Sleep apnea therapy shaves strokes off golf score

Golfers with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can lower their scores by treating their OSA with nasal positive airway pressure (NPAP), according to study findings presented this week at the CHEST 2009 meeting in San Diego, California.

After a few months of NPAP, a dozen golfers saw their average handicap fall from 12.4 to 11.0 (p = 0.01). The effect was even more pronounced in better golfers (handicap <12), whose average handicap dropped from 9.2 to 6.3 (p < 0.001). "The original intent of the study was to investigate whether there would be improvement in the performance of golfers with sleep apnea once treated. That was seen and was no surprise to me. The surprise was that the most significant improvement was noted in the lower handicap golfers, many of whom were older," study co-author Dr. Marc L. Benton told Reuters Health. Dr. Benton, from Atlantic Sleep and Pulmonary Associates in Madison, New Jersey, and Neil Friedman from nearby Morristown Memorial Hospital studied 12 golfers with moderate to severe OSA who were treated with NPAP and 12 control golfers. Handicap and scores on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale and on a sleep questionnaire developed by the researchers were assessed at baseline and again after 20 rounds of golf during NPAP treatment. In addition to reduced handicaps, the NPAP-treated golfers had significant improvements in the Epworth Sleepiness Scale score and in the sleep questionnaire score. The control golfers, by contrast, showed no significant improvements in any parameters, including handicap. Based on data card reporting, NPAP was used on 92.2% of nights. The researchers believe that NPAP improves golf scores because golf is in large part a mental game, and NPAP can reduce the cognitive impairment and daytime sleepiness seen with OSA. While the study involved golfers, Dr. Benton believes that there is also a broader message for clinicians. "There are many ways to motivate patients to seek and be adherent with treatment for medical conditions," he said, "and sometimes improvements in the so-called activities of daily living, often very important to patients, may motivate them more effectively than simply the promise of better health."