Sleep Apnea
President Taft
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Next PagePrevious Page Taft's Story

  Sleep apnea sufferer   and    • Governor of the Philippines
• Secretary of War
• President of the United States
• Chief Justice of the United States

Most, but not all, persons with sleep apnea weigh too much. Taft fit that description. Because his experiences with sleep apnea would be typical even today, his struggles can teach us many things. Below, we re-tell Taft's story, then highlight lessons learned.


Taft's sleep apnea was related to his weight. Just under six feet tall, he weighed 225 pounds in college. He was then healthy.

Signs of sleepiness and sleep apnea appeared in his 40s, as his weight neared 300 pounds. For example, he slept through a thunderous typhoon in the Philippines, despite terrified pleadings from his wife. And as Secretary of War, he snored in meetings with President Theodore Roosevelt. Yet, he claimed to sleep "very well" at night.

After a spectacularly successful diet in his late 40s, his weight again neared 300 pounds. Soon after, during his campaign for the Presidency, he publicly slept on speaking platforms, in cars, and while dining out.

Taft weighed over 300 pounds his entire Presidency. He could sleep anywhere, anytime. He fell asleep during conversations with the Speaker of the House and with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He publicly slept in church, at the theater, and at a funeral. He fell asleep while playing cards, while signing documents, and while eating. He became sleepy playing golf. He could sleep standing up.

It was years before Taft's aides realized his sleepiness was a sign of sickness. Taft refused their advice to see a physician.

Taft's heart started giving out. People saw his "mind and expression" deteriorate. Some felt he was "ripe for a stroke." He made so many political errors that he was called "Taft the Blunderer" and "Mr. Malaprop."

The election of 1912 took the Presidency from the 55-year-old Taft, but saved his life. Free from the strains of the White House, he dropped his weight from 340 pounds to 264 in a year. He stayed there, approximately, for the rest of his life. His decade-long sleepiness vanished. His blood pressure fell. In the last nine years of his life he was extremely effective and productive as Chief Justice on the Supreme Court. He died at the age of 72.

Important: Taft had a severe case of sleep apnea. It is important to remember that most cases are much milder. One can have sleep apnea without falling asleep in conversations or while eating.

The lessons about sleep apnea in Taft's story are:

Sleep apnea...

A person with sleep apnea...

More details about each lesson are available here.

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Last modified 15:29 Pacific on 21 Jun 2004.