The Biggest Loser's Sean Algaier Talks Sleep Apnea

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September 29, 2010

The Biggest Loser's Sean Algaier Talks Sleep Apnea

People may not automatically connect sleep to NBC's reality show The Biggest Loser , but sleep is an increasingly important part of this highly successful show. Since the show's seventh season, sleep studies have been added to the contestants' pre-show medical work-ups, and treatment for those with sleep apnea has been provided, courtesy of Philips Respironics.

The results have been striking. Doctors found that a majority of the contestants had sleep apnea, often severe cases.

In one season, every cast member had a positive sleep apnea diagnosis. Pam Minkley, a sleep technologist from Philips Respironics who works with the cast members, explained, "In the first seasons of the show, the show's doctor talked about the three pillars of health... psychological, healthy eating, and healthy exercise. Now he has added a fourth pillar called 'sleep optimization.'"

The National Sleep Foundation's Sleepmatters magazine spoke with two prior contestants from The Biggest Loser , Sean Algaier and Sherry Johnston, about how receiving treatment for sleep apnea changed their lives.

Sean's Story When Sean Algaier arrived at the Ranch for Season 8 of The Biggest Loser , he was 29 years old and weighed 444 pounds. Sean had been overweight since high school. In his home, he found comfort in food, and exercise was a form of punishment. Sean didn't know that he had sleep apnea before the show, but his wife suspected it.

She would wake up frightened when he gasped for air and stopped breathing in his sleep. Despite these signs, Sean opted not to have a sleep study . Even with health insurance, it would have cost a few hundred dollars, and Sean preferred to spend the money on his family rather than himself. Meanwhile, Sean's friends teased him about constantly falling asleep.

He felt tired so frequently that it became the norm. He could fall asleep five or six times a day, even when he was driving. Sean snored so loudly at night that it affected his marriage.

"For lack of a better description," he said, "we would go to sleep in the same bed, but we would move

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