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Sleep Apnea and Athletic Performance

March 4, 2022 | |

This post was originally posted on January 27, 2014 and updated on March 4, 2022.

Sleep apnea can have a long-term impact on health and your daily wellness, which includes your exercise routine. Research continues to reveal the effects of sleep loss on our personal waking lives.  Even while those struggling with sleep loss from sleep apnea may do their best to maintain health through physical fitness, they may not be performing as well because of poor sleep.

If you are finding exercise increasingly difficult, you may be experiencing the side effects of sleep loss to sleep apnea. Understanding sleep apnea and the long and short-term effects are the first steps toward improving your waking life with healthy sleep.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea most commonly occurs when the muscles in the throat collapse during sleep. This blocks the airway and prevents oxygen from traveling throughout the body, causing the individual to gasp for air and wake up. These events, or apneas, can occur as frequently as 30 times per hour, disrupting sleep and leaving patients with lingering side effects. Long-term sleep apnea leaves most patients sleep-deprived, which causes lasting health issues.

Left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea has a number of associated short- and long-term health risks including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Athletic Performance?

Sleep loss due to sleep apnea can undermine athletic performance. Poor sleep can lead to decreased endurance in physical activities of all types and reduces reaction time which can impact athletic capability in competitive sports. Sleep deprivation can also increase the risk of injuries among adolescent athletes.

Whether you are training for a specific sport or working toward fitness goals at the gym, your sleep apnea may be impacting your athletic abilities. Focusing on improving your sleep health is one of the ways you can restore athletic performance. Understanding the relation between sleep and physical activity allows to you create goals for sleep health that can renew athletic performance.

Relation Between Sleep and Athletic Performance

Decreased Energy

Athletes typically have a lot of energy, which allows them to participate for long periods in competitive sports and to endure through physical activities such as marathons. But with poor sleep, even the best athletes may start to experience daytime fatigue. Regardless of healthy diet and rigorous exercise routines, poor sleep can undermine an athlete’s ability to maintain high energy levels.

Symptoms of low energy in athletes include:

  • The need for breaks during athletic performance in sports
  • The inability to complete physical goals such as sprints
  • Increased respiration even while resting during physical activity
  • The desire for sleep even after waking

Decreased Metabolism

Because of their high energy levels from regular physical activity, athletes typically have high-performing metabolisms. This allows them to process more nutrients and fats rapidly. Many athletes rely on high-protein high metabolism diets to build muscle mass and help burn calories. 

But with poor sleep, metabolism slows down, which can have lasting effects on overall health, increasing the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Decreased metabolism among the most active athletes can impact physical training goals.  Noticeable effects due to reduced metabolism include:

  • Weight gain
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Ongoing fatigue
  • Increases in blood sugar
  • Increase in stress hormones and blood pressure

Increased Pain

Athletes often encounter pain on a regular basis, especially if they participate in contact sports like football. Because of their experience with pain, most athletes recover quickly from minor injuries and know how to manage pain effectively. However, sleep loss from sleep apnea can increase sensitivity to pain. Studies show a 55.4% prevalence of chronic widespread pain in patients with obstructive sleep apnea and a greater risk of chronic pain in females than in male patients. 1

Athletes with sleep apnea may find that pain becomes more common and more intense. Increases in pain from sleep apnea can mean:

  • More intense pain when encountered during physical activities
  • Longer recovery times from injuries
  • Increased intensity of pain while recovering from injuries

Sleep Apnea for Athletes at High Altitude

Sleep apnea can not only undermine athletic activities, but it can also make some sports dangerous. Athletes who perform activities at high altitudes such as mountain climbing, or sky diving rely on their peak physical performance to stay safe during these activities.

Sleep deprivation from sleep apnea can reduce an athlete’s ability to stay alert and react effectively during these risky activities. High altitudes can also reduce mental alertness and response time due to lower oxygen saturation. A combination of low blood oxygen levels and fatigue from sleep apnea can increase the risk of serious injury and even death in these types of sports.

Portable CPAP Therapy for Athletes

Athletes managing sleep apnea need to stay CPAP compliant to stay healthy. Regular nightly use of a CPAP machine helps reduce apnea episodes and allows for a deeper more restful sleep. With healthy sleep, athletes will find a reduction in daytime fatigue and drowsiness. They can then focus on their athletic goals.

Portable CPAP machines are one way athletes can take their CPAP therapy with them. Portable CPAP machines are compact and lightweight so they can be taken wherever an athlete needs to travel.

Athletes seeking treatment for their sleep apnea can find travel CPAP machines as well as home CPAP machines at The CPAP Shop. They can conveniently shop online and receive helpful guidance from our knowledgeable experts. Our staff can help select a CPAP machine that fits your sleep apnea treatment and your active lifestyle.


  1. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. Chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain in patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and the relationship between sleep disorder and pain level, quality of life, and disability.

Chris Vasta

Chris Vasta is the president of The CPAP Shop and an expert in sleep and respiratory therapy. He often provides insights on product design and functionality on various manufacturers’ prototypes and is frequently tapped to provide reviews on new releases.