A good night’s rest is essential in maintaining peak performance–physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s also an important part of maintaining healthy testosterone levels. Recent research suggests that interrupted or short sleep can have a negative impact on your sexual function, contributing to low levels of testosterone and erectile dysfunction.
The sleep apnea connection
One of the leading causes of interrupted sleep in adult males is sleep apnea. The condition is caused by a blockage of your airways while you sleep, causing you to wake frequently (even if you’re not noticing it). This can be a result of obesity, age, physical factors (large tongue, tonsils or small jaw), or nasal obstruction as a result of allergies or other sinus issues. Left untreated, it can increase a man’s risk of heart disease, hypertension and stroke. Many men seeking treatment for erectile dysfunction also fit this profile of a sleep apnea patient.
Taking a holistic approach to your sexual health can improve your overall quality of life. Experiencing symptoms associated with low testosterone, like sexual dysfunction or muscle loss, while also experiencing daytime fatigue can be an indication that sleep apnea is causing your hormones to go haywire. Low testosterone can also be an indication of other physical issues, like injury or illness.
According to a CNN article from sleep specialist Dr. Lisa Shives, “testosterone is produced during the night; the levels climb steadily throughout the night and peak in the morning. There are studies showing not only that a decrease in the total amount of sleep can lower a man’s testosterone, but also that REM sleep is important to the production and release of testosterone. We know that REM sleep is often decreased or absent in patients with sleep apnea. Therefore, it seems that both the quantity and quality of sleep are important for testosterone production.”
Finding a solution for better sleep & sex
The quickest way to overcome sleep apnea is with a CPAP machine. The CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) device keeps your airways open while you sleep by increasing the air pressure in your throat. There are many different models that you can choose from to ensure the best fit for a comfortable night’s sleep. The best part? Studies suggest that typically after just two weeks, your sleep quality will return to normal.
While some newly diagnosed people with sleep apnea may be initially put off by the machine, there are a whole host of reasons to give it a shot. While you may find the machine cumbersome at first, or feel embarrassed about wearing it around your partner, you can rest easy knowing that you’re doing both of you a favor! You’re not the only person suffering from your untreated sleep apnea–many partners report loss of sleep or being awoken by the gasping or snorting sounds associated with the condition. By wearing the mask, you’ll also be preventing some of the other common issues associated with sleep apnea: weight gain, stress, hypertension, GERD, and frequent nighttime urination.
A CPAP machine isn’t the only way to solve sleep apnea and related sexual health complications. While addressing the issue immediately is helpful, eliminating the causes of the condition will not only improve your sleep, but your sexual health as well. Obesity is a significant contributor to both sleep apnea and low testosterone, so a proper diet and exercise routine can work wonders in both arenas. Untreated sleep apnea can also contribute to diabetes, which in turn contributes to erectile dysfunction. Stopping sleep apnea in its tracks can prevent sexual health complications down the road.
As a urologist, I do not personally diagnose or treat sleep apnea, but I will recommend obtaining a sleep study if low testosterone is an issue for a patient.