ORLANDO, Fla. - Sleep disordered breathing, also known as sleep apnea, is highly prevalent among retired National Football League (NFL) players, and particularly in linemen, according to Mayo Clinic research. This study, involving 167 players, adds to the growing body of research examining the relationship between sleep apnea and heart disease, the investigators say.
The study will be presented Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 9:30 a.m. EDT at the American College of Cardiology Annual Scientific Session in Orlando (1048-86). The research was conducted in collaboration with the Living Heart Foundation.
The Mayo data showed that 60 percent of linemen, average age of 54, had sleep disordered breathing (SDB), as defined by having at least 10 sleep-related breathing disorder episodes, such as pauses in breathing, per hour. Linemen had an average of 18.1 episodes per hour. The monitoring of breathing at night was conducted while the retired players slept at home. In addition, researchers discovered that age and obesity (measured by the body mass index, which corrects the weight for a person's height) were significantly associated with sleep disordered breathing. Linemen had an average BMI of 34.2; a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.
Dr. Virend Somers, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist who helped guide the study, noted that the prevalence of sleep apnea and obesity was higher than expected, and serves as a warning that athletes need to monitor their weight and health carefully when they retire, a time when physical activity levels may begin to decline abruptly. While more research is needed to uncover the link between sleep disorders and heart disease, there is evidence that sleep apnea may be a cause of high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease, he says.
For all other study participants (average age of 53), who played other positions, 46 percent had sleep apnea with an average of 13.4 sleep-related disorder episod
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