Sleep Apnea Affects Sexuality, Intimacy
Patients who are treated for their sleep apnea may see an improvement their sex lives.
WebMD News Archive
May 25, 2005 (San Diego) -- Patients who are treated for their may see an improvement their sex lives.
"It could be that they are less tired once the sleep apnea is being
treated," says Terri E. Weaver, RN, PhD, associate professor and chairwoman
of the biobehavioral and health sciences division at the University of
Pennsylvania. She presented her findings at the American Thoracic Society
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person's airway
collapses and breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated
sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of
times during the night. Loud snoring -- a hallmark of the condition -- occurs
when the airway collapses.
One of the most common treatments for sleep apnea is called CPAP (continuous
positive airway pressure). The patient wears a mask over the nose and/or mouth.
An air blower forces air through the upper airway. This prevents the upper
airway tissue from collapsing during sleep.
Treatment Makes the Difference
Sleep apnea patients who were treated with CPAP for six hours each night had
a reduction in daytime sleepiness and fatigue and an increase in intimacy and
sexuality, researchers report.
It is clear that participants with sleep apnea had a decrease in intimacy
and sexual relations, says Andrew L. Ries, MD, professor of medicine and family
and preventive medicine at the University of California in San Diego.
"But it appears that the major difference is whether the patients were
complying with treatment or not complying," he says. "One of the big
problems in the treatment of sleep apnea is getting people to accept it and
stay with it."
Who Needs Testing?
"Those who snore, have a collar size over 17 inches, who are male, and
overweight need to be diagnosed and treated for obstructive sleep apnea,"
says Weaver. "Treatment is effective in improving a variety of areas of
life including intimacy and sexual relationships."
Episodes of apnea can occur 20 or 30 times a night, says Weaver. "This
results in extremely fragmented sleep; it is like someone waking you up 20 or
30 times a night."
The study included 156 patients, mostly men, with sleep apnea. Participants
with sleep apnea were treated with CPAP and then compared with people without
Patient sleepiness and intimacy and sexuality were measured. There were four
components on the intimacy and sexuality scale -- relationships, desire,
arousal, and orgasm.
Daytime Sleepiness, Sexuality Improves With Treatment
Participants' daytime sleepiness improved significantly with CPAP,
especially in patients with more severe sleep apnea, she says. "After
treatment, participants improved substantially but didn't quite go back up to
In addition, the effect of treatment with CPAP improved patients'
"There was a definite relationship between the improvement in sleep
apnea and sexual functioning," Weaver says. "They had more energy and
were more sexually active than before."