Good Sleep, Better Sex Studied since the mid-sixties, obstructive sleep apnea has made its way into the news recently, and it may just be the diagnosis your sex life has been waiting for. BY GABRIEL LEFRANCOIS
A good night's sleep can do wonders for your sex life.
It’s time for bed. You turn out the light, lay your head down on the pillow, tell your spouse goodnight and fall asleep. Sounds like a typical scenario, but your sleep could be affecting your sex life in a major way.
In a recent study published in the August issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, twenty-five married couples were studied with a conclusion that undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea significantly impacted sexual function in both women and men. The study was independent of age and any other health problems they may have had. Men suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), as reported in the journal Urology, showed significant numbers of erectile dysfunction when they went undiagnosed.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep that last long enough so one or more breathes are missed and occur repeatedly throughout sleep, while OSA is characterized by the abnormal collapse of the pharyngeal airway during sleep. Individuals are rarely aware of having difficulty breathing when these apneas occur, even upon awakening. In most cases, sufferers are only made aware when they are told by their partner.
"A patient may experience restless sleep, snoring, choking, pauses in breathing and the like," says Dr. James Herdegen, M.D., director for sleep and ventilatory disorders at the University of Illinois. "Some symptoms a patient might feel are things like being tired after work, or in some extreme cases will fall asleep during work or even during a conversation."
The disorder is often associated with the increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression and other serious health conditions.
According to laboratory studies conducted at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Task Force, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common category of sleep-disordered breathing. And in a report titled Sleep Apnea Syndromes and Cardiovascular Disease, recent large epidemiologic studies have shown that sleep apnea affects about 16 percent of men and 5 percent of women between 30 and 65 years of age.
"We are constantly deprived of sleep as a nation," says Herdegen. "Most people that come to us are referred by their primary physician. Increasing awareness about sleep apnea to primary care physicians is critical for the five to 10 percent of the population that goes unevaluated."
For OSA sufferers, there is hope. Depending on ones medical history, the seriousness of the condition and the specific cause of the obstruction, OSA can be treated by making a lifestyle change such as avoiding alcohol and medications that relax the central nervous system, loosing weight and/or quitting smoking. Also, special pillows or devices that keep a person from sleeping on their backs or oral applications that keep airways open during sleep. Surgical procedures can also be used to remove and tighten tissue and widen the airway, but according to medical experts, the success rate is not high.
Though sexual dysfunction might not be a threatening disease, it still can put a major strain on a marriage. There is plenty of data to support that there are millions of couples, young and old, that need to be made aware of this syndrome. It could make the difference of having a happier marriage. Who knows, your next good romp may only be a good night's sleep away.