Did you know that almost one billion adults aged 30 to 69 worldwide have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)? Or that many of them are men from the Great White North? Indeed, around one in five Canadian adults older than 45 are at risk of OSA.
However, having sleep apnea doesn't always automatically mean having erectile dysfunction. And even in cases wherein they co-occur, both are treatable and manageable.
Still, it pays to learn about the connection between sleep apnea and ED. It can help you determine if you have either or both and, from there, find appropriate treatment.
In this article, we talk about the following to help you know more about ED and sleep apnea:
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Sleep apnea is one of the more than 100 identified sleep/wake disorders. It causes a person's breathing to stop for several seconds before starting again. And as a sleep disorder, it occurs during sleep.
There's more than one form of sleep apnea; three, to be specific.
Of all sleep apnea types, this is the most prevalent.
OSA occurs when an asleep person's throat muscles relax. That relaxation then blocks the airways, resulting in breathing issues.
Central sleep apnea affects the connection between the brain and the breathing muscles. Specifically, it causes the former to fail while sending signals to the latter.
As a result, the muscles may function erratically. That may then lead to problems with breathing while asleep.
Complex sleep apnea syndrome also goes by the name treatment-emergent central sleep apnea. It's the worst type because it means a person has both obstructive and central sleep apnea. However, it's also less common than OSA and CSA.
Studies found that men with sleep apnea have a higher risk of erectile dysfunction.
For example, a 2016 study looked at how common it was for OSA and ED to co-exist. Of the 55 participants, 38 exhibited signs of OSA. And of that 38 patients, 63.2% (24) had erectile dysfunction.
Another study, this one from 2018, also investigated co-occurring OSA and ED. Again, the researchers found that many men (51% of the participants) had both conditions.
While the link is there, scientists are still trying to figure out how exactly sleep apnea can cause ED.
A possible connection is the sleep deprivation that sleep apnea can cause. It may result in low testosterone (T) levels.
Low T levels, in turn, can lower sex drive and libido. Ultimately, it may contribute to or lead to erectile dysfunction.
Indeed, that's what a 2021 analysis of 18 studies suggests. It found that patients with severe OSA had significantly lower serum T levels. On the other hand, those with mild to moderate OSA didn't exhibit the same symptoms.
Stress and fatigue caused by a lack of sleep from having sleep apnea may also play a role. In this case, stress can interrupt how the brain sends messages to the penis to let extra blood flow. Fatigue can also disrupt the brain's feelings of sexual excitement.
Read more: Sleep Tips To Help You Hit The Sack
There also appears to be a connection between endocrine dysfunction and sleep disorders. For instance, hormone overactivity may affect sleep function and lead to wakefulness. Moreover, low testosterone levels may result in or contribute to poor sleep.
All types of sleep apnea share similar symptoms, so it can sometimes be hard to get an accurate diagnosis. Moreover, all three may contribute to erectile dysfunction since they all impair sleep.
To give you an idea, here are some of the signs and effects of sleep apnea:
Talk to a doctor ASAP if you experience erectile dysfunction and some or many of the symptoms above.
Fortunately, there are several treatment options for sleep apnea, including the following:
If you have mild sleep apnea, you may only have to make lifestyle changes, such as losing weight.
Weight loss may help by reducing fatty deposits in the neck and tongue. Fats in these areas may restrict airflow, so shedding them may boost airflow.
Losing weight may also help reduce abdominal fat. That, in turn, may aid in improving airway traction and lung volume. That can then help reduce the likelihood of the airway collapsing during sleep.
If you smoke, quitting may also help, as it's a factor in both breathing disorders and ED.
If you have moderate to severe sleep apnea, CPAP may benefit you. It's one of, if not the most common, treatments for such cases of sleep apnea.
With CPAP, you use a machine and a mask that delivers air pressure as you sleep. The air pressure is just high enough to keep your airway from collapsing. That enables you to breathe more easily and, therefore, sleep better.
Although CPAP is reliable in treating sleep apnea, it can be cumbersome for some people. If the same applies to you, let your doctor know so they can recommend an oral appliance. These are devices designed to keep the throat open and improve your breathing.
Surgery is often only recommended if other treatment options don't work. In most cases, you should try the above methods for at least three months before deciding to get surgery.
Tissue removal, tissue shrinkage, and jaw repositioning are some of your options.
The Canadian Sleep Society is one of your best resources for information on sleep apnea. It's a national organization supporting sleep-related research and high-quality care. Check out their official site to find articles on various sleep topics, including sleep apnea.
You can also rely on the Canadian Lung Association for information about sleep apnea. Visit their website for a closer look at this disorder, including treatments.
As for ED, there is a lot of resourceful information on the UPGUYS blog. Feel free to take a look and drop us a line in case you have a question.
And there you have it, your guide on the link between sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction. Now you know that the former can be a risk factor for the latter and that many men have both conditions. However, you also learned that effective treatments are available for both.
So, if you have sleep apnea and ED, talk to a healthcare professional today.