There’s not much about our lives and our health that sleep doesn’t affect. And that includes sex. Both men and women can face sexual problems that are linked to sleep—problems relating to sexual desire and also to sexual function.
For men, one of those sleep-related sexual issues is erectile dysfunction, or ED.
A new study demonstrates a link between poor sleep quality and ED. Scientists looked at the relationship between sleep quality and erectile function in a group of 377 men, with an average age of 46. They found that as men’s sleep quality decreased, so did erectile function.
This isn’t the first evidence of a relationship between sleep and ED. There’s actually a pretty significant body of research connecting several different sleep problems to erectile dysfunction.
- It’s not only poor sleep quality that’s linked to ED. Studies show that not getting enough sleep also may put men at greater risk.
- Many men with ED have undiagnosed sleep disorders—particularly obstructive sleep apnea, according to research.
There are some pretty strong scientific connections between sleep apnea and ED. Men with sleep apnea are more likely to have erectile dysfunction. And men with ED are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea. Research demonstrates these heightened, overlapping risks:
- A 2016 study found that 63 percent of men with sleep apnea had ED (compared to 47 percent of men without sleep apnea)
- Earlier research found that more than 91 percent of men with erectile dysfunction may have sleep apnea
Those are some pretty striking numbers. But sleep apnea isn’t the only form of sleep disordered breathing that’s linked to erectile dysfunction and sexual issues in
men. Snoring can also contribute to a greater risk for ED, as well as to other sexual problems. Studies tell us:
- Men who snore, particularly men who snore heavily, are more likely to experience less satisfaction with sex
- Snoring may also contribute to an increased risk for ED
Interestingly, a study at the Mayo clinic that found reduced sexual satisfaction in men who snore attributed that reduction, at least in part, to women’s frustration with their male partners’ snoring. Essentially, men got less satisfaction from sex because their snoring changed women’s interest in sex.
Why do poor sleep and sleep-disordered breathing have such apparent effects on erectile function and other elements of men’s sexual health? Scientists point to a number of likely explanations:
- Poor sleep lowers testosterone. A majority of the body’s testosterone is actually produced at night, during sleep. When men don’t get enough sleep, their testosterone levels can plummet by as much as 70 percent.
- Sleep apnea leads to intermittent drops in the body’s oxygen levels, and changes to blood flow throughout the body, which may contribute to ED.
- The stress and fatigue that come along with sleeping poorly are also likely significant factors in erectile dysfunction, some researchers say.
Estimates vary, but research suggests that ED affects an average of more than 18 percent of men 20 years and older. And rates are significantly higher among older men, and men with health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. That’s a lot of men whose ED might be helped, in part, by getting help for their sleep problems.
Written by Caitlin Reynolds