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When you sit down to watch the Superbowl this weekend, consider this- many of the young, strong, healthy players on the field are living with a potentially dangerous breathing condition called sleep apnea. The truly worrying fact is that most either don’t know it, or don’t seek sleep apnea treatment. Now, he’s not exactly an NFL player, but Allen Weinerman can tell you what it’s like to suffer from sleep apnea. “It was my wife who detected that I wasn’t breathing. If she hadn’t I would probably never have gotten sleep apnea treatment,” says Allen. And while they’re the toughest, hardest, often nastiest athletes on the playing field, it’s when they’re asleep that major college and NFL players are truly susceptible to this potentially life-threatening foe. Sleep apnea is characterized by literally hundreds of breathing pauses while sleeping, which causes the person to wake up many times a night. The result of sleep apnea is daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, along with loud snoring at night. Sleep apnea can lead to life threatening illness such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that 14 percent of NFL players have sleep apnea; 34% among lineman, who are the largest players. And because these players are so young, and athletic, often, they don’t seek sleep apnea treatment. Dr. Ana Krieger, Director of the Sleep Center at NYU Medical Center, says, “As you are bigger in size, your body mass index is higher and the prevalence of sleep apnea goes up on people who have higher BMI’s.” But it wasn’t until fairly recently that sleep experts recognized that young, physically fit men such as those who play professional football are as much as five times more likely to have sleep apnea than those of the same age in the overall population. “Those players tend to have very large necks. So when they go to sleep the pressure around the airway is very high causing the closure, leading to sleep apnea,” says Dr. Krieger. And because there is sleep apnea treatment available i.e. machines which push air in at night, there’s no reason for the players to go get screened for sleep apnea. “They can still play football and be star players. In fact they would probably play even better after a good night of sleep,” states Dr. Krieger. For Allen, now that he receives sleep apnea treatment, he’s less likely to sleep through the game.

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