Sexual Health Q&A

Can obstructive sleep apnea lead to erectile dysfunction (ED)?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when tissue at the back of the throat collapses and blocks a person’s airway. This results in a start-stop breathing pattern, making it difficult to sleep soundly.

Erectile dysfunction is quite common in men who have OSA. In 2009, German researchers reported that 69% of male study participants with obstructive sleep apnea also had ED.

Scientists aren’t sure exactly why men with OSA have higher rates of erectile dysfunction, but they have some theories.

Sleep deprivation is one possible cause. Men’s bodies produce testosterone (a hormone that is important for sexual function) during the night. But insufficient sleep, such as that caused by sleep apnea, can reduce testosterone levels, resulting in poor erections and decreased libido.

In addition, sleep-deprived men often feel fatigued and stressed, which may worsen sexual problems.

It’s also possible that men with sleep apnea aren’t getting enough oxygen while they sleep. Oxygen is important for healthy erections, so any deficiency can cause a problem.

Fortunately, many men find that their erections improve with treatment for sleep apnea.