If your score on the golf course isn't what it should be, the problem might not be a lack of tee time but a lack of z's time.
By Alyson Black
Not in the swing of things? The secret to a better golf game may lie not on the green but in your bedroom.
For Marc L. Benton, MD, an attending physician at Overlook Hospital and co-director of the Sleep Lab at Morristown Memorial, an ongoing investigation into the possible link between sleep and performance on the links has been born out of equal parts necessity and curiosity. The pulmonologist and critical-care specialist—himself an avid golfer—has been organizing overnight golf trips for years and admits that increasingly he was running into trouble matching up roommates. "A number of participants created problems because they snore like farm animals," he says, pointing out that it was an effort to pair those types together. "So I started approaching them to have sleep studies done—in part because they have sleep apnea, and also because it would make the logistics easier for planning future trips."
Sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder characterized by pauses in sleep, affects more than 12 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. What Benton has found, even in just a small sampling of his peers, is that players with moderate to severe sleep apnea demonstrated significant drops in handicaps when treated over the course of a year with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), delivered into the airway through a specially designed mask.
Now Benton is looking to expand his pool of study participants and really prove his hypothesis: “If we take a bunch of people who play golf, have moderate sleep apnea, and maintain a handicap, will we see an improvement?” he asks. “You are as good as you are at any one point. If we do something that allows you to perform better, we should be able to see a noticeable improvement.”
Sleep, Benton explains, affects general quality of life: how we think and perform. “Lack of sleep causes cognitive deficiencies,” he says. “Memory and attention span are not as good, concentration and mood are not as good. You’re less able to manage anger and frustration. Hand-eye coordination and reaction time are affected. If you play golf, you realize most of these things apply. So if you treat sleep apnea, there may be demonstrable improvements to your game: If you go from waking up 50 to 75 times an hour to just a couple of times an hour, you’ll feel better.”
Benton admits that long before he began his study, he was telling patients that treatment would improve their golf game; now he's on a quest for unequivocal proof to back up his claim. And because the overall benefits of treatment go far beyond the golf course, he's just happy people are being treated. "There are a lot of people out there with sleep apnea who don't give a darn about it, but when they hear it might affect their golf game they're suddenly very interested," Benton says. "For people who need to be studied, anything that gets them in for that study is good. Any reason is a good reason."
For more information about treatment for sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, contact Federico Cerrone, MD, medical director of the Overlook Hospital Sleep Center, at (866) 581-4627.
Fore! You may be a candidate to participate in Dr. Benton's study if you …
- are a golfer with a steady handicap
- are willing to complete online questionnaires at set intervals
- have moderate to severe sleep apnea as diagnosed by a sleep study, but are not currently in treatment
For more information or to become a study participant, call (973) 971-4567.