In recent years, we have paid a lot of attention to the concussion crisis in the NFL and other pro contact sports, but relatively little has been paid to sleep apnea, a quiet killer. Now, though, the problem will be getting at least some large-scale attention as PBS, the Public Broadcasting System, plans to make a documentary focusing on efforts to educate NFL players about this hard-to-detect risk.
Sleep Apnea Risks in the NFL
There is some controversy about the level of risk among NFL players, but it seems to be quite high. A pilot study found that perhaps 60% of linemen may suffer from sleep apnea, though a more comprehensive study developed more conservative numbers: about 14% of all NFL players have sleep apnea, and perhaps 34% of linemen suffer from the sleep breathing disorder.
Hall of Famer Reggie White is commonly cited as a representative of what can happen to players with sleep apnea. He died in his bed of inflamed lungs and heart, with his CPAP machine at his bed side, unused, according to Rolf Benirschke, a former kicker for the San Diego Chargers.
It is not just retired football players that are at risk, either. Percy Harvin, was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2010 at the age of 22.
An Awareness Campaign
As we know, perhaps 80% of sleep apnea sufferers are undiagnosed, and many of them may not suspect that they have the condition. This means that public awareness is still one of the major hurdles faced in overcoming this condition. To help, the “Tackling Sleep Apnea” campaign has been holding promotional events across the country.
The campaign has had some significant successes, and in response to this, PBS has decided to make a documentary film on the campaign.
Hopefully, this will continue to spread the word about the condition. And hopefully it will let people know that there are CPAP alternatives like oral appliances that may be more comfortable and effective for some people.