Sleep apnea causes interruptive breathing in the middle of the night for more than 12 million people in the U.S. High blood pressure, fatigue, and weight gain are just a few of its physical symptoms. Now, research has discovered that sleep apnea can affect your intimacy lifestyle, by causing erectile dysfunction/low sex drive or loss of libido in both men and women. Physicians believe that sleep apnea may affect our sex hormones like testosterone hormone cell activities, which replenishes itself when we sleep and declines when we are sleep deprived. Because sleep apnea causes intermittent waking and chronic sleep deprivation, this condition can drive down levels of the testosterone hormones, causing sexual dysfunction. Men and women with sleep apnea can stop breathing briefly, many times during the night. Breathing pauses can last at least 10 seconds, or there may be 20 to 30 or more pauses per hour.

Sleep Apnea and Oxygen

Yes, sleep apnea and sexual dysfunction problems are related. Erectile-dysfunction can occur when continued drops in oxygen during the night, due to obstructed airways, is the main cause. The drop in oxygen levels results in a condition called “endothelial dysfunction.” This simply means that the blood vessels that supply the penis with oxygen for erections, lose their ability to regulate normal blood flow to the penile area. But, the good news is that when your sleep apnea is treated, a vast majority of men and women experience sexual function improvement.

Obstructive and Central Conditions

From a clinical point of view, there are two types of sleep apnea conditions – obstructive and central. In an obstructive sleep apnea condition, there are repetitive problems of a partial or complete upper airway blockage during sleep. This occurs as a result of the diaphragm and chest muscles working harder as the pressure increases to keep airways open. Breathing through the obstructive condition results in body jerks, and loud snoring with gasps. If not corrected, obstructive sleep apnea can cause heart rhythm problems because the regular flow of oxygen to the body's organs are impeded. In central sleep apnea, the airways are not blocked, but harmfully, the brain does not send signals to the lung muscles to breathe due to the irregularities that occur in the respiratory control system.

Central apnea is centered in the functions of the central nervous system. People who have experienced central apnea report that they experience waking up a lot, sometimes due to gasping or choking sensations. But with patients who have experienced both central and obstructive sleep apnea, they admit that they have a lack of libido drive or the inability to sustain an erection. With arteries and veins, they require a healthy supply of blood to the manhood to keep erections occurring. The small arteries that bring blood to the penis can be weakened or damaged with sleep apnea and can cause erectile-dysfunction.

Sleep Apnea/Sexual Dysfunction in Women

In women, sleep apnea and sexual dysfunction problems are due to the damage it causes on their nerve and blood vessels that are involved in sexual functions. Sleep apnea affects up to 40% of women and is often associated to loss of estrogen, as well as age. Female sleep apnea is classified as mild, moderate, and severe. The increased severity of sleep apnea in women also greatly affected their sexual functions, such as reduced sexual desire, lack of sexual sensation, less lubrication, less orgasms, and as a result, their relationships began to suffer.

 Sleep Apnea/Sexual Dysfunction in Men

For men, sleep apnea causes sexual impotency, fatigue, erectile dysfunction/low sexual drive, and moodiness. We see that hormones and neurological systems must work together for a healthy sexual life. Sleep apnea greatly affects the muscles and nerves that work to bring about ejaculation and keeps them working to also bring sperm to the organs. The general health for men and women are crucial to normal sexual functions. Diabetes in men and women develop sexual dysfunctions, which is a condition that can also occur because of severe sleep apnea conditions.

Sleep Apnea Treatments

The treatments for sleep apnea to re-establish your sexual dysfunctions involve the degree to which you suffer with the lack of sleep. These include: 

  • Lifestyle changes like losing weight or to stop smoking, drinking, or taking drugs.
  • Certain FDA devices that can help to open up blocked airways, such as expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP).
  • Surgery may be necessary, which involve tissue removal from the back of the throat, jaw repositioning, soft palate implants, or polyp and enlarged tonsil removal.
  • CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapies

 Summary

 It is important for people with sleep apnea and who are experiencing lack of sexual desires or impotence must see their urologist as soon as possible. Again, the good news is that there are treatments to help with sleep apnea, which can improve low libido and various sexual functions. Treating sleep apnea has been shown to return testosterone hormone cells to normal levels.