Athletes prone to sleep apnea, may result in sudden cardiac death

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Rugby

Study shows that sleep disordered breathing or sleep apnea more common in athletes

A study of university rugby players has shown that they are more likely to suffer sleep disordered breathing such as sleep apnea.

The study also showed that the athletes who experience this problem are also more likely to have low levels of oxygen in their blood and higher pulse rates during the night. This suggests that athletes with sleep disordered breathing may be at risk of heart abnormalities.

The researchers say this study could indicate that sleep disordered breathing is a factor in the phenomenon of seemingly healthy young athletes dying from a sudden and unexplained heart attack.

Sleep disordered breathing (SDB) is characterised by abnormal respiratory patterns or pauses in breathing during sleep, ranging from snoring to sleep apnoea, where the airways close completely or partially many times during sleep.

Sleep disordered breathing (SDB) is characterised by abnormal respiratory patterns or pauses in breathing during sleep, ranging from snoring to sleep apnoea, where the airways close completely or partially many times during sleep

Having a high BMI, being over 40 years of age and having a large neck circumference are some of the common factors associated with SDB. If untreated, patients with SDB-related conditions face an increased risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, heart failure and type 2 diabetes.

The study, published in ERJ Open Research was led by Yoshitaka Iso, a cardiologist and Associate Professor at Showa University Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Yokohama, Japan.

He explained: “We wanted to investigate the prevalence of sleep disordered breathing in collision sport athletes, such as rugby or American-style football players, because we know that they usually have a higher BMI and larger neck circumference than athletes from other sports.”

He added: “We tend to assume that young, competitive athletes will not experience conditions like SDB, which are more common in people with a higher BMI and inactive lifestyles, but more research is needed to determine what may be contributing to sudden cardiac death in athletes, and SDB is a good candidate for this as it can affect the heart’s normal functions.”

The study included 42 male rugby players aged 18-19 years. A special device was used to monitor overnight changes in the athletes’ breathing rhythm, heartbeats and heart rate, blood oxygen levels, the number of times they woke up, and how long they were awake for.

The data showed that 18 (43%) of the athletes met the criteria for SDB, which means they experienced five or more pauses in breathing that lasted for at least 10 seconds, over a total sleeping time of more than three hours.