People experiencing sleep apnea are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than those without the condition. This may be due to changes in testosterone levels.
Obstructive sleep apnea, which is the more common form of the condition, occurs when the airways develop a blockage during the night, disrupting sleep. This can be the result of many factors. Depending on its cause, obstructive sleep apnea is usually treatable.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is when a person has difficulty getting or maintaining an erection for long enough to have sexual intercourse. ED can be a symptom of sleep apnea.
This article looks at the link between sleep apnea and ED, as well as how to treat both conditions.
Research suggests that around half the people with sleep apnea also experience ED. It is more common in older adults and people with a higher body mass.
Other research suggests that this number may be even higher. For example, one study of 401 participants found that 92% had sleep apnea, and 69% of these people also had ED.
The link between the two may relate to testosterone levels. People with sleep apnea tend to have lower levels of testosterone, which is an essential hormone in relation to sexual activity.
Both sleep apnea and ED have several possible causes.
Causes of sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the throat are unable to keep the airways open during sleep. Central sleep apnea is where the brain does not control breathing correctly during sleep.
Airways that become too narrow cause most cases of sleep apnea. This can be a result of several factors, including:
- having a large neck
- having an overbite
- having obesity
- having family members with sleep apnea
- drinking alcohol
- having large tonsils
- sleeping on the back
- having a small jaw or deep chin
Causes of erectile dysfunction
Being unable to get or keep an erection can be the result of stress, fatigue, or drinking too much alcohol. However, when this happens regularly, there could be a physical or emotional cause.
The cause generally relates to problems with blood flow to the penis, nerve supply, or hormones. This can be due to physical factors, such as:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- substance use, such as smoking
- hormonal disorders, such as thyroid conditions
- taking medications, such as antidepressants
Emotional problems can also sometimes cause ED. This could relate to feelings of guilt or a mental health condition, such as depression.
There is a variety of treatment options for both sleep apnea and ED.
Treatment for sleep apnea
Treating sleep apnea usually involves opening up the airwaves so that a person can breathe more easily at night. The correct treatment will depend on the underlying problem and could include lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or reducing smoking and drinking.
In some cases, doctors may recommend sleeping with certain devices, such as a mouthpiece. Such devices allow for more natural breathing at night. Physical therapy for the mouth and face can also be helpful.
If the sleep apnea is severe and other treatments do not work, surgery is another option. This could be to move the jaw, adjust the airways, or remove tonsils.
There is also a range of home remedies a person can try. Read about them here.
Treating sleep apnea may also help with a person’s ED. Getting enough sleep may restore testosterone levels to normal and reduce ED.
Treatment for erectile dysfunction
Aside from treating the underlying condition, it is also possible to treat ED directly.
Medications that increase blood flow to the penis, such as sildenafil, sold as Viagra, can help. There are also some natural treatments and remedies that may help. You can read about them here.
More often than not, the type of treatment will depend on its underlying cause.
For example, if high blood pressure is causing ED, a doctor may recommend medicines for lowering blood pressure, such as statins. Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, may also help.
If the cause relates to taking certain medications, a doctor might suggest an alternative drug that does not cause ED. When the cause is emotional, counseling, or therapy might help.
Sleep apnea can cause a range of other symptoms, including:
- severe sleepiness and fatigue during the day
- problems with attention and memory
- dry mouth
- regularly having to urinate during the night
- loud snoring
Having a bad night’s sleep or difficulty getting an erection from time to time is normal. But when these occur regularly, it might be a sign of an underlying condition.
When the symptoms of sleep apnea are causing difficulties in the day or making the night uncomfortable, see a doctor for advice. It is often possible to treat sleep apnea, and a doctor can offer advice about the most suitable treatment options.
If the difficulties getting or keeping an erection occur regularly, it is also important to speak with a doctor or healthcare provider to understand the root of the cause.
Sleep apnea can lead to reduced testosterone levels, which can, in turn, lead to ED, and many people with sleep apnea do experience ED.
Both ED and sleep apnea are usually treatable. Treatment depends on the cause.
If either or both conditions occur regularly, a person should see a doctor or healthcare provider.