Jan. 24, 2003 -- The bigger they come, the harder pro footballers snore. And that's a huge health problem for the gargantuan guys, a new study suggests.
It's called sleep-disordered breathing. It happens when a person's airways get blocked during sleep. That leads to loud snoring and frequent waking from too-shallow or interrupted breathing. This in turn leads to sleepiness during the day and increased risk of accidents during waking hours. And that's not the worst health problem. People with sleep-disordered breathing are at high risk of high blood pressure and heart disease later in life.
Men with bulky necks are at particularly high risk. But what about large young men in top shape? A research team led by Charles F.P. George, MD, of the University of Western Ontario, Canada -- and including New York Giants team doctor Allan M. Levy, MD -- decided to find out. They studied 302 professional players from the U.S. National Football League. Fifty-two of the big guys volunteered to spend the night in a sleep lab.
Sleep-disordered breathing affects about 4% of the general population, although it's three times more common among people who are obese. Football players -- even though they were in peak physical condition -- had about the same rate of sleep-disordered breathing as obese civilians. The biggest of the big guys, mostly offensive and defensive linemen, had a 34% risk.
"For a group that is young (mean age, less than 30 years), healthy, and physically fit, this is a worrisome finding," George and colleagues report in the Jan. 23 issue of TheNew England Journal of Medicine. "As the trend toward bigger football players continues, unrecognized and untreated sleep-disordered breathing may affect not only the players' performance but also their future health."