Napoli on dealing with sleep apnea

Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli underwent bimaxillary reconstruction surgery for sleep apnea in November, and Saturday marked the first time he discussed the procedure publicly.

Napoli thinks the surgery was a life-changing thing, and he discussed in depth the way sleep apnea impacted him on and off the field.

On the process itself: “It’s been long. Obviously I had the surgery on my face, on my jaw. I’ve been sleeping better. It was a brutal process, but I think it worked. But I’m getting better sleep. I wake up early in the morning, get my day started. It’s been good.”

How brutal was the surgery? “It was probably one of the worst things I’ve ever done, to tell you the truth. The broke my upper and lower jaw, moved it forward and almost doubled my airway space. But yeah, I spent two days in the ICU after. I mean, 10 days of just pain. Just sitting there, I couldn’t really do anything. I walked around a little bit.”

On the after-effects: “But it’s worked. I still have some complications. I don’t have feeling in my lips, my chin, just because they stretched out my jaw so far and all the nerves take time to come back. It can be like a year, up to a year to come back. But I’m pretty much used to it. I had to go through six weeks of a liquid diet, which is brutal. I lost a lot of weight, but I mean, I gained it back. I just started working out probably about two, 2-1/2 weeks ago, which is going good. I haven’t really lost too much strength. And we mapped it out to where it looks like I’ll be ready for Opening Day.”

What was it like living with sleep apnea? “I mean, it’s been tough. I’ve had this for a long time. We tried to do different things. I tried to wear a C-Pap, which is a positive pressure mask. I tried medication, I tried a dental piece; I tried pretty much everything. It got to a point to where it worked for a couple hours and then I’d wake up. I was taking medicine to fall asleep with all the devices on, and eventually I’d wake up a couple hours later and I can’t take more medicine.”

How it impacted him at the ballpark? “It was tough. I missed batting practice. I’d be sleeping during batting practice, wake up for the game. So it was hard. I was always tired. There were games that I came out of that people didn’t really know what happened, but it was because I was dizzy and really sleep-deprived. I couldn’t really focus. It was tough, but what I did, the process I went through to how I’m feeling now, I’m dreaming now. The past eight years I haven’t had a dream because I never went into the REM. It was always a battle playing in the game and trying to get through a game. Our game is a grind, going every day.”

Optimistic: “I know it’s going to work. It’s going to be better for me, just because I’m dreaming. I wake up at 6 in the morning and start my day. I don’t remember the last time I’ve done that.

Now you sleep regularly? “Yeah, I mean, I sleep eight hours. What I used to do is I’d sleep and I’d probably wake up 50 to 100 times a night. I’d lay in bed until 12 o’clock trying to get sleep but never really do, but I’d be so tired. And I’d go to the field and start my day, try to do my routine, sometimes sleep during batting practice and just try to sleep.”

The feeling in your lips now, or lack thereof? “You know you go to the dentist and get novocaine? It’s gotten to the point now to where you know when it starts getting numb, the tingling? My upper lip is like that and my teeth, the front of my teeth, I can’t really feel the roof of my mouth. They said it could be up to a year. It might not ever come back. But being young — this surgery was usually for the 50-year-old range. But the doctor was saying, me being so young, everything should come back. But it could be up to a year. But I’m comfortable. It’s not like it’s holding me back or anything. It’s a little weird watching me chew food. I used to drink water and it would just drip all over my shirt.”

Time-table for baseball: “I’m going to be ready for Opening Day. It’s almost like my hip issue, when I was held back, when I really couldn’t do anything. We just mapped it out to where I’d be ready for spring training. It’s probably going to almost be like that. I’m hitting. I started hitting, I’m throwing, I’m lifting weights, I’m running. It’s just, I couldn’t clench my teeth for a certain amount of time. I just needed the bones to heal properly. I got the full-go from the doctor.

More on time-table: “Yeah, I mean, I don’t feel like I’m that far behind. I think more for me it’s endurance. I’m lifting right now. My strength is there. I’ve been hitting off the tee, which I really only do this time of year anyways. I never start hitting until I get down to spring training. I’m going down the 3rd to spring training. All the trainers are down there, I’ll just follow them down there. Everything’s looking good.”

One positive to come out of all this? Napoli no longer chews tobacco. “Yeah. I’m happy about that.

Permanently quit tobacco? “I hope so. Maybe I’ll keep this feeling out of my lip for a while so I don’t.”

More on what it was like: “It was kind of crazy because I was so sleep deprived, I’d try to drink a red bull and it would give me a total, bad effect. I was trying to get energy any way I could and it wasn’t working.”

The dizziness? “Yeah, I don’t think it was from the red bull. I was just so tired. You ever have a bad night’s sleep? I had it for eight years. I never really got a good night sleep.”

Crossroads? “I couldn’t do it anymore, feeling the way I was feeling. I was like, I need to have the surgery or I’m not going to play anymore — that’s how bad it was. That’s why I went to go to this procedure. I came in and I was like, I need to have the surgery now. But with my hip issue, I was taking the osteoporosis medicine, which the healing of the jaw bones … That’s why I waited until November. Because I needed to wait a month to be off that medicine. Thank God I stopped taking that medicine because I had an MRI and my hips actually got better. I was like, I’m done taking that. I just didn’t want to take all these medications. I stopped taking it and I had to wait one more month because you’re supposed to be off the medicine for like three months and I stopped taking it for like two months. That’s why we had to wait.”

Way more energy now: “Yeah, it’s been great. I find myself doing stuff around the house. I was telling someone the other day, I was doing stuff around the cage and before, I was so lazy and tired, I’d be like, I don’t even want to pick up the balls. Now, I drop my bat, [pick up the balls] and it’s like, boom, boom, boom, I had energy. I could do stuff around the house, doing laundry or whatever, cleaning up the house. I had energy to do that stuff. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t lazy. It’s been a good offseason, it’s been a tough offseason, but I think it’s worth it.”

4 Comments

AMAZING story Ian… thanks for sharing! Imagine what he’s capable of when he DOES get sleep?!

Well done, Ian. I have issues with sleep apnea too – no where near to the extent he suffered with. It’s amazing he was able to function at all. What an ordeal! I look forward to seeing what a well-rested Napoli does this season!

Very well written, Ian. I suffer from sleep apnea as well, but no where near to the extent Napoli did. It’s amazing he was able to function at all. I look forward to see what a well-rested Mike Napoli does this season!

Wow. Can’t imagine what it’s like not being able to dream. Godspeed on a timely recovery, Nap! Thanks for this, Ian. Looking forward to another Napoli Boylston Street romp🙂 Go Sawx!

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