Loss of Sexual Function in Men: Could It Be Sleep Apnea?

There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to make a guy feel like a new man. It’s a well-known fact that getting plenty of sleep is a crucial factor in determining overall health – but an appropriate amount of sleep can have an impact on a man’s penis health as well. And if that’s the case, a man who has sleep apnea(SA) may have concerns about how it might affect his penis.

What is sleep apnea(SA)?

SA has risen in the public consciousness in recent years due to many articles and stories about it. But those without sleep disturbances may not really know what it is.

SA is “a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep.” The length of time for these pauses can vary from a few seconds to a few minutes, and they occur multiple times during the night; at least five must occur within one hour to receive a diagnosis of SA. Typically SA is marked by periods of very loud snoring, and choking or snorting sounds may be common at the end of these pauses in breath.

There are three main types of SA:

Obstructive sleep apnea (also called OSA) is the most common form and occurs when the throat muscles relax. If the passageway is narrow – as is often the case with people who are overweight, for example – it can cause a closure which prevents air from getting through.

Central sleep apnea (or CSA) happens because something is keeping the brain from sending signals to the muscles that control breathing.

Complex sleep apnea syndrome (or CSAS) is a situation in which a patient has both obstructive SA and central SA.

There are many different symptoms associated with SA, including loud snoring, waking up abruptly, waking with a dry mouth, having a headache in the morning, attention problems, irritability and difficulty staying awake during the day.

The penis health connection

SA is obviously a problem, but just how does it affect penis health? There are several ways in which it can have an impact.

Decreased libido. It’s hard for a guy to feel frisky and be at the top of his sexual game when he’s having a hard time just staying awake. In addition, lack of sleep wreaks havoc with hormone production, causing testosterone levels to lower – and that in turn dampens the sex drive considerably.

Erectile dysfunction. SA also increases the risk that it will be harder to get and/or maintain a hard penis. One study of guys with SA indicated that 70% of the men involved also experienced erectile dysfunction. Part of the reason is lack of testosterone. But sleep disruption also affects the oxygen levels in the blood, and that makes it more difficult to achieve erectile goals.

Relationship issues. Loud snoring can lead to partners sleeping in separate bedrooms, which can impact their level of intimacy. Apnea can also make a person more irritable, which can lead to disagreements which again affect intimacy.

If a man thinks he has SA, he should consult with a doctor and undergo a SA test. There are several approaches to treating SA, including lifestyle changes or the use of a CPAP machine. The latter option involves wearing a mask while sleeping. The mask raises air pressure to help keep the throat passage open.

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