Sleep apnea cuts into sleep quality for more than 12 million Americans every year, but shut-eye isn’t the only bedroom activity disrupted by this nighttime breathing disorder.
Several studies have shown that sleep apnea sufferers have higher rates of sexual dysfunction as well. Most recently a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine of women aged 28 to 64 found that those with sleep apnea were significantly more likely to suffer from loss of libido and sexual dysfunction.
Past studies in men have shown a similar spike in erectile dysfunction (ED) among men who suffer from the sleep disorder, such as a 2009 study done in Germany that reported that 70 percent of men referred seeking sleep apnea treatment also suffered from ED.
A 2008 experimental study in male mice found that sexual dysfunction arose almost immediately after inducing the kind of oxygen deprivation experienced by sleep apnea sufferers. This University of Louisville study showed that just a week of induced sleep apnea led to a 55 percent decline in daily spontaneous erections. After five weeks of sleep apnea, there was a 60-fold decrease in the frequency of mating attempts in the mice.
“Even relatively short periods of CIH, [the oxygen deprivation experienced during sleep apnea]… are associated with significant effects on sexual activity and erectile function,” Dr. David Gozal, professor of pediatrics at the University of Louisville, wrote in the article.
Sleep apnea is characterized by disruptions in breathing during sleep that lead to lower oxygen levels and repeated waking throughout the night.
Sleep experts believe that the link may be due to the body’s levels of the sex hormone testosterone, which naturally rise while we sleep. Because sleep apnea causes repeated nighttime waking, this chronic sleep deprivation may inhibit the body’s ability to produce and process testosterone, which is partially responsible for libido in men and women.