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Some people assume that sleep apnea is nothing more than a severe form of snoring. Others think that it only afflicts the morbidly obese.
The truth is that there are a lot of risk factors, and the condition is more serious than many people give it credit for, and it can be life-threatening. It affects men, women, and children of all ages and weights. And, even high-profile, including world-class athletes are coming forward adding to a long list of celebrities with sleep apnea.
In fact, with an estimated one out of five US adults having some form of this condition, this list is likely to grow.
What is Sleep Apnea?
It is a disorder that causes a person to stop breathing during sleep. There are two types:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): there’s a physical obstruction blocking the air due to the muscles around the throat relaxing, which cuts off air flow.
- Central sleep apnea (CSA): a nervous system disorder in which the brain doesn’t send breathing signals to the body.
No matter the type, the results and symptoms are still the same. The patient stops breathing several times during the night. It can be a hundred or more.
Often, the sufferer is not even aware that they have the condition because they may not become fully conscious when they wake up. Instead, it’s a micro-awakening, but it still interrupts sleeping and adversely affects the quality of one’s shuteye.
Celebrities Who Suffer from Sleep Apnea
Considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and now retired, Shaq was diagnosed with this condition at Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine. His wife says that he also snores so loudly that it often wakes him up. She’s also observed times when his breathing suddenly stops.
Television personality, Rosie O’Donnell, knows that this disorder is nothing to joke about. She used an at-home test to receive her diagnosis. She also claims that after just one night of treatment, she experienced a life-changing difference.
Known mainly for his role as an American Idol judge, Randy Jackson has been hit with numerous challenges, including Type 2 diabetes. He made a dramatic transformation, lost a ton of weight and also undergoes treatment for his condition.
At just five feet two inches tall and with a slim build, it’s hard to believe that Amy Poehler would be on this list. She’s been suffering from this condition for years, and her family has reported that she snorts, snores, and chokes in her sleep. She’s on a treatment plan, though she does admit that she doesn’t always comply.
Shonda Lynn Rhimes
As a Hollywood writer and producer, Shonda admits to having a busy lifestyle and being pulled in multiple directions. But when it comes to her lack of shuteye and chronic exhaustion, she’s quick to point out that her sleep apnea is the primary culprit.
You’d never know that this former Star Trek actor and Priceline spokesperson had any type of health challenge. He’s a ball of energy, thanks to his positive attitude and compliance with his doctor’s orders.
You might have missed the news that this former Football Hall of Famer died in 2004. The cause of death was a heart attack, and doctors have explained that his sleep-related condition complicated the matter. Let this be a wakeup call if you’re on the fence about receiving a diagnose or following through with treatment.
Talk and game show host Regis Philbin kept his wife awake constantly, so he finally sought treatment for his condition. After participating in a sleep study, he was diagnosed with OSA.
As an elite athletic trainer working with the Chicago White Sox, Schneider knows a thing or two about coaching and motivation. He’s a member of the Medical Advisory Board for a company that makes a hose-free and cordless CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device and helps encourage people suffering from this condition to seek treatment and comply with doctor recommendations.
Career politician Rick Perry was diagnosed while campaigning. As anyone watching the news knows, the campaign trail is a long, tiring process, and getting adequate shuteye is necessary for performing at one’s best while shaking hands and kissing babies.
Bet you didn’t know that the Cable Guy’s real name was Daniel Lawrence, did you? Anyway, in addition to his comedy routines, he’s also a country music singer with an astounding seven gold records under that giant belt buckle of his. He’s also come forward in interviews saying he has this condition, but he seems to be handling it well!
Roseanne Barr moved to Hawaii for some peace, quiet and beach vibes, but she couldn’t escape her thunderous snoring. She was diagnosed after a doctor’s lab study and is now under treatment.
Quincy Jones is a famous record producer and also a world-renowned trumpet player. Still, his throat muscles couldn’t seem to stay on task while he was sleeping. He’s now under treatment and appears to be doing great at 85 years of age!
