Broken sleep, sexual function and deadly strokes

Did you sleep well last night? It may not be stress or insomnia … you could have a sleep condition known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

It’s more common than you might think. Studies say that about one in every 4 men, and 1 in 10 women have it. Men are much more likely than women to develop OSA, and men who are middle-aged and overweight are especially susceptible.

The worst part is that it doesn’t just affect your sleep. For men, obstructive sleep apnea also is often accompanied by erectile dysfunction. And for women, it can mean hidden heart disease.

Sleep apnea and breathing

OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea. In people who have this condition, the airway becomes blocked or collapses while they are sleeping. This causes them to experience breathing pauses and/or shallow breaths. The pauses can last several seconds or longer, and they can occur 30 times or more per hour.

OSA causes people to transition from deep sleep to a light slumber that typically leaves them tired or even exhausted the next day. Because there are no tests doctors can conduct during an office visit to identify obstructive sleep apnea and no blood test is useful, the condition often goes undiagnosed unless the person’s bed partner notices the breathing problem.

But OSA may not be the only problem bed partners notice. Experts have been studying the combination of sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction, and here’s what they’ve discovered.

Apnea, sexual function and strokes

Researchers from Mount Sinai Medical Center