Taking Sleep Out of the Dark with MLB Player Mike Napoli

Nov 16, 2018 | Blog, Sleep Apnea

A few weeks ago the MLB season came to a wrap as the Boston Red Sox celebrated their World Series victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team was full of the elation that comes from accomplishing a great feat. However, there’s one former Boston Red Sox World Series champion, Mike Napoli, who is now celebrating something else. Sleep.

When you think of the life of a professional baseball player you think of a dream. For Mike Napoli, there were no dreams. He felt that he hadn’t dreamt for over a decade. Napoli, who played for the Cleveland Indians this past season, suffered from a severe bout of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder affecting millions of people worldwide.

He would jolt awake several times each evening because he couldn’t breathe. Napoli reflects, “I was always scared to go to sleep, I used to leave the latch on the door in the hotel open. Just so the paramedics could get in my room.” A sleep study revealed that he was waking up between 40 to 100 times a night. Napoli’s case of OSA was so detrimental that he considered early retirement and walking away from the game he loves. When Napoli joined the Red Sox, a room inside Fenway Park was set aside for him to rest before games. He had to take naps during batting practice before games because he was so sleep deprived. He never felt like working out, making his job as a professional athlete even more grueling. He tried everything he could to combat his sleep issues, including medication, a mouthpiece, and a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine.

Nothing seemed to work; his last resort was surgery. Napoli opted to undergo maxillomandibular advancement surgery to save his career and his life in 2014. The surgery was not an average procedure. It consisted of doctors breaking his lower and upper jaw and his chin. They then realigned his jaws moving everything forward. The surgery took eight hours and landed Napoli in the intensive care unit for nearly three days afterwards. He was on an all-liquid diet for six weeks, and still has plates and screws inside his skull.

Despite the brutal procedure, when asked if he would go through it again Napoli said he would do it all over in a heartbeat. The difference is “night and day,” Napoli says, with a more positive outlook and exuberance for life. He said he began to feel motivated when he got up in the morning to start his day and look forward to his workouts.

Other MLB teams across the country are starting to make it a priority to discover how sleep affects players’ performance. The Giants, Rays, Rockies, Pirates and Indians have all consulted sleep experts in recent years to optimize their players’ success on the field. The teams are especially interested in how the players can manage sleep with their exhausting travel schedule, and how player performance is affected by sleep deprivation. They want to

evaluate whether their players have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea and how it’s affecting them on the field. The first step in solving a sleep issue is to monitor your sleep character. Learn more about monitoring your sleep habits with Somnology.