Sleep apnea is among the most frequent sleep disorders in the U.S. About 50 to 70 million American adults have some form of sleep disorder. Obstructive sleep apnea is a predominant problem.
Experts estimate that 2% to 5% of women and 3% to 7% of men experience sleep apnea. While 100 million globally are dealing with the condition.
Obstructive sleep causes a sudden boost in sympathetic activity and drastic shifts in the normal blood pressure levels, often linked to cardiovascular disease.
But, there is more to obstructive sleep than just trouble sleeping. This sleep problem can also impact your testosterone levels. Here is how sleep apnea is affecting your erections.
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What Is Sleep Apnea, Exactly?
Sleep apnea is a widespread condition. It causes temporary breathing pauses that reduce the quality of sleep and oxygen supply.
From 2% to 4% of the general population is dealing with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA could be a potentially severe sleep disorder. It can repeatedly stop a person’s breathing while they sleep.
This sleep condition appears when the upper airway is experiencing constant blockages while the patient sleeps. This reduces or hinders the airflow completely. But, the impact of the apnea will vary based on the type of sleep problem you are experiencing.
The distinct types of apnea include:
- Central sleep apnea happens when the brain fails to send adequate signals to the muscles and is unable to breathe properly.
- Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome – occurs when the muscles in the throat relax.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome – appears in individuals with both obstructive sleep and central sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep is characterized by complete (apnea) or partial (hypopnea) collapse of the upper airways. This obstruction can cause sleep fragmentation, episodes of hypercapnia, and hypoxemia. OSA can also occur in REM sleep. That’s when the apnoea and hypopnea happen when you sleep.
The term hypopnea signifies the abnormal shallow and low breathing, while apnea focuses on the periods when the person isn’t breathing.
Doctors are using CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines and healthy lifestyle changes to manage obstructive sleep. When left unmanaged, the apnea can turn into a serious complication and result in behavioral, cognitive disorders, heart problems, cancer, diabetes, and glaucoma.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Apnea is relatively easy to recognize. Although the symptoms of obstructive sleep and central apnea tend to overlap, you can still determine whether you have a sleep problem. These symptoms include:
- Loss of focus
- Loud snoring
- Trouble breathing when sleeping (gasping for air)
- Headaches in the morning
- Dry mouth after waking up
- Constant need to urinate at night
The apnea can interrupt your breathing from 20 to 30 times an hour, and every pause may last 10 seconds or more. These pauses put plenty of pressure on the lungs, which ends up starving the body, heart, and brain of oxygen. This condition tends to run in the family, but it may also be developed due to obesity.
How Are Sleep Apnea and Erectile Dysfunction Connected?
A patient with sleep apnea has a bigger risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction than a healthy individual. The main reason could be the constant fluctuations in testosterone levels.
Studies show that about 50% of patients with sleep apnea also have ED. This type of dysfunction is typical for the older generation and individuals with a high body mass.
Another research showed similar results. But, this one indicated that the number of erectile dysfunction cases with sleep apnea could be even bigger. Experts consider erectile dysfunction to be a symptom of sleep apnea.
For instance, one small-scale study recorded 92% of patients with sleep apnea, of whom 69% also had erectile dysfunction. The link could be in the testosterone levels. A patient with a sleep condition is prone to low testosterone levels. This is a crucial sex hormone for regulating sexual activity.
Sleep Apnea and Testosterone
Studies indicate there is a close connection between sleep conditions and endocrine system dysfunction. The lack of sleep is causing a hormonal imbalance between the adrenal gland and the central nervous system. That’s why scientists believe there is a strong relationship between sleep disorders and serum testosterone levels.
According to a recent clinical analysis, erectile dysfunction was present in 63% of sleep apnea sufferers. At the same time, just 47% of those evaluated without obstructive sleep apnea had erectile dysfunction. These reports also show that a patient with ED could be vulnerable to developing other undiagnosed sleep conditions.
