The study involving 167 players showed that 60 percent of linemen, average age of 54, had sleep disordered breathing, as defined by having at least 10 sleep-related breathing disorder episodes, such as pauses in breathing, per hour. Linemen had an average of 18.1 episodes per hour.
The monitoring of breathing at night was conducted while the retired players slept at home. In addition, researchers discovered that age and obesity were significantly associated with sleep disordered breathing.
Linemen had an average body mass index of 34.2; a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.
Dr. Virend Somers, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist who helped guide the study, said the prevalence of sleep apnea and obesity among the retired players was higher than expected, and serves as a warning that athletes need to monitor their weight and health carefully when they retire -- a time when physical activity levels may begin to decline abruptly.
In addition, 45 percent of the linemen and 32 percent of non-linemen reported having high blood pressure.
The findings were presented at the American College of Cardiology Annual Scientific Session.