Sleep apnea can seem like such an isolating condition, but you are not alone. Celebrities, just like average Americans, fight their own battles against debilitating diseases and conditions. Think about Michael J. Fox, known for his role in Back to the Future as “Marty;” he struggles with Parkinson’s disease. Or Sarah Michelle Gellar who was diagnosed with scoliosis.
Several actors, athletes, and well-known public figures have spoken out about their struggle with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Individuals in the limelight do not always talk about the treatments they’ve tried or how compliant they are with things like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) masks, but they have been open about having this condition.
Sleep apnea is a serious, life-threatening condition in which you stop breathing for as many as 30 times each hour while asleep due to a partial or complete blockage of your airway.
Sleep apnea sufferers or their bed partners may first become aware of the issue when snoring becomes both apparent and bothersome. If you suspect that you or your loved one has OSA, schedule an appointment with a board-certified ENT physician for an initial consultation. He or she may recommend a sleep study at a sleep center, or even an at-home sleep study, to obtain anatomical and biological information about your condition. Do not delay treatment.
Which celebrities have sleep apnea?
In 2007 the comic and then-host of a popular American talk show, Rosie O’Donnell, revealed to the audience of “The View” that she was diagnosed with sleep apnea. As the show’s special guest, sleep specialist Michael Breus demonstrated the scary reality of symptoms associated with snoring and sleep apnea. O’Donnell was waking up more than 200 times – that would be 25 times per hour in an eight-hour sleep shift – and not breathing for up to 40 seconds at a time. O’Donnell noted that proper treatment made a noticeable difference in her life.
Actress and comic Roseanne Barr made her diagnosis very public by including it on reality show “Roseanne’s Nuts” that aired on the Lifetime channel in 2011. As part of an episode, she underwent a sleep study and found she had sleep apnea.
Longtime Governor of Texas, Rick Perry surprised everyone when he was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2011. Doctors think he had the condition for years and just didn’t know. There is speculation that his well-known debate gaffe might have been due to the effects of chronic sleep deprivation brought on by sleep apnea.
Defensive lineman Reggie White unexpectedly passed away after celebrating his 43rd birthday. The main cause of his death was attributed to an organ inflammation, but his undiagnosed sleep apnea may have been a contributing factor. To help raise awareness about sleep apnea, his widow created the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Research and Education Foundation.
Grateful Dead singer Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack, but there’s suspicion that conditions leading to his death were exacerbated by Garcia’s sleep apnea.
Professional basketball player Shaquille O’Neal is an all-star whose sleep apnea affected his loved ones. His girlfriend noticed he wasn’t breathing at times during his sleep and convinced him to undergo a sleep study at Harvard University. After his diagnosis, O’Neal used his celebrity status to promote an educational video about the dangers of sleep apnea.
Talk show and game show host Regis Philbin’s wife also urged him to get tested for sleep apnea. At the time of his diagnosis in 2009 he used a CPAP machine as a treatment option. Today, however, alternative options exist for patients who find the CPAP mask unbearable.
Daniel Lawrence Whitney, AKA Larry the Cable Guy
Daniel Lawrence Whitney admitted in a 2011 interview that he’d been struggling with sleep apnea and the condition had spurred him to try to lose weight.
Composer, producer, and Grammy winner Quincy Jones has also said he suffers from sleep apnea.
Former “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson surprised fans with a drastic slim-down due to gastric bypass surgery, but he didn’t do it just for looks. Jackson had been dealing with both sleep apnea and diabetes. His weight loss had beneficial effects that he said made him feel much better.
Don’t Wait for Help
Nearly 80 percent of people with sleep apnea don’t realize they have it or don’t pursue treatment. This has severe health consequences including heart problems, diabetes, and concentration problems. Getting diagnosed is simple, but treatment can be more complicated as you have to find the treatment that works best for you.
You’ll likely be given a CPAP mask at first; this is the standard for initial treatment, but if that does not work well for you, your sleep doctor can recommend other options.
For many, the CPAP mask reduces apnea-related problems like fatigue, daytime drowsiness, and mood changes. However, others find the mask difficult to use throughout the night. Even some celebrities with sleep apnea have admitted that the mask can be tough to use consistently.