How Does Sleep Apnea Impact Sex and Intimacy?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2020

Sexuality is an important part of someone’s quality of life. Unfortunately, chronic health conditions like sleep apnea can have a negative impact on intimacy. The situation can be made worse because many people feel uncomfortable discussing sex with their doctor. This discomfort leads them to suffer without treatment. The good news is that you are not alone and help is available.

Intimacy issues from sleep apnea

One of the basic complications of sleep apnea is that it reduces the supply of oxygen to the bloodstream. In turn, this deprives every organ in the body of the oxygen it needs to stay healthy. That is why untreated sleep apnea can lead to fatigue, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, and sexual problems.1

In fact, studies have found that untreated sleep apnea causes intimacy issues for both men and women:1-4

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

  • A 2011 study of 80 women with untreated sleep apnea, ages 28 to 65, had much higher chances of sexual difficulties than women who did not have sleep apnea.
  • Between half and 80 percent of men with sleep apnea also have erectile dysfunction (ED), especially if the sleep apnea is severe.
  • A 2009 study found that nearly 7 out of 10 men with sleep apnea had ED while 3 out of 10 without sleep apnea had it.
  • Snoring is the third most common reason for divorce in the U.S. and Great Britain.

How does sleep apnea affect sex?

Doctors believe sleep apnea affects sex in many ways. First, in healthy people, sex hormone levels rise when you get enough sleep. These same hormones fall with too little sleep or poor quality sleep. Sleep apnea, with the short awakenings it causes during the night, results in poor sleep and lower hormone levels. Low testosterone levels lead to ED in men and less interest in sex in both males and females.1,5

The fatigue that sleep apnea causes decreases desire in the person with sleep apnea. Bed partners are also often tired if snoring keeps them awake or sends them to sleep on an uncomfortable sofa. Snoring and restless sleep can lead to bad moods in both partners, which rarely leads to pleasure or cuddling.5

CPAP can improve sexual issues

CPAP, which is short for continuous positive airway pressure, may be the most prescribed treatment for sleep apnea but it is not always popular with the person using it. The good news is that CPAP can improve the many short- and long-term health problems caused by sleep apnea, including sexual issues. Studies have found:6-8

  • 3 months of CPAP treatment improved both ED in men and their female bed partner’s sexual quality of life in a 2016 study.
  • Daytime alertness and intimacy improved the most in men whose sleep apnea was severe after consistent CPAP use in a 2010 study.
  • Women who used CPAP every night reported more improvement in their levels of desire and sexual problems compared to men in a 2018 study.

While CPAP is known to improve sleep apnea symptoms, both men and women are often self-conscious about wearing their device. It can be helpful for their loved one to be supportive and encouraging of using CPAP every night.

More study is needed to track other treatments and how those options may improve intimacy issues for people with sleep apnea.