The Link Between Sleep Apnea And Erectile Dysfunction

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Written by the UPGUYS Editorial Team Published on July 27, 2022

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.

Worse, there appears to be a link between sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction (ED). ED, in turn, not only affects the sex lives of millions of Canadians; it also impacts their quality of life.

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:

What Is Sleep Apnea?

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.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

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

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

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.

How Prevalent Is Sleep Apnea With ED?

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.

How Are Sleep Apnea and Erectile Dysfunction Connected?

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.

What Are Common Sleep Apnea Symptoms?

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:

  • Loud snoring (especially common in OSA)
  • Another person witnessing that you stop breathing for periods while you sleep
  • Abruptly waking up and feeling short of breath (more common in CSA)
  • Waking up with a dry mouth or a sore throat
  • Having headaches in the morning
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep
  • Hypersomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Problems with attention, concentration, and focus
  • Feelings of irritability

Talk to a doctor ASAP if you experience erectile dysfunction and some or many of the symptoms above.

How Do You Treat Sleep Apnea?

You'd want to get sleep apnea treatment ASAP because, aside from ED, it also shares a link with heart disease. It also has an association with depression, diabetes, and obesity.

Fortunately, there are several treatment options for sleep apnea, including the following:

Lifestyle Changes

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.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

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.

Oral Appliances

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

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.


Can You Enjoy Sex Even With Sleep Apnea and ED?

Yes, you can! One reason is that treating sleep apnea may also help alleviate ED symptoms.

For instance, research suggests that CPAP may help with ED symptoms in men with OSA. Researchers think it may improve erection by enhancing sleep. Better sleep, in turn, can increase both testosterone and oxygen levels.

Viagra or generic sildenafil may also help improve erectile dysfunction symptoms. It's a medication you take before sexual intercourse. It's effective for most men, but it does require physical stimulation.

Some researchers say sildenafil may be more effective than CPAP for ED symptoms in men with OSA. However, they also note that combining the two may yield even better results. So, ask your doctor if it's safe for you to undergo both treatments.

But what if Viagra or other ED medications don't work for you? If that's the case, you might only need to give it more time; some people may have to take it five to 10 times to see the effects. If they're still ineffective, that's your cue to let your doctor know.

Lifestyle changes like weight loss may also be enough to address mild sleep apnea and ED. After all, weight is a risk factor for both conditions. For instance, people who are overweight or obese often have a higher risk of ED and sleep apnea.

Where Can You Learn More About Sleep Apnea and ED?

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, we at UPGUYS have an extensive knowledge database about the condition. Feel free to read our articles and guides about ED, sexual dysfunction, and hair loss. Plus, we regularly update our blog, helping our readers stay in the loop of the latest on these topics.

Seek Help for Sleep Apnea and ED Today

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 now. And here at UPGUYS, we can help by connecting you to a licensed Canadian medical practitioner.

Contact us now for a consultation to learn about your treatment options.


Disclaimer
This article is written for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information provided in the articles cannot and should not replace advice from a healthcare professional. Talk to your healthcare provider about any physical or mental health concerns or the risks and benefits of any treatment or medication.