If you want to up your game (in sports or life), then listen to JaMarcus Russell. This number one NFL draft pick from 2007 said that his shortcomings on the field were due to the challenges he faced because of his condition. He’s experienced such severe sleep deprivation that he even reported falling asleep during meetings with his coach and teammates.
Arianna Huffington became a huge proponent of healthy shuteye habits after breaking her cheekbone on her desk when she collapsed in a state of exhaustion. So, you can climb to the top of the ladder, but you might fall hard if you don’t get enough sleep!
In addition to her busy lifestyle, Huffington also suffers from this condition, making it imperative that she comply with her treatment plan.
Actor and comedian John Candy died in 1994, and those close to him observed that he had all the classic signs and symptoms of OSA.
This star of Deadliest Catch had his most deadly catch when his condition led directly to his death. He was just 34 years old.
The co-host of the MythBusters show discussed his condition on Reddit in an AMA (Ask Me Anything). He admitted that he was “one of the lucky ones” and his symptoms went away after he lost 30 pounds.
Grateful Dead singer (and mascot for a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor), Jerry Garcia, died in 1995 of a heart attack. Doctors theorize that his death was directly attributable to the complications of having this disorder.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the dangers of sleep apnea if left untreated?
People often avoid treatment because they don’t want the stigma and discomfort of wearing a mask at night. However, depriving your body of oxygen, especially in the long-term puts tremendous wear and strain on all of your symptoms. People can expect a marked increase in the following areas of their health:
- Higher blood pressure – The stress put on your body when it stops breathing can release stress hormones, constricting and hardening the arteries and raising blood pressure.
- Heart disease – People with OSA or CSA increase their risk of having a heart attack because the disrupted flow of oxygen has a similar effect on one’s blood flow, which can be disastrous to the heart and other organs.
- Type 2 diabetes – There’s a direct link between Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and this sleep disorder. Managing one’s weight might not solve the issue completely, but it couldn’t hurt.
- Weight gain – Not getting adequate sleep causes a hormone imbalance that can lead to increased appetite, irritability, and weight gain.
- Fatal accidents – People with OSA or CSA often report that they’re exhausted. Being deprived of sleep dramatically raises your risk of a car accident or other serious mistake.
Can it lead to death?
If you’re wondering, “can you die from sleep apnea,” the answer is yes. It is likely that Carrie Fisher, the beloved Star Wars heroine, did. Though the official cause of death was a heart attack, Fisher’s assistant discussed the star’s battle with symptoms consistent with OSA in interviews. However, Fisher didn’t know she had the condition and never sought treatment.
So, while this condition won’t outright kill you because you should wake up when you stop breathing, the wear and tear it has on your body over time can make it stop functioning, as was possibly the case with Carrie Fisher.
Can alcohol influence it?
Yes, alcohol does more than just relax your inhibitions. It also relaxes your throat muscles, and the effects are compounded when you lie on your back and are unconscious. What’s more, some people have an episode of OSA after drinking even if they don’t have the condition.
In addition to relaxing the throat muscles, which can lead to OSA and snoring, drinking alcohol also interrupts your sleep cycle, making your shuteye less restful and restorative. So, even though it might seem like a nightcap is an ideal way to end your day and put you in the mood for bed, it can wreak havoc on your sleep.
If you’ve wondered if you have sleep apnea or you’ve been diagnosed, it might seem like a taboo subject. But remember, this condition is more common than you think, and there’s a long list of notable figures in the same circumstances as you.
Being diagnosed with OSA or CSA is not the end of the world. The technology available for the CPAP machines has come a long way in recent years, and many treatment plans are also covered by insurance.
Author: Sleep Advisor
Our team covers as many areas of expertise as we do time zones, but none of us started here as a so-called expert on sleep. What we do share is a willingness to ask questions (lots of them), seek experts, and dig deep into conventional wisdom to see if maybe there might be a better path towards healthy living. We apply what we learn not only to our company culture, but also how we deliver information to our over 12.7M readers.
Sleep research is changing all the time, and we are 100% dedicated to keeping up with breakthroughs and innovations. You live better if you sleep better. Whatever has brought you here, we wish you luck on your journey towards better rest.