June 22, 2006
Impotence common in men with sleep apnea
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Men with breathing problems
during sleep may commonly suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED)
as well, a small study suggests. Researchers found that of 30
men with the breathing disorder sleep apnea, 24 (80 percent)
also had symptoms of ED.
People with sleep apnea have numerous stops and starts in
breathing during the night, with chronic, loud snoring being a
hallmark of the condition. The most common form of the disorder
is obstructive sleep apnea, in which the soft tissues at the
back of the throat temporarily collapse during sleep, blocking
Over time, oxygen deprivation during the night can harm the
cardiovascular system, raising the odds of high blood pressure,
stroke and heart disease.
But researchers have also speculated that sleep apnea could
contribute to ED, according to the authors of the new study,
led by Dr. John P. Mulhall of the Weill Medical College of
Cornell University in New York, and published in the journal
For one, it's thought that the erections men naturally have
during deep REM sleep help preserve normal erectile function.
Men with sleep apnea, however, have continuous sleep
interruptions and spend less time in the REM stages.
To study the relationship between sleep apnea and ED,
Mulhall and his colleagues assessed 50 men who came to a sleep
clinic with possible symptoms of sleep apnea -- which, besides
chronic loud snoring may include daytime sleepiness and
Thirty of these men were diagnosed with sleep apnea, 24 of
whom were also diagnosed with ED based on a standard
questionnaire. And the worse the sleep apnea, the more severe
the ED tended to be.
In contrast, only four of the 20 men without sleep apnea
were diagnosed with ED.
"Our data suggest that men with sleep apnea syndrome have a
significant chance of having ED and that a correlation exists
between the severity of sleep apnea and ED," Mulhall and his
It's not clear why the two conditions are linked, according
to the researchers. Body mass index, which was not assessed in
the study, could be one factor, as obesity is the single
largest risk factor for sleep apnea, and overweight men also
have a greater risk of ED.
Sleep apnea can also lower testosterone levels in the
blood, the researchers note, which could contribute to erectile
SOURCE: Urology, May 2006.