Feeling tired? There are many reasons why we sleep poorly, from insomnia to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Regardless of the reason, lack of sleep -- or lack of quality sleep -- can make us unpleasant people to be around, and sustained lack of sleep has been linked to more serious problems, like diabetes.
In fact, difficulty sleeping often points to underlying issues, even ones that seem to be unrelated to sleep -- such as impotence and erectile dysfunction.
For men, at least. A new study links sleep disorders and male sexual impotency. Specifically, the study examined the relationship between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and erectile dysfunction. OSA afflicts more than 12 million Americans and is characterized by repeated stops and starts of breathing during sleep when throat muscles relax and block the airway. Left untreated, those with sleep apnea suffer from poor quality of sleep and chronic sleep deprivation, leading to health issues that can be life-threatening: weight gain, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Apparently, OSA also shares a connection with some uniquely male impotency issues.
The study found that:
- Men with erectile dysfunction were more than twice as likely to have OSA than those without erectile dysfunction.
- The more severe the erectile dysfunction, the greater the likelihood of having OSA
- Men with erectile dysfunction should probably be screened for OSA
Interestingly, the average body mass of the men studied in this specific research was 30.2 -- well within the range of obese. The link between OSA and obesity is pretty well established. Perhaps now there's another reason for men to try to maintain a healthy weight -- erectile function.
This is bad news for men, but somewhat of a break for women. Most studies show quite a discrepancy between the effects lack of sleep brings men versus women. Women not only have more trouble sleeping than men do, their sleep disorders and difficulties can prove much riskier. For instance, if a woman gets fewer than eight hours of sleep, her risk for heart disease goes up considerably. This is not the case for men (though no matter who you are -- man or woman -- your risk for heart disease goes up at least somewhat, the more you lose out on sleep).
In fact, this study also looked at the connection between sleep and incontinence, and the results seemed to align more with the "men have it better where sleep is concerned" findings. The researchers found that getting too little sleep was strongly associated with the incidence of lower urinary tract symptoms for both men and women, but was upwards of five percent more prevalent in women.
Why does sleep deprivation affect men and women differently? We all know men and women are built differently. Hormones, body composition and other physiological variations are probably contributing to this mismatch seen in the lab. In a significant change from most studies, this link between OSA and erectile dysfunction is obviously a uniquely male problem -- and one that should be noted by men with either condition.
If you are a man who frequently snores, has trouble sleeping or doesn't feel rested in the morning despite getting six to eight hours of sleep, get screened for OSA. If you have OSA, make sure to use your CPAP machine, oral appliance or other prescribed treatment on a regular basis. If you're reluctant to use your CPAP machine or find that it isn't the sexiest addition to your bedroom, try encouraging your spouse to help you use it regularly: The research shows that men whose wives sleep with them in the same bed are more likely to keep using the CPAP. In fact, a woman who has vacated the bedroom to sleep soundly elsewhere, can help her husband's treatment if she returns to sharing a bed with him. The chance of his continuing to use this very successful treatment is 60 percent higher than if she sleeps alone.
Getting a good night's sleep can do a world of good for your whole body. Improve your overall sleep with better sleep hygiene and try getting enough quality sleep before your turn to pills of any sort -- whether they are Melatonin or Viagra. After all, everything you do, you do better with a good night's sleep -- everything.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™
Everything you do, you do better with a good night's sleep™