The Sleep Apnea Side Effect that No One Wants to Talk About


If you are someone who is affected by Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), you probably know that there are numerous comorbidities associated with it that, if left untreated, can be quite dangerous. Among the most serious are stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and even potentially cancer. But there is another negative health condition that affects many women and up to 70% of men with sleep apnea and it can be one that most people really don’t want to talk about. Your sex drive!

It’s not the easiest conversation to bring up when you are at the doctor’s office, but if you are experiencing erectile dysfunction or low libido, it’s an important factor that you SHOULD be sharing with your physician, as it can negatively affect your overall physical and emotional health.

According to experts, sexual function and desire are closely linked to the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS causes your body to react to stressors (good or bad). Part of the ANS that reacts to good stimulators plays an important part in sexual arousal. The part of the ANS that responds to negative triggers, like stress, becomes more sensitive when people do not get enough sleep.

So it’s not surprising that sleep deprivation can trigger a lower sex drive.  Past studies in men have shown a spike in erectile dysfunction (ED) among those who suffer from OSA. One study found that men with ED were more than twice as likely to have sleep apnea than their counterparts. In another study, doctors assessed patients with ED for evidence of sleep-disordered breathing and found a stunning 91.3% of men with ED also had OSA!

Low libido, or sex drive, is also a very common problem in women, especially for those with sleep apnea. 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. It’s normal for women to experience fluctuations in libido from stress and anxiety, hormonal changes, and medications, but for women with sleep apnea the likelihood can increase dramatically if left untreated.  This can lead to adverse symptoms such as reduced energy, lack of desire to be intimate, vaginal dryness, and painful intercourse.

So how do you solve the issue of erectile dysfunction or low libido when you have obstructive sleep apnea?  Get more sleep?  Easier said than done, right?

Fortunately, there are a few helpful solutions to this common problem.  Studies showed that men who underwent treatment for sleep apnea saw improvement in their ED, although the degree of improvement varied. At least one study showed that about 40% of men were able to return to normal sexual function just by treating their sleep apnea.  Women who felt more rested found that they had more desire and energy to be intimate.

TREATMENT OPTIONS: One common method of treating OSA is by using CPAP – Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. The steady flow of air from a CPAP machine keeps the airway open and restores normal oxygen levels during sleep. This helps maintain a steady, healthy level of breathing through the night.

However, despite the highly effective treatment CPAP offers, poor adherence is a serious problem.  In fact, adherence rates only range from 40–85%.  CPAP devices are a great option for many, but they are not right for everyone.

WHAT THEN? A recent study compared CPAP and oral appliance therapy. It found that only oral appliance therapy led to significant improvements in quality of life for men with ED.  

So when CPAP is not an option, or you prefer a different approach, Pittsburgh Dental Sleep Medicine offers oral appliances as a great alternative to CPAP. These devices are worn in your mouth while you sleep and help keep your airway open. They are noninvasive and nonintrusive, offering a custom fit and are comfortable to wear.

If you’re suffering from sleep apnea, schedule an appointment with Pittsburgh Dental Sleep Medicine online or by phone today to explore your options. The team of specialists has guided more than 18,000 patients through sleep apnea treatment, and each team member is board-certified through the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine.

Contributing content:

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