Sleep Apnea Hurts Women's Sex Lives

Study Shows Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea Hampers Women's Sexual Function

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 08, 2006

Sept. 8, 2006 -- Snoring may affect women's sex lives in ways beyond the occasional night on the couch.

A new study shows that undiagnosed sleep apneasleep apnea, a common disorder associated with snoring, may decrease women's sexual function by reducing sexual desire, sensation, and lubrication, as well as negatively affecting their relationship with their partner.

Sleepapneaapnea occurs when breathing regularly stops during sleep for 10 seconds or longer due to an obstruction or narrowing of the airway in the nose, mouth, or throat. This causes symptoms including snoring and loss of sleep.

However, not all people with sleep apnea have snoring problems.

Although sleep apnea is three times more common in men, researchers say obstructive sleep apnea syndrome affects up to 4% of women between the ages of 30 and 60.

Researchers say previous studies have looked at the link between sleep apnea and sexual dysfunction in men, but this is the first study to look at the relationship between the sleep disorder and sexual dysfunction in women.

Sleep Apnea Affects Sexual Function

Up to 40% of women suffer from sexual dysfunction. The condition is often age-related and linked to a loss of estrogen.

But researchers say other medical conditions, such as high blood pressurehigh blood pressure and diabetesdiabetes, may also play a role.

In the study, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers evaluated the sexual function of 25 premenopausal women (average age, 48) diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea at a university sleep center in Turkey.

All the women were married. They had an average frequency of sexual intercourse of about three times per month.

The women's sleep apnea was classified as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the severity of breathing disturbances during sleep.

The results showed that as the severity of sleep apnea increased, sexual function scores decreased among the women for all measures except pain and enjoyment.

Researchers found women with severe sleep apnea had significantly reduced sexual desire, sensation, lubrication, orgasm, and quality of partner relationships compared with women with mild cases of the sleep disorder -- even after accounting for increasing age or illnesses.

Researcher Nalan Köseoðlu, MD, of Dokuz Eylül University Hospital in Izmir, Turkey, and colleagues say up to 93% of women with moderate to severe sleep apnea are unaware of their condition, which may be negatively affecting their sex lives as well as the quality of their sleep.