Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea. It’s a potentially serious disorder. People with OSA stop breathing repeatedly during sleep. They often snore and have difficulty sleeping.
Sleep disorders can impact your testosterone and oxygen levels. That can lead to many different issues, including erectile dysfunction (ED). Research has found a high prevalence of ED in men with obstructive sleep apnea, but doctors are not exactly sure why that’s the case.
What does the research say?
Researchers have found evidence that men who have obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to have ED, and vice versa. A 2009 Journal of Sexual Medicine study found that 69 percent of male participants diagnosed with OSA also had ED. A 2016 study found erectile dysfunction in about 63 percent of study participants with sleep apnea. By contrast, only 47 percent of men in the study without OSA had ED.
Furthermore, in a 2016 survey of over 120 men with ED, 55 percent reported symptoms related to sleep apnea. The findings also suggested that men with ED are at a higher risk of having other undiagnosed sleep disorders.
Sleep apnea and testosterone
Scientists still don’t know why, exactly, men with obstructive sleep apnea have higher rates of ED. Sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea may cause a man’s testosterone levels to dip. It may also restrict oxygen. Testosterone and oxygen are both important for healthy erections. Researchers have also suggested that stress and fatigue related to lack of sleep may make sexual problems worse.
Research has shown a link between dysfunction with the endocrine system and sleep disorders. Hormone overactivity between the brain and the adrenal gland may affect sleep function and cause wakefulness. A 2014 study also found that low testosterone levels can lead to poor sleep. However, there’s no evidence that obstructive sleep apnea impacts testosterone production.
Symptoms of sleep apnea
There are several types of sleep apnea, although the main three are:
- obstructive sleep apnea
- central sleep apnea
- complex sleep apnea syndrome
All three versions of the sleep disorder have similar symptoms, which sometimes makes it harder to receive a proper diagnosis. Common sleep apnea symptoms include:
- loud snoring, which is more common in obstructive sleep apnea
- periods where you stop breathing during your sleep, as witnessed by another person
- waking up abruptly with a shortness of breath, which is more common in central sleep apnea
- waking up with a sore throat or dry mouth
- headaches in the morning
- difficulty getting to and staying asleep
- excessive daytime sleepiness, also known as hypersomnia
- problems concentrating or paying attention
- feeling irritable
Although more research is needed, scientists have found that treating obstructive sleep apnea may also help ease symptoms of ED. According to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, many men with OSA who use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for treatment experience improved erections. CPAP is a treatment for OSA where a mask is placed over your nose to deliver air pressure. It’s thought that CPAP improves erections in men with OSA because better sleep can raise testosterone and oxygen levels.
A 2013 pilot study found that men with sleep apnea who underwent tissue removal surgery, known as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), also saw a decrease in ED symptoms.
In addition to CPAP and tissue removal surgery, other treatments for obstructive sleep apnea include:
- using a device to increase air pressure in order to keep your upper airway passages open
- placing devices over each nostril to increase air pressure, known as expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP)
- wearing an oral device to keep your throat open
- using additional oxygen
- taking care of underlying medical issues that may cause sleep apnea
Your doctor may also recommend other surgeries, such as:
- making a new air passageway
- restructuring your jaw
- implanting plastic rods in the soft palate
- removing enlarged tonsils or adenoids
- removing polyps in your nasal cavity
- fixing a deviated nasal septum
In milder cases, lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and losing weight may help. If your symptoms are caused or worsened by allergies, medications to help control allergies may improve your symptoms.
Research has found a clear correlation between obstructive sleep apnea and ED. Scientists still don’t understand why the connection exists, but there’s enough evidence to show a causal link. Studies have shown that treating obstructive sleep apnea may have a positive impact on ED symptoms. This is due to improvements in testosterone and oxygen levels.
Talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you’re experiencing sleep apnea and ED symptoms. Treating OSA may not only help you get and keep an erection more often, but it may also prevent other health conditions such as heart problems.