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Shaq Slam Dunks Sleep Apnea

By Stephanie Guler - Senior Content & Social Media Developer | May 25th, 2011

If you are married, or in a long-term relationship, chances are you’ve come face-to-face with snoring at least once or twice.

For some couples, it happens every night, and snoring has the power to actually destroy relationships. Non-snoring partners can experience chronic fatigue and irritation towards their better half, and the snorer can also feel frustration because they simply can’t help it.

One celebrity couple knows the effects of snoring all too well.

Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal and his girlfriend, Nikki “Hoopz” Alexander were recently featured in a Harvard Medical School informational video on sleep apnea.

According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that occurs when a person’s airway becomes partially or completely blocked many times during sleep.

Some people with severe sleep apnea wake up multiple times in an hour throughout the night without any recollection, which results in not getting enough quality sleep, fatigue, and can cause significant physical and mental distress.

Shaq’s girlfriend Nikki claims she saved his life, when one night she noticed that he stopped breathing in his sleep.

She explained, “His chest would stop moving. Like, he was not breathing. So I nudged him like, ‘babe, wake up’ and then he’d catch his breath. And I was like, ‘dude, you just stopped breathing in your sleep.’”

Aside from being extremely disturbing, sleep apnea can be a very scary thing to witness. Nikki told Shaq many times that he had a sleep disorder, and finally convinced him to participate in a sleep apnea study sponsored by Harvard Medical School.

After being hooked up to a polysomnography machine (or a “poly what?!” according to Shaq) for a night, doctors confirmed that Shaq had moderate sleep apnea, and began treatment immediately.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can have some serious health consequences including hypertension, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even death.

Luckily for Shaq and the 18 million other Americans with sleep apnea, there are a variety of surgical and non-surgical treatment options proven to be safe and effective.

Upper airway surgery (called a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty or UPPP) is the most common operation, and can be performed by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. Nose surgery (rhinoplasty) is also an option, but isn’t proven to cure sleep apnea completely.

Non-surgical treatments are far more common for patients, and usually result in a high success rate. Weight loss, including diet, exercise and even weight-loss surgery, can sometimes cure sleep apnea. ENT specialists recommend weight loss to sleep apnea patients regardless of which treatment they choose, as extra pounds can intensify symptoms.

Other treatments include positional therapy, oxygen therapy, and oral appliances, which are custom-built by dentists who specialize in sleep apnea.

As for Shaq, he went with the most common treatment, which is called positive airway pressure, or PAP. PAP treatment involves a small mask worn during sleep that acts as support for the internal airway.

Shaq is now using the PAP mask nightly, and said his sleep apnea has gotten much better. Both Shaq and Nikki have definitely noticed a difference in the quality of their sleep, health, and even their romantic relationship.

With his famous grin, Shaq explained, “Since I’ve met with Dr. C, I’ve been getting at least 7, 8, 9 hours of sleep a day. I feel good…got a lot of energy; the relationship is good at the house. Everything is working.”

If you would like to learn more about sleep apnea, find an ENT specialist in your area.

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This article was written by the medical research team at does not intend for any of the information on this site to be regarded as medical advice - it is meant as a starting point for understanding treatment details and options before contacting a registered, licensed doctor. We advise all patients to seek medical advice from a doctor.
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