Prince Fielder’s Sleep Apnea Diagnosis a Reminder to Get Tested

Mar 24, 2016, by Dr. Becky Coats

On the one hand, Prince Fielder is a typical sleep apnea patient. He’s obese. He’s a man. But on the other hand, Fielder is not at all your typical sleep apnea patient, because he’s a professional athlete, former first baseman and currently a designated hitter for the Texas Rangers, Fielder gets a lot more exercise than most of us. Even though he’s overweight, he’s also active and amazingly fit.

Severe Sleep Apnea

Apparently, Fielder has been suspicious of his sleep apnea for a long time. He says that he first suspected it in 2011 when he was with the Milwaukee Brewers. He says that as he has gotten older, he has felt the effects of the condition changing, and, perhaps not coincidentally, his performance on the diamond has, arguably, gone down, too.

Fielder was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. The severity of sleep apnea is measured in the number of times your breathing stops in an hour, known as the apnea/hypopnea index (AHI). Severe sleep apnea is defined as an AHI of 30 or more. Fielder’s AHI during his sleep test was 39. This means that, over the course of an 8-hour attempt to sleep, he is actually waking up over 300 times, which prevents him from getting into the deeper levels of sleep, such as the crucial REM sleep.

For someone with Fielder’s level of sleep apnea, CPAP is considered the only frontline treatment. Only CPAP is recommended for treating severe sleep apnea, but if Fielder is unable to tolerate CPAP, an oral appliance might be considered, possibly along with surgery or lifestyle modifications. Many may consider his body sexy, but fat does you no favors when it comes to sleep apnea, it just pushes down on your airway when you sleep.

Has Sleep Apnea Affected Fielder’s Performance?

The fraught question here is whether sleep apnea treatment will improve Fielder’s performance. That depends on what you think about his current performance. We said above that his performance on the diamond has gone down, but that’s certainly arguable. Last season, Fielder hit a .305, his second best season, after 2012. However, the concern may be with a declining number of home runs and RBIs. Last season, his RBIs were the third lowest of his nine full seasons. He hit fewer home runs than in any of his full seasons, and the second lowest number he hit was in 2013 (he only played 42 games in 2014). This could be a sign of declining power.

And, of course, we can’t neglect his poor postseason performance last year, where he batted only .150 with three hits, no home runs, no extra bases, and just one RBI, contributing to the disappointing end to an exciting season as the Rangers lost their division series against the Toronto Blue Jays, two games to three.

It might be more likely that it’s affected his performance on the bag, since it’s easier to get distracted and lose attention when fielding. In 2015, Fielder didn’t play many games as first baseman, but he had his lowest fielding percentage ever.

Although it’s hard to say for sure that sleep apnea has been affecting Fielder’s performance, it certainly hasn’t been helping, and the Rangers would love to see Fielder get back some of his hitting power.

Get Tested for Sleep Apnea

Really, though, Fielder should have been tested for sleep apnea years ago. He says that his wife has been telling him about his snoring and that his breathing stops at night. He has no excuse for not getting tested, and it’s possible that getting tested and starting treatment in 2011 or 2012 could really have improved his batting and fielding percentages, making him a truly great player.

It’s a lesson to all of us. We may think we can manage without getting our sleep apnea treated, but apnea could be the difference between being good at what we do and being great. We certainly can’t wait for our doctors to take action--we have to initiate the conversation.

Is sleep apnea keeping you from greatness? If you suspect you might have sleep apnea and would like to learn more about testing and treatment, please call (817) 481-6888 for an appointment with a Dallas sleep dentist at Grapevine Dental Care today.