February has long been the month of romance. As we approach the holiday of love on Valentine’s Day, it can be noted that not everyone is able to express affection in a meaningful or physically-intimate way. The side effects of untreated sleep apnea such as fatigue, high blood pressure, risk of heart disease and stroke are well-known. But one thing that’s not as widely documented is the impact sleep apnea has on sexual relations. However, that is changing.
Certainly, some medical problems or medications can lead to problems with sex drive, or libido. In considering that untreated sleep apnea sleep apnea may reduce sexual quality of life (QOL) because of reduced libido and intimacy, erectile dysfunction, and several other mechanisms. People who suffer from sleep debt due to untreated sleep disorders can also experience poor moods, mental health issues, not to mention exhaustion. What’s more, both men and women can become less in tune or cognizant of needs of their partners.
Sleep apnea may rob both partners of the desire to be intimate and the ability to have sex. Neither of you can get a good night’s sleep when one partner can’t rest for the snoring and the other because of constant waking from the breathing disturbances. Add to that a full workday followed by family obligations and it’s a wrap. Relationship struggles are inevitable.
The latest study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine compared 80 women ages 28 to 64 who have sleep apnea with 240 women without the disorder and found the women with apnea had significantly higher rates of sexual dysfunction. A 2009 study reported that 70 percent of 401 men with suspected sleep apnea also had erectile dysfunction. What’s more, snoring is estimated to be the third most common cause of divorce in the United States and Great Britain.
In a study at the University of California at Berkeley, researchers evaluated poor sleep and its impact on marital relationships. “Poor sleep may make us more selfish, as we prioritize our own needs over our partner’s,” according to, Amie Gordon, lead investigator and psychologist. The data suggests that disrupted sleep leaves couples less in tune and aware of the moods and needs of their partners.
However, the good news is that OSA treatment can make a difference. CPAP therapy, oral appliance therapy, weight loss, avoiding smoking and regular exercise improve sleep apnea.
According to a research study published in mid- 2018 by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, successful use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) may be associated with improved sexual QOL. There were 182 participants in the study. Investigators concluded that further study is warranted to test other measures of sexual QOL and other treatments.
Although more research is needed, this is a start to realizing that treatment for sleep apnea improves issues related to sexual dysfunction, a boon to private and intimate lives.