There are no reports as to why, exactly, the apnea is putting people at risk of erectile dysfunction. But, experts estimate that the constant sleep deprivation is forcing the testosterone levels to drop significantly. Plus, the restricted flow of oxygen is putting pressure on the body. And to restore normal erectile function, the system needs both oxygen and stable testosterone levels.
Another report found that reduced testosterone levels are causing poor sleep. Experts believe stress and exhaustion also have a significant role to play. When a patient doesn’t get enough sleep, the body can’t function properly.
Therefore men are prone to experiencing any ED symptoms, like poor sexual desire, trouble maintaining or getting an erection, etc. So, to get your erectile function back on track, you need to work on your oxygen saturation, sleeping schedule, and hormone production.
But, more research is necessary to analyze the full impact of obstructive sleep on testosterone production. It influences the overall sleep quality. But, when paired with steroid abuse, sleep abnormalities can cause an even bigger problem. It can impact a patient’s sleep duration and testosterone production.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
There are various treatment opportunities for obstructive sleep and erectile dysfunction. The type of treatment you get depends on your current health condition. The apnea is usually treated by opening up the airways and allowing a constant flow of air.
The proper OSA treatment varies based on your current apnea type, severity, lifestyle, and weight. If you are drinking or smoking, you will need to quit those habits before you can notice any beneficial changes. But, for severe OSA cases, surgery is necessary.
CPAP is a typical treatment method for apnea. CPAP therapy ensures that the airways won’t collapse when you sleep. Instead, the CPAP will help the body breathe and sleep more comfortably. It inflates the lungs with the help of mild air pressure.
The CPAP machine includes a:
- Motor designed to blow air inside the tube.
- Tube that links the CPAP motor to the mask.
- Mask meant to cover the mouth and nose to secure the airflow inside.
Receiving treatment for obstructive sleep could also ease the symptoms of erectile dysfunction. Many OSA patients are receiving CPAP treatment. CPAP therapy is designed to treat sleep apnea by delivering air pressure to the lungs through the nose.
The reason people choose CPAP therapy is that this treatment can reduce or get rid of snoring completely. It boosts the patient’s sleep quality and removes the daytime drowsiness, unstable blood pressure, and lack of energy.
Doctors believe CPAP treatment could also help with erection problems. With a constant flow of oxygen, the body will increase testosterone production and achieve a healthy erection. Even though people can experience some side effects from the CPAP, like a runny nose or claustrophobia from being under the mask, the benefits outweigh these adverse effects.
Aside from CPAP, OSA patients can also get surgery. Tissue removal surgery is much more useful than CPAP if the patient suffers from severe obstructive sleep problems. People choose surgery if they need:
- A new air passageway
- Plastic rods to be implanted inside the soft palate
- The adenoids or large tonsils to be removed
- Nasal septum repair
- The polyps to be removed
- To restructure their jaw
There are different types of surgery that offer a range of benefits. For example, Tracheostomy applies a permanent neck opening that almost always cures the apnea. There are also Maxillo-mandibular advancement, Radiofrequency ablation, Palatal implants, and Laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty. Only a doctor can determine the ideal surgical approach for your condition.
If the apnea is mild, then OSA patients will be advised to add some lifestyle changes to their routine. The doctor will suggest you quit smoking and manage the excess weight. This will provide the body with the perfect opportunity for healthy hormone production.
Incorporating plenty of exercise during the day can be a worthwhile tactic. Combining resistance training with aerobic exercises can help decrease the severity of the apnea, manage daytime sleepiness, and promote sleep efficiency.
However, in the case of allergies, medication can become necessary. You must manage the allergies to avoid worsening your apnea. So, taking the right precautions is always essential.
Erectile Dysfunction Management
ED patients can treat their underlying condition. But, they can also focus on managing erectile dysfunction directly. Products that can help with sexual dysfunction include:
- sildenafil (Viagra)
- tadalafil (Cialis)
- vardenafil (Levitra)
- avanafil (Stendra)
You can also try natural remedies. Herbal products packed with Yohimbine, ginseng, horny goat weed, and ginkgo Biloba can manage the dysfunction.
But, if the ED is the result of blood pressure medication, you would need to consult with a doctor to reduce the dosage or change the medicine. Ask the doctor for an alternative drug that will help with your condition but won’t cause erectile dysfunction.
What About Medicine?
Sleep medicine for apnea is not recommended as the first line of treatment. But, doctors can suggest some medications that can help with drowsiness, insomnia, and wakefulness. For those who have trouble staying awake during the day, medication treatment such as armodafinil (Nuvigil) and modafinil (Provigil) is the go-to choice.
However, for inducing sleep, benzodiazepines, particularly diazepam and lorazepam, can be recommended. In some cases, sedatives like Xyrem and OTC (over-the-counter) sleep aids can help with the condition. But, to stabilize the sleep-disordered breathing, only CPAP will prove useful. Although the sedatives can ease the discomfort, CPAP is there to control breathing.
When it comes to mild snoring and apnea, doctors will suggest OTC nasal decongestants. Medicines like Neo-Synephrine, Afrin, Sudafed are a convenient treatment option.
Note: Only a doctor can determine a sufficient treatment alternative. Don’t take any medicine on your own without consulting with a specialist first.
What Happens to an Untreated OSA?
Obstructive sleep can cause chronic sleep deprivation. Untreated sleep apnea also poses a risk factor for emotional disturbances, like depression and anxiety. But, it can also lead to other complications like cognitive dysfunction and metabolic disorders.
The longer you postpone the treatment, the bigger the risk for heart problems, blood pressure, and other comorbidities. Also, it is not uncommon for people to experience chronic intermittent hypoxia, an OSA-related consequence. It can happen as a result of the constant upper airway collapse during sleep.
In other words, sexual dysfunction will be the least of your worries. The lack of sleep will take a toll on your physical and emotional health. You will have trouble staying focused and will continuously rely on sugar and caffeine to replenish your energy sources.
Unfortunately, in the long-run, the untreated sleep condition could become a serious issue. The untreated obstructive sleep apnoea increases the risk of serious airway blockage, irregular heart rhythm, and complications during surgery. This is something you want to avoid.
In case of suspected sleep apnea, contact a doctor as soon as possible. With on-time apnea treatment, you can get the sleep condition and sexual dysfunction under control.
When to Contact a Specialist?
It is normal to experience a lack of sleep or intimate dysfunction from time to time. But to restore your erectile function and get enough rest, these problems shouldn’t appear regularly. If you constantly can’t get enough sleep and suffer from intimate dysfunction, contact your doctor.
After recognizing the symptoms of apnea, it’s important to get treatment. When you pair that with nocturia (the condition that wakes you up at night to urinate), the sleep problems become even more difficult to deal with.
If you think you are suffering from obstructive sleep, your doctor will first refer you to an otolaryngologist to rule out any possible blockages in the throat or nose. After a thorough evaluation, you may be advised to see a cardiologist evaluate your current heart state, or a neurologist if you are dealing with central sleep apnea.
While a urologist will help with genital problems and dysfunction, if there is anything wrong with the hormone system, the endocrinologist will help manage your health issue.
Studies indicate there is a clear link between intimate dysfunction and sleep apnea. Even though it is still difficult to pinpoint the exact cause, there is enough research to prove this connection. Because of the lack of sleep, the body has trouble producing enough testosterone, which leads to erectile dysfunction.
That’s why many men who do experience apnea also struggle with dysfunction. Luckily, both apnea and ED are often treatable. But, the treatment will vary based on what’s causing the problem and how severe the dysfunction is. What’s important is that you consult with a doctor the moment you recognize the symptoms of apnea and dysfunction.