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How Obstructive Sleep Apnea Causes Erectile Dysfunction

by AFP
how sleep disorder affects your lifestyle

            If you’re afflicted with obstructive sleep apnea, you will need to ask your urologist how you can avoid erectile dysfunction. It may not be a problem for you at this time, but the prevalence of erectile dysfunction in men with obstructive sleep apnea has been reported to be as high as 69%. This means your chances of developing erectile dysfunction are high.

            Depressive symptoms and low quality of life associated with obstructive sleep apnea are also considered independent risk factors for erectile dysfunction. Continue reading to learn more about obstructive sleep apnea and how it can rob you of your erectile function.


            Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition wherein your upper airway completely or partially collapses repetitively while you’re sleeping. This means that your breathing stops and starts repeatedly due to this sleep disorder. When you stop breathing, your body doesn’t get enough oxygen and you experience hypoxia.

            With obstructive sleep apnea, your throat muscles relax and obstruct your airway intermittently. In another type of sleep apnea called central sleep apnea, your airway doesn’t get blocked but your brain stops telling your respiratory muscles to breathe. Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

            Heavy and loud snoring is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs because air has to squeeze through the tightened airway space. You may also find yourself waking up abruptly while gasping or choking. You may also experience having a sore throat and a dry mouth when you wake up.

            Other symptoms include excessive daytime drowsiness, morning headaches that are difficult to treat, forgetfulness, and not being able to properly concentrate. Daytime somnolence or excessive daytime sleeping is another common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea.

            Mood changes such as irritability or depression are also common in patients with obstructive sleep apnea. A reduced libido is also common in both male and female obstructive sleep apnea patients.

            Obstructive sleep apnea can lead to various other serious conditions. That’s due to poor sleep quality and the periods of oxygen deficiency that you experience every time you have an apneic episode.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Erectile Dysfunction

How Obstructive Sleep Apnea Causes Erectile Dysfunction            Even though there have been a number of observational studies on men with obstructive sleep apnea, experts have not yet fully established exactly how the sleep disorder causes erectile dysfunction.

            What is known is that erectile dysfunction is very common in men with obstructive sleep apnea. In fact, experts have observed that men with obstructive sleep apnea tend to have poorer sexual function than men their age without the sleep disorder.

            Nevertheless, several theories have been put forth to try and explain the relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction.

            One theory explains that a lack of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep contributes to erectile dysfunction. When you’re sleeping soundly, you may get an erection during REM sleep time. These unconscious erections help you maintain your erectile tissues by delivering oxygen-rich blood to your penile corpus cavernosa tissues.

            Another theory that tries to explain how obstructive sleep apnea causes erectile dysfunction focuses on the hormonal imbalances brought about by the changes in sleep pattern as a result of sleep apnea.

            The changes in sleep pattern negatively affect the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal system, which then results in a reduction in the release of testosterone. Low testosterone levels are also associated with the degree of oxygen deficiency during sleep. In turn, these hormonal changes cause a decrease in your libido.

            Obstructive sleep apnea also causes a transient hypoxic environment. This means that because your airway is blocked and you stop breathing for a moment, you temporarily experience oxygen deficiency every time you have an apneic episode. This lack of oxygen can affect your erectile function, as evidenced by decreased instances of nocturnal erections.

            Other studies hypothesize that the lack of oxygen that obstructive sleep apnea causes also results in changes to your nerves, especially the nerves in your genital area. In particular, oxygen deficiency damages your pudendal nerve transmission and your bulbocavernous reflex.

            According to another theory, obstructive sleep apnea cause inflammations in the body and the chronic inflammation leads to erectile dysfunction. Other studies indicate that in men with obstructive sleep apnea, endothelial vasodilation is impaired, which then contributes to erectile dysfunction.

            Obstructive sleep apnea may also cause a reduction in nitric oxide synthase, which then affects the ability of the penile blood vessels to dilate. In short, the hypoxic or oxygen-deficient environment that obstructive sleep apnea causes can result in increased inflammation and decreased nitric oxide levels, thereby causing erectile dysfunction.

            The depression, sleepiness, and daytime somnolence that are associated with obstructive sleep apnea may also contribute to erectile dysfunction. It’s a known fact that depression increases your risks of becoming impotent.

            In fact, in a recent study, it was found that men with obstructive sleep apnea who showed depressive symptoms and had low quality of life scores were highly likely to develop erectile dysfunction.

            Researchers also indicate that men who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea often feel stressed and fatigued due to lack of quality sleep. Both stress and fatigue can also contribute to erectile dysfunction.

When You Have Erectile Dysfunction

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