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In both studies, a number of professional football teams were contacted and offered participation in the research projects. In the first study, 302 professional players answered questionnaires and had numerous examinations, in addition to anthropometric measurements including neck size, Body Mass Index (BMI), and airway size, as well as assessment of daytime sleepiness. Fifty-two of them underwent overnight sleep testing in a laboratory.
In the second study the researchers looked at BMI, neck, waist, and hip circumference, fasting glucose levels, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), and triglycerides, as well as blood pressure in 504 active, veteran players from 12 teams.
Athletes in Top Physical Condition Had Sleep-Disordered Breathing
The researchers in the first study divided the football players into high risk and low risk groups for sleep-disordered breathing (SDB). Thirty-eight high risk players had a sleep study and 14 from the low-risk group had a sleep study. Offensive and defensive linemen accounted for 85% of the cases of SDB. Linemen also had the largest necks and highest BMIs. Their systolic and diastolic blood pressures were also higher than other position players (linebackers, quarterbacks, running backs, and kickers).
SDB is More Common in the NFL Than in the Community
Large community-based studies have shown that SDB affects about 4% of the general population. However, this study estimates that the prevalence of SDB in the NFL is 14% overall and 34% when looking at the higher risk subjects such as linemen. Twenty percent of players had excessive daytime sleepiness.
Previous research demonstrates a strong link between SDB, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. In the second study, researchers found hypertension (13.8% vs. 5.5%) and pre-hypertension (64.5% vs. 24.2%) to be more common in professional football players compared to controls. Dividing players by position clearly demonstrated that offensive and defensive linemen have the highest incidence of hypertension and pre-hypertension.
NFL Players Need to Sleep Like Pros
Professional athletes in top physical condition have underlying sleep disorders, excessive daytime sleepiness, and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
The lesson here is that it is important for anyone who is sleepy during the day, snores or has sleep problems to consult with a sleep specialist.
4. George, C.F.P. et al. (2003). Sleep and Breathing in Professional Football Players. Sleep Medicine, Vol. 4; 317-325.
5. Tucker, A.M. et al. (2009). Prevalence of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors Among National Football League Players. JAMA, Vol. 301(20); 2111-2119.