Preliminary reports of the tragic death of Chicago Bears defensive end Gaines Adams, 26, indicate that he suffered a heart attack, possibly in his sleep (according to NBC).  Reports have also stated that he had an enlarged heart, which is a common side effect of obstructive sleep apnea.  Therefore, unfortunately, it is possible that sleep apnea played a role in his untimely death.

Professional athletes, especially those who play such positions as defensive or offense line in football, are at significant risk for sleep apnea.  They usually have larger than normal necks, which is a definite risk factor, and their body mass index will often be significantly higher than the norm.  For instance, someone who is 6’3″ tall and weighs 319 pounds has a body mass index of 40, which places them at SEVERE risk of sleep apnea.  If their neck measurement is 17″ or more, they are at increased risk.  Does that sound like anybody on your favorite team?

It is important that athletes, their families, their doctors, team trainers all be aware that the body type now so typical in football is, in itself, dangerous to health.  If it leads to sleep apnea, it places them at risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, asthma, depression … and for 38,000 Americans each year it leads to their death.

We’ve seen it before.  On Christmas Night of 2004, NFL legend Reggie White passed away of a heart attack due to complications of sleep apnea.  Sadly, we will see it again.  We may have just seen it in the case of Gaines Adams.

To his family, we send our deepest condolences.  To his peers, we send our deepest concerns that they take the time to find out if they are at risk for sleep apnea.  Sleep apnea is dangerous … but very treatable.  Death from sleep apnea is unnecessary.  Knowledge is the key to preventing further tragedies.

Keep this in mind … if you snore at night and feel exhausted during the day, you might have sleep apnea.  If you neck circumference is 17″ or more (15″ for women), you may be at risk.  If your Body Mass Index is 30 or more, you are likely at increased risk.  Don’t wait … contact your personal healthcare provider and find out if you are at risk.

We have a free online sleep apnea risk assessment test available in two locations … on the home page of the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Foundation website,, and at Free, easy, comprehensive … it will only take a few moments for you to find out if you are at risk for sleep apnea.  Take the test.  The alternative is something not to be taken lightly.

Steve Gardner, Executive Director

Reggie White Sleep Disorders Research & Education Foundation