a woman sitting on her couch watching tv where she sees an older man wearing a CPAP machine

Sleep Apnea and TV Shows

Last updated: September 2021

I have seen sleep apnea and CPAP machines make an appearance in a couple of shows that I was watching recently. Neither of these appearances were necessarily inaccurate, but they did show the most often referenced patient with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): an older gentleman.

I understand that a large percentage of those diagnosed with OSA are men. However, that raises an issue. Obstructive sleep apnea does not only affect men. Obstructive sleep apnea affects many other individuals. Like me: a female, diagnosed at 20 years old.

I will explain these appearances without giving away too many details for those of you who might watch either of the shows in the future.

The Sopranos

The first show that referenced OSA was The Sopranos. One of the heads of the family was diagnosed with OSA. This character was very proud of his manliness and strength. So as I am sure you can guess, he did not take too well to the idea of sleeping with a CPAP machine. He stated that it made him look weak, sickly, and just altogether something he was not interested in.

The individual who was prescribing the CPAP did a great job at explaining the seriousness of this condition. She explained how the apnea episodes are quite serious and can lead to many other medical conditions, especially as one ages. The character ended up reluctantly taking the machine and using it, despite his fear of lessening his status as the "man of the family."

Grace and Frankie

The second show I saw a CPAP appearance is the comedy Grace and Frankie. One of the main characters was diagnosed with sleep apnea after he sustained a heart attack. During his diagnosis, the medical team discussed important information regarding his health and the implication of untreated OSA.

However, as we could have foreseen, the character was very reluctant to wear the machine despite the medical implications and pleas from his family. Eventually, he wore it and described feeling much better with it!

Not the entire picture of a sleep apnea diagnosis

I believe that these depictions of sleep apnea were relatively accurate. However, I did not enjoy that the characters never displayed joy that they were able to receive a diagnosis. I understand that an OSA diagnosis is not always joyous, but it means that you are one step closer to becoming healthier and living your life without overwhelming fatigue.

They prescribed my CPAP to me when I was 20 years old. I was not very happy. But after a short amount of time (with no one twisting my arm), I began to realize that this was the best step for me.

Celebrating true representation

The lack of diversity of those diagnosed within these shows is another aspect that I did not care for. OSA does not discriminate between race, gender, age, etc. But, most representations of these individuals are older men. I think this is one of the reasons this community is so amazing; it allows us to share our experiences and spread the word that OSA is more common than one might think.

Keep up the conversations and help us break down the stigma! Please join our community and share your thoughts / experiences / questions / concerns below!

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

More on this topic

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The SleepApnea.Sleep-Disorders.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.

Community Poll

Do you feel stigmatized by sleep apnea?