I was recently part of a forum discussion on, “Why Do Powerlifters Get Sleep Apnea?”
Powerlifters, and even bodybuilders, appear to be more at risk of sleep apnea than most mere mortals.
Sleep apnea is a condition that is often viewed as nothing more than very loud snoring.
But, in truth there is a far more sinister side to it.
And the fact that sleep apnea appears to be prevalent among powerlifters, begs the question of why.
Allow me to explain.
Why Do Powerlifters Get Sleep Apnea?
Obviously, not all powerlifters get sleep apnea, but they are typically more at risk than most. Sleep apnea is commonly associated with those who are overweight or obese. Plus, you are more at risk of sleep apnea if you’re a man with a neck size of 17 inches or more, and 16 inches or more for a woman. Many powerlifters will fall into these categories. There is also the fact that lifting extremely heavy weights can cause high blood pressure, whereas the constant drain on the Central Nervous System can cause daytime fatigue. These are both cues for sleep apnea.
1. Many Powerlifters Are Fat
Not to put too fine a point on it, many powerlifters are carrying a lot of extra bulk.
In fact, it’s not unheard-of to see powerlifters who are just plain fat.
Okay, this isn’t always the case, but for a large percentage of powerlifters it’s true.
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Powerlifting as a sport is about shifting as much weight as possible.
Therefore, it makes sense that the more mass that your body holds, the more mass you should be able to move.
You could almost say that many powerlifters are in a constant state of bulking without ever having to worry about cutting.
It just so happens that being overweight or obese is one of the most common risk factors for sleep apnea.
Basically, the upper respiratory muscles are more likely to accumulate fatty tissues which causes the upper airways to narrow and become constricted.
This is known as obstructive sleep apnea.
In essence, your upper airways have become “obstructed”, which not only causes snoring, but leads to difficulty with breathing.
2. Lean Mass Increases the Demand For Oxygen
I’ve just spoken about being overweight or obese, and Body Mass Index (BMI) is often checked for those suspected of having sleep apnea.
However, this can actually be quite misleading.
If you are carrying a lot of extra weight then you could be at risk of sleep apnea.
But, the condition doesn’t differentiate between fat mass and lean mass.
In other words, someone carrying “additional” weight because they are extremely muscular has just a high of risk of sleep apnea as someone who is obese.
This is also why both powerlifters and bodybuilders may be susceptible to sleep apnea.
So, it’s unfair to label sleep apnea a “fat person’s disease.
The more mass you carry, whether this is fat or muscle, the more pressure that is created on the internal organs.
This will increase the demand for oxygen, which can impact the respiratory system while you sleep.
So, even “in-shape” powerlifters (and of course bodybuilders) can get sleep apnea.
3. Most Powerlifters Have Large Necks
Another risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea is neck size.
More specifically, a man with a neck size of 17 inches or greater and a woman with a neck size of 16 inches or greater are more likely to get sleep apnea.
Now, it would be wrong to say that lifting heavy weights will automatically increase neck size, but there is definitely a correlation.
You’d expect someone who strength trains seriously, i.e. a powerlifter, to have a bigger neck than your average Joe.
But still, if you want to maximize the size of your neck then you’ll need to train it directly.
However, most powerlifters won’t simply stick to a strict menu of bench press, squats, and deadlifts.
So, it is likely that they will train to strengthen other body parts that can help with the “Big Lifts”.
And increased neck strength and size will certainly be among these.
Neck Training – Size, Risks, Sleep Apnea
4. Lifting Heavy Loads Can Increase Blood Pressure
Firstly, it’s important to say that lifting weights on a regular basis can have benefits for your blood pressure.
So, if you’re a regular gym-goer I wouldn’t worry about this having a detrimental effect on your blood pressure.
In essence, resistance training can help to regulate blood pressure, as well as many other health benefits.
With that being said, lifting weights will temporarily increase blood pressure.
In fact, the increase can actually be extremely significant based on how much weight you’re lifting.
Basically, the more weight you lift, the greater the spike in blood pressure you can expect.
And of course those who lift the most weight tend to be powerlifters.
Realistically, most powerlifters will train big and heavy pretty much every single session.
So, in effect, they will experience dramatic increases in blood pressure on almost a daily basis.
This can of course have a more long-term impact on a powerlifter’s “normal” blood pressure levels.
And high blood pressure just happens to be one of the major risk factors for sleep apnea.
5. Powerlifters May Suffer From Daytime Fatigue
Sleep apnea will usually cause daytime fatigue for a sufferer.
Basically, whether they realise it or not, a person’s sleep will be disrupted on multiple occasions during the night.
The same can be said the other way round too.
So, if you suffer regularly from daytime fatigue, this can have an effect on the way you sleep at night.
You’d typically think that feeling tired all day long would translate to a great night’s sleep.
But, this is rarely, if ever, the case.
Plus, daytime fatigue may also eventually lead to sleep apnea.
In effect, it’s one big vicious circle of events.
To make matters worse, the type of training that powerlifters do may also lead to daytime fatigue, and of course sleep apnea.
Powerlifters will usually be shifting huge amounts of weight, while training the biggest exercises that are most taxing on the body.
Furthermore, most of the “Big Lifts”, especially squats and deadlifts, can take quite a toll on the Central Nervous System.
So, as a powerlifter if you’re not wary of rest, recovery, and proper nutrition, you could find yourself extremely tired throughout the day.
And eventually this may catch up with you at night in the form of sleep apnea.
Why You Shouldn’t MAX Every Workout – Central Nervous System Fatigue
So, as you can see, not all powerlifters will suffer from sleep apnea, but they are certainly at a higher risk than many people.
This is typically because of the weight and size of most powerlifters, which also includes the size of their neck.
However, sleep apnea doesn’t differentiate between fat mass and lean mass.
So, even an extremely muscular and in-shape powerlifter can be at risk of sleep apnea.
Furthermore, the amount of weight that a powerlifter moves in a typical training session can cause high blood pressure and daytime fatigue.
All of these things are major risk factors for sleep apnea.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.