Some conditions, like sleep apnea, can affect your body’s hormonal balance and lead to problems like erectile dysfunction. In this article, we discuss why this happens and what you can do about it.
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sleep disorders and testosterone
Sleep plays an important role in your overall physical and mental health. As you sleep, tissues grow and replenish, and balance is achieved. Sleep deprivation can alter the brain and cause a cascade of problems.
Numerous studies have linked healthy sleep to healthy sex. While sleep deprivation can cause mood and relationship problems, the bigger problem is how sleep disorders can affect the production of hormones like testosterone. Sleep disorders are one of the main causes of sexual problems.
Sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing while you sleep. When this happens it can disturb you enough to wake you up fully, but your sleep is usually disturbed whether you wake up fully or not. Testosterone production increases when you fall asleep and peaks during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Research indicates that the fragmented sleep of people suffering from sleep apnea contributes to sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction.
About 4% of men between the ages of 30 and 60 suffer from erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction is more common in men with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) than in men without OSA.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep is especially important as we age, as many people find it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Because poor sleep contributes to a range of problems, including erectile dysfunction, it’s important to understand what you can do to encourage a good night’s sleep.
Sleep hygiene is a general term that refers to any element that can promote healthy rest. You can practice good sleep hygiene by trying some of the following tips:
- Have a light snack before bed.
- Avoid stimulants three to four hours before bed.
- Avoid taking naps during the day.
- Exercise regularly, but not within three hours of bedtime.
- Reduce stimulation from television and video games before bed.
- When you’re ready for bed, engage in relaxation techniques like meditation.
- Don’t use a TV, computer, or phone in your bedroom.
- Try to stick to a regular bedtime and wake-up time.
- Check your medications with your doctor to see if something you’re taking may be contributing to sleep problems.
- Try getting up to do a quiet activity if you can’t fall asleep for 30 minutes.
- Avoid alcohol before bed.
A good night’s sleep can improve your health in many ways, but it can be particularly helpful for men. Testosterone levels can fluctuate throughout the day and with weight changes, but these levels can also naturally decline with age. Poor sleep and medical conditions like sleep apnea can only make the problem worse.
Symptoms of sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a disorder where your breathing stops during sleep. This can happen if you have obstructive sleep apnea or a problem with your central nervous system signals (central sleep apnea).
Symptoms can vary depending on the severity of your sleep apnea and the type of sleep apnea, but generally include:
- Daily fatigue
- difficulty falling asleep
- Dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up
- forgetfulness or irritability
- night sweats
- Having to urinate frequently at night
- sexual dysfunction
- a headache
Symptoms of erectile dysfunction
The symptoms of erectile dysfunction are generally simple. It’s important to note that erectile dysfunction is more a sign of other problems than an isolated issue.
Common symptoms are:
- Not being able to achieve an erection when you want it
- Inability to maintain an erection
- Not being able to achieve an erection at all
Causes of sleep apnea
The main causes of sleep apnea are obesity and structural obstructions in the throat or nose. The main cause of OSA is obesity and it is modifiable.
Causes of erectile dysfunction
There are a number of things that can cause erectile dysfunction. Like sleep apnea, obesity can be a major contributor to erectile dysfunction. Other causes are:
- atherosclerosis (a build-up of plaque in your blood vessels)
- Neurological diseases (diseases of the nervous system)
- injuries and other trauma
- Some prescription drugs
- alcohol and drug use
Sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction are two very different but closely related conditions. Diagnosing anyone can involve various blood and clinical tests, but everyone starts with a conversation with a doctor. If you have symptoms of either condition, talk to your doctor.
You may be asked questions about your personal, family, and sexual health history. In addition, blood tests can be used to examine the chemical balance in your body. For sleep apnea, your doctor may order sleep studies while the diagnosis of erectile dysfunction is based on tests that examine anatomy and function. This may include x-rays and other imaging tests.
Erectile Dysfunction Discussion Guide for Physicians
An accurate diagnosis is the first step in creating a good treatment plan. If you are diagnosed with erectile dysfunction but continue to have undiagnosed sleep apnea, you may not see much improvement from your erectile dysfunction treatment. In fact, if sleep apnea is left untreated, a number of other problems could arise, including:
Sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction each have specific treatments, but maintaining a healthy weight and diet can help both. Additionally, there are a number of medications and devices that can help treat erectile dysfunction, while continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) — which uses a tube and mask to deliver constant air pressure while you sleep — the primary treatment for sleep apnea.
While CPAP does not directly treat erectile dysfunction or low testosterone levels, these devices have been linked to improving erectile dysfunction in some people.
If you have an anatomical problem that has led to the development of sleep apnea or erectile dysfunction, there isn’t much you can do to prevent these conditions. However, as these conditions develop over time, lifestyle choices play an important role.
Ensuring that you exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight can help prevent both sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction, both of which are linked to obesity.
Sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing while you sleep. Not only can it disrupt sleep, but it can also affect testosterone production, which can contribute to erectile dysfunction. Sleep apnea is commonly treated with CPAP, which can help you breathe while you sleep. Research has shown that it can also help with erectile dysfunction.
A word from Verywell
Sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction are two very different conditions, but the co-occurrence of the two conditions in people suggests there is a connection. Men with sleep apnea have a higher rate of erectile dysfunction, and there are a few explanations as to why this can happen. Obesity is one reason, and the impact of lack of sleep on testosterone production is another.
If you’re struggling with sleep or with your sexual health, talk to your doctor about how to improve your sleep quality and address any other conditions that may be contributing to the problem.
frequently asked Questions
What is the connection between testosterone and sleep?
Sleep is an important part of hormonal balance, and testosterone levels rise during sleep. Disturbed sleep caused by problems like sleep apnea can lead to a drop in testosterone levels.
Why does lack of sleep cause erectile dysfunction?
When hormone levels drop, testosterone — the male sex hormone — can decrease. Low testosterone levels primarily contribute to erection problems. Lack of sleep can also lead to sexual health problems stemming from mood swings or relationship problems.
Do CPAP Machines Help With Low Testosterone?
CPAP machines have not been shown to affect hormone levels like testosterone — at least not directly. What these devices can do is treat sleep apnea and improve sleep quality, which in turn can increase hormone levels.