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Mets First Baseman Discovers Sleep Apnea To Blame For Underperformance On The Field

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Sleep apnea is when a person stops breathing during the night, until the body's survival instinct kicks in and you suddenly gasp for air.

You're waking up dozens or even hundreds of times a night, without even realizing it, but your brain and body suffer.

Dominic Smith was a first round draft pick for the New York Mets a couple of years ago, but the young first baseman turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. He couldn't seem to focus enough to live up to the potential the team knew he had.

Then Dominic got a clue from his teammates as to what might be the problem.

"People would tell me that I would stop breathing throughout the night when I sleep, my roommates in the minor leagues and stuff like that," said Smith.

It was classic sleep apnea. Typically the problem affects overweight men, but it affects women and teens as well. We know that even young, fit professional athletes can have it with serious consequences.

"It affected my performance, you know, on an everyday basis," said Smith. "You know, I felt like I couldn't focus, I was tired all the time, I always had headaches every day and my fatigue level was super down."

MORE: New Device Reduces Sleep Apnea In Two-Thirds Of Patients Using It, Study Shows

Dr. Rudrani Banik of the Mount Sinai Health System says it's not surprising that stopping breathing during the night impacts performance, even beyond just being tired.

"When the brain isn't receiving enough oxygen, the brain is coordinating the rest of the body, eye-hand coordination, reaction time, all of these factors can be affected by undiagnosed sleep apnea," said Banik.

It can easily affect your performance on the baseball field.

Dominic got a sleep study that revealed his sleep apnea, and now uses a CPAP machine to keep him sleeping and breathing throughout the night with excellent results.

"It changed my life," said Smith. "I have energy now, I don't have headaches, I could focus. I felt like I could really, you know, see the pitchers, you know, I could see spin way better and it helps me lay off of pitches."

Treating sleep apnea is not just about being a better athlete. Sleep apnea is linked to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and even diabetes.

Because people may not even know when they stop breathing in their sleep, it is usually a sleep partner who hears the suddenly snort or snore when breathing starts again.

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