Let’s Talk About Sex: How Can Sleep Apnea Impact Sexual Health?
Last updated: November 2022
The impact on sexual health is one aspect of living with sleep apnea no one talks about. Decreased libido and erectile dysfunction are problems that really affect the intimacy of our closest relationships. So why aren’t we discussing sex and sleep apnea? And, how will sleep apnea impact sex?
How can sleep apnea impact my sex life?
There are many ways sleep apnea may impact your sexual health.
Less sex drive
There are numerous studies that show a reduction in libido for people with sleep apnea.1
When you take into consideration reduced libido along with sleep deprivation and adapting to CPAP therapy, it creates a perfect storm for relationship problems. A spouse or partner who doesn’t have sleep apnea can struggle to understand or empathize. I found clear communication to be vital in navigating this journey with my husband.
For many people, finding an effective treatment for sleep apnea can improve their libido. This is perhaps an extra incentive for reluctant people with sleep apnea to seek help from their doctors and stick to a treatment plan.
Sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction
There is less clarity about the link between erectile dysfunction in men and sleep apnea. I was lucky enough to ask Dr. Joshua Roland, a board-certified sleep specialist, all about it.
There isn’t data proving that sleep apnea definitely causes erectile dysfunction. However, as Dr. Roland explained, he has noticed the resolution of erectile dysfunction in some of his male sleep apnea patients after they received effective treatment.
“Improving erectile dysfunction often isn’t our primary goal when we see sleep apnea patients, but we do sometimes see an improvement in that symptom after successful treatment,” Dr. Roland explained in Episode 48 of my "Sleep Apnea Stories" podcast.2
Persuading men to seek help
Men can be reluctant to seek a diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea.3
Indeed, certain studies show the burden of men’s healthcare can often fall on their partners. If the overall improvement in health isn’t enough to persuade men to go to the doctor, perhaps a potential improvement to erectile dysfunction could help convince them.3
Irritability and intimacy
Irritability is a recognized symptom of sleep apnea.4
I don’t know about you, but in my experience irritability is not a precursor to great sex! Mood swings and feeling snappy with your loved ones are common experiences for people with sleep apnea.
Since my family aren’t great mind readers, I have found it really helpful to notice how I feel and say, “I’m so sorry guys, I feel really irritable because I didn’t get good-quality sleep.”
This simple communication has prevented a lot of aggravation and miscommunication in my marriage.
Do you feel that sleep apnea impacts your sex life?
Depression and anxiety
Any discussion of sexual health and sleep apnea would not be complete without discussing mental health. There have been a number of research studies showing higher rates of anxiety and depression in people with sleep apnea.5
With so many people affected by anxiety and depression along with sleep apnea, these conditions are bound to affect sex and intimacy. Like so many people with sleep apnea, I have been living with anxiety and depression my whole adult life.
I worked with a therapist and my primary care doctors over years, and I’m happy to say my symptoms are now manageable. I take an antidepressant, which has helped me tremendously with my quality of life. However, one of the noticeable side effects has been a marked decrease in libido. It’s a very personal decision, but for me, that is a trade-off worth making for the improvements in my day-to-day life and my ability to be present with my husband and kids.
How is your sexual health?
How has sleep apnea affected your most intimate relationships? Have you spoken to your doctor about the impact sleep apnea has had on your sexual health? Is there any advice you would give other people going through sexual health challenges and sleep apnea?
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