleaning your CPAP machine before each use is vital to keeping you from inhaling germs, bacteria, dust and other particles that may cause more harm than good to your health. Here at CleanFlash, we offer an affordable, high-quality sleep apnea machine cleaner that uses both ozone and UV light for more efficient cleaning. To learn more, check out some of the CPAP cleaner reviews.

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