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Elite Runners, Jaw Size, And Insomnia

Posted Aug 25 2009 10:43pm

I came across this article in Runner’s World about an up and coming marathoner, Tera Moody, who suffers from chronic insomnia. She was found to have obstructive sleep apnea, but could not tolerate CPAP or a dental device. She eventually found some help by undergoing CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy. She still suffers from insomnia occasionally, and take sleeping pills for emergencies. It’s clear that she’s not treating her sleep apnea. This puts her at significantly increased risk later in life for depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

While the article was well written, the writer brings up the same old stereotypical thinking that sleep apnea patients must be older, male, heavy set, snores, and with a big neck. We now know that even young thin women that don’t snore can have significant sleep apnea. 

One thing that’s striking about her picture is the smallness of her jaw. It’s significantly recessed. Coincidentally, while I was searching for other profile pictures of her, I came across a profile picture of Joan Benoit Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic marathon winner. Not too surprisingly, her jaw is pretty recessed as well.

One thing I’ve noticed is that certain elite distance runners (and even the most avid distance runners in my track club), all have various sleep problems. They can never get deep refreshing sleep, and they prefer not to sleep on their backs. I’m guessing that continuous running is what makes them feel alive, so they thrive on it, leading to their elite statuses. Some athletes (in running and in other sports) are literally addicted to exercise. Not exercising for a day or two can lead to depression and lethargy. Sleep-breathing problems can definitely aggravate, if not cause insomnia. One recent study showed that surgery for sleep apnea cured chronic insomnia in many cases.

Do you know any intense athlete that also has a major sleep problem?



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