masthead NFL article l
Jan 28, 2019

Tackling sleep apnea: two players share their stories

Estimated reading time: 3-5 minutes


While you might never associate sleep apnea with professional athletes, you’d be surprised to find out that this chronic sleep condition is extremely common among professional football players. In fact, according to a study from The New England Journal of Medicine, one in three professional footballplayers are likely to have sleep apnea – almost two times as high as the national average in the United States. 


With less than one week before The Big Game, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, are tackling their first-hand experiences with sleep apnea. On the field, these two former Big Game champions are performing at the top of their class. But off the field, they’re living with sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder that’s characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing throughout the sleep cycle, which prevents oxygen from reaching the lungs. By disrupting the sleep cycle, sleep apnea can dramatically affect energy levels, mental performance, and long-term health. In some cases, sleep apnea can even be fatal if left untreated. To spread awareness about the prominence of sleep apnea and encourage others to get tested, Kyle and Fletcher want to share their personal stories around diagnosis and treatment.

Kyle Van Noy – linebacker overcomes his fear of sleep

At 6’ 3” and 243 pounds, the 27-year-old linebacker has a dominating presence on the field – so you might be surprised to find out that Kyle was afraid of falling asleep for most of his life. Throughout his childhood, Kyle woke up almost every night gasping to catch his breath. His fear of falling asleep kept him awake throughout the night – a pattern that continued into college where he recalls only sleeping three hours per night. It wasn’t until 2014, when Kyle joined a professional football team, that he learned he had sleep apnea. The morning after his first night sleeping with a CPAP, the medical device used to treat sleep apnea, Kyle remembers feeling like it was Christmas morning. It was the first night in almost 10 years that he had gotten a full eight hours of sleep. 
When I got treated for sleep apnea and finally got a CPAP, it changed my life. I finally got eight hours of sleep and felt energized and rested. Now, I’m happier because I get full night’s sleep, I actually enjoy going to sleep now, I look forward to it.

Kyle Van Noy


Fletcher Cox - Defensive tackles discovers a missing link in his training program

When defensive star and team captain Fletcher Cox was diagnosed with sleep apnea, he wasn’t surprised. Fletcher had seen his brother go through diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea, witnessing firsthand the difference a CPAP machine can make in a person’s quality of life. After speaking with his coach, Fletcher decided to undergo sleep apnea testing himself and learned that his breathing was stopping several times throughout the night because of this condition. While he was reluctant to start treatment, Fletcher immediately noticed a difference in his energy levels and his mood. No longer grumpy and groggy, this three-time pro bowler feels refreshed and alert – ready to tackle the day and his opponents.
I can tell the difference when I don't sleep with my CPAP and when I do. When I don't sleep with it, I wake up grumpy and don’t have as much energy throughout the day. The nights that I do use it, I wake up, I feel refreshed, I feel like I slept through the whole night, and that feeling stays with me throughout my day.

Fletcher Cox

Defensive Tackle

If you or a loved one are living with sleep apnea or think you may have undiagnosed sleep apnea, learn more tips from Kyle and Fletcher at


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Kathy O'Reilly

Kathy O'Reilly

Philips Global Press Office

Tel.: +1 978-221-8919

Meredith Amoroso

Meredith Amoroso

Philips Global Press Office

Tel: +1 724-584-8991

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