Tired No More

January 25, 2018

At the University of Central Florida, Jordan Johnson, a center on the football team, is sleeping soundly—and it’s not because of the Knights' recent undefeated season. Rather, it’s thanks to efforts from Mary Vander Heiden, MA, ATC, Director of Sports Medicine, and Zach Duval, MSCC, former Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, that Johnson was diagnosed with sleep apnea after years of being perpetually tired.

An article from the Orlando Sentinel reports that Johnson had been sleeping poorly for as long as he could remember. It took about a year for Vander Heiden and Duval to narrow down the reason why. 

“I used to tell the [athletic] training staff that I was always tired, and they were like, ‘We’re out here in the heat. Of course you’re going to be tired,’” Johnson said. “I was like, no. I’m like really tired.”

To test how much stress athletes’ bodies were under, Duval and the strength and conditioning staff started monitoring the time between their heartbeats with Omegawave devices. The amount of sleep that athletes were getting was also monitored through an app.

Along with showing higher levels of stress on the Omegawave, Johnson’s sleep monitoring showed that he never got to the restorative deep sleep needed to allow muscles to recover.

“He’s the guy that gets eight or nine hours of sleep, but he never feels recovered. […] Let’s figure out what [is causing this],” Duval said. “So this [Omegawave monitoring] with the sleep [monitoring] and practice [monitoring] creates some conversation. Through that conversation, we went to Mary, and said I think we have some sleep apnea problems here.”

Johnson had already been receiving attention from Vander Heiden because he had a stuffy nose almost all the time. He had been prescribed antibiotics, but they didn’t help. He even had his reps reduced in practice, but his energy levels still lagged.

As a result, Vander Heiden got Johnson an appointment with a doctor who specialized in sleep disorders. The test results showed that he had at least 80 interrupted breaths during sleep, 20 more than the threshold for a sleep apnea diagnosis. With a firm grasp on the issue, Vander Heiden ordered a CPAP device—short for continuous positive airway pressure—to help Johnson fall into a deeper sleep by pumping more oxygen into his nose through a mask.

“According to Jordan, he hadn’t slept in years,” said Vander Heiden. “It changed everything for him, and it was super rewarding to be a part of that process. He came in a totally happy kid, very excited, and was like, ‘Ms. Mary, I slept all night.’ It was awesome and really good to hear him say that.”

Duval said the impact of the diagnosis could have far-reaching results beyond sleep, as well. For instance, Johnson is now able to train more consistently in the weightroom and has more energy.

“It probably will have exponential benefit in the future,” Duval said. “Anyone that’s not sleeping, that’s going to affect your school, relationships, performance, and nutrition.”

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