Top 10 Historical Figures with Sleep Apnea

The history of sleep apnea is just as fascinating as the historical figures that have had this strange and mysterious somnambulant malady. While there are no mentions of sleep apnea, or any sleep disorders for that matter, in the Old Testament or the New Testament, there are other ancient texts that make striking allusions. For instance, the Greek physician Hippocrates – who many consider the father of modern medicine – connected the dots between obesity, excessive sleepiness and a struggle for breath during sleep. And another miscellaneous text from the same time period pointed out a patient who was obese, had trouble breathing, and had to be “awakened by needles to avoid choking.” However, it really took until the mid to late late 20th century for sleep apnea to be studied as a clinical sleep disorder. And it wasn’t even until 1981 when the Australian doctor Colin Sullivan invented the CPAP machine that anyone suffering from sleep apnea found adequate relief. In the meantime, though, there were a slew of fascinating historical figures that are rumored to have had the sleep disorder. Here is the ultimate compilation of historical figures that were reported to have struggled with sleep apnea.

1. Henry VIII – “Of All Losses, Time is the Most Irrecoverable for it Can Never be Redeemed.”

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In his early days he was king, ruler of England, lord of Ireland, robust, had a whopping six wives, but in his older days Henry VIII of England became morbidly obese with a waist size of 54 inches and needed to be moved with the medieval equivalent of a crane and he had a number of pus-filled boils that he probably blamed on witches, but was mostly likely bedsores. They say that his rapid decline in health was a result of a serious jousting accident – imagine that in today’s papers.  To ease his pain he soaked in a mixture of herbs, musk, and civit – a small carnivorous cat that gives off a foul-smelling musk.  Get this guy a SoClean!  There is almost no doubt that sleep apnea was just one of the many conditions he had.


2. Napoleon Bonaparte – “The Best Way to Keep One’s Word is Not to Give It.”

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Ruthless military leader, emperor, horseback riding invader, and ruler of France – amongst a number of other conquests – Napoleon Bonaparte was also short, stocky, had a compacted neck and probably also had sleep apnea. Bonaparte also had a habit of taking over other countries and you know what they say: mo’ countries, mo’ problems. All this stress forced Napoleon to take lots of deep naps and there are historical accounts by his soldiers, family and others that knew him, of loud, rumbling snoring. Also, while Napoleon was exiled on the island of Saint Helena, has was also said to have gained a lot of weight.  With Napoleon’s penchant for usurping nations, he could not risk sleeping poorly on the eve of his invasions so rumor has it that he armed himself with the CPAP RX Package that provides a CPAP prescription in as little as 24 hours just in case his CPAP were to break.  Now that’s a service fitting for someone who wants to rule the world.


3. Winston Churchill – “If You’re Going through Hell, Keep Going.”

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British politician, Prime Minister of Britain during most of World War 2, war hero, leader, first honorary citizen of the United States, tough as nails politician and occasional jokester, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was rather rotund, smoked cigars and had a few other vices that history probably wouldn’t want to share, considering his stature. Being relatively embonpoint (that’s chubby), a voracious snorer, and a lover of afternoon naps, Sir Churchill most likely had sleep apnea.  If Sir Churchill were alive today and seeking CPAP treatment, he’d probably go with something like the ResMed Quattro Air Full-Face Mask System, which boasts an impressive indestructible mask with a lightweight feel – perfect for those late night bombing raids.


4. Johannes Brahms – “A Symphony is No Joke.”

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German composer, pianist, genius, and curmudgeon – Johannes Brahms most likely had sleep apnea. Interestingly enough, Brahms had a habit of falling asleep at some of the most inopportune times, like at cafes, restaurants, theaters and even during some live performances by other genius composers, like Franz Liszt and Gustav Mahler. Brahms would also be awakened by his own loud, grunting snores that seemed to have jostled him out of sleep. If Brahms were around today, we’re pretty sure he’d choose the Mirage FX Nasal Mask – because it’s lightweight and low-impact, perfect for those late night symphony writing fits of genius.


5. Grover Cleveland – “I Have Tried So Hard To Do Right.”

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The 22nd and 24th president of the United States, the only ruler of the free world to hold two non-consecutive terms in the White House, and possible sufferer of sleep apnea, Grover Cleveland was also the second fattest president next to William Howard Taft and he presided over one of the worst depressions in the United States history. Also – a little known fact – Cleveland was a hangman in a previous job, so that probably didn’t fare well on his conscience. With all that tossing and turning, Grover would have definitely chosen the Swift FX Bella Gray Mask, because it doesn’t completely hide his glorious mustache.  With a mustache as prominent as that comes great responsibility and he clearly knows that.


6. Theodore Roosevelt – “Believe You Can and You’re Halfway There.”

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26th president of the United States, distant fifth cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt, icon of manliness, avid hunter and survivor of an assassination attempt, Theodore Roosevelt was thought to have sleep apnea. He was a loud snorer, a deep sleeper and died suddenly in his sleep. While the cause of death was considered to be a blood clot, could it have actually been triggered by sleep apnea? Although, Teddy was also a heavy drinker and was quite overweight – so maybe that had something do with it. Or maybe it was just genetic. Whatever the case was, we’d like to think Teddy Roosevelt would like the AirFit P10 Mask System – a light weight mask to balance out his personality that was anything but light.


7. Queen Victoria – “I Feel Sure That No Girl Would Go To the Altar if She Knew All.”

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Empress of India, colonizer, Queen of England and Ireland, and wife of her first cousin (don’t worry, that was totally normal in English royalty), Victoria was thought to have suffered from a number of sleep disorders – one of them could have been sleep apnea. Later in her life, Victoria was said to have been shorter than five feet and rather obese, which probably exacerbated her sleeping disorders, especially sleep apnea. If Queen Victoria were alive today – they did at one point think she was immortal, because she held her title for longer than any other monarch – she would definitely go with the Swift™ FX Bella Pink Mask System, which is befitting of a queen with a taste for the gilded life.


8. William Taft – “Politics Makes Me Sick.”

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27th president of the United States and later the Chief Justice (the only president to hold both these titles), lover of peace and justice for all mankind, and womankind too, William Taft had quite severe obstructive sleep apnea – but he didn’t know what it was at the time. During his presidency, Taft was obese and could never get a good night’s worth of sleep. All those smiles with his big, tufted mustache were all for the sake of the camera and diplomacy. But the president who invented Dollar Diplomacy – giving money to other countries in the hope that they like us – was suffering through it all.  If William Howard Taft were here with us today, he would probably go with something like the Comfort Gel Blue – it’s all in the name of this CPAP mask.


9. Orson Welles – “Ask Not What You Can Do For Your Country. Ask What’s for Lunch.”

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In the fall of 1930 he made radio listeners literally believe the world was being attacked by aliens with the production of War of the Worlds, he created what some consider the best films ever made, like Citizen Kane and Caesar, and he was one of the leading figures of the Golden Era of Hollywood, Orson Welles was handsome, rich, and brilliant in his younger days, but in his older days he favored drink and became quite obese. Many believe that his obesity is what led him to possibly suffer from sleep apnea. If Orson were with us today, he’d probably go with something like the Amara Full-face Mask System, which is specially made for a man’s facial structure – perfect for a man of Orson’s stature and legend status as a man amongst men – and the ladies too.


10. Franklin D. Roosevelt – “The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself.”

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The 32nd president of the United States and the only leader of the free world to serve four terms, Franklin D. Roosevelt, or FDR as they called him was one of the greatest leaders in history and was a booming orator – he also probably had sleep apnea. In fact, FDR might have died from long-term complications from sleep apnea. Namely, Roosevelt was known for having fitful sleep, morning fatigue and, later on in his life, hypertension. Somehow, through all of this, FDR took the United States out of the Great Depression and created financial firewalls that protect the country from complete financial collapse until this day. If FDR were around today, he would probably go with the Swift FX Nano, a great mask for a great man.

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Image Credits

  1. Holbein the Younger, Hans. 1537. Portrait of Henry VIII.
  2. David, Jacques-Lous. 1801. Napoleon.
  3. British Government. 1943. Churchill V Sign.
  4. New York Public Library Archives. 1889. Johannes Brahms Portrait.
  5. Unknown. 1892. Stephen Grover Cleveland.
  6. Library of Congress. 1903. Theodore Roosevelt Standing Next to Large Globe.
  7. Bassano, Alexander. 1887. Queen Victoria by Bassano.
  8. US Army Signal Corps. 1921. William Howard Taft as Chief Justice SCOTUS.
  9. Iberia Airlines. 1954. Orson Welles.
  10. Goldensky, Elias. 1933. FDR in 1933.