Yes. Erectile dysfunction (ED) is quite common in men with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In fact, research published in 2018 found that in a group of men with OSA, just over half had ED. Older studies have suggested an ED rate of 69% in men with OSA.
Obstructive sleep apnea 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.
The reasons for the connection between OSA and ED aren’t clear. However, scientists 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. Hence 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.
OSA is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which can lead to ED. (Cardiovascular disease affects the heart and blood vessels.)
Many men find that their erections improve with treatment for sleep apnea.
Treatment may start with lifestyle changes. For example, losing weight might improve OSA symptoms and erections in people who are overweight or obese.
Continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) is another common OSA treatment. People using CPAP wear a mask at night. The mask is connected to a machine that pushes air to the back of the throat, keeping the airway open. This allows for regular breathing during sleep and better rest overall.
Many men who use CPAP have better erections even if they haven’t been diagnosed with erectile dysfunction, as improved sleep can lead to better testosterone production and allows more oxygen into the body.
Getting enough rest also reduces fatigue, which can interfere with sexual function.
Another possible treatment is uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), which involves surgically removing some of the tissue that blocks the airway.
A 2013 Journal of Sexual Medicine study found that participants who underwent UPPP had improved erectile function compared to men who were treated without surgery. However, the authors acknowledged that their study was small, and further research would need to confirm these results.
If you’re struggling with sleep deprivation or think you might have obstructive sleep apnea, talk to your doctor.
Learn more about the importance of sleep for good sexual health here.
“Can Sleep Apnea Cause Erectile Dysfunction (ED)?”
(September 25, 2017)
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Shin, Hyun-Woo, MD, PhD, et al.
“Effects of Surgical vs. Nonsurgical Therapy on Erectile Dysfunction and Quality of Life in Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome: A Pilot Study”
(Reviewed: May 22, 2019)
Pascual, Mercè, et al.
“Erectile dysfunction in obstructive sleep apnea patients: A randomized trial on the effects of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)”
(Full-text. Published: August 8, 2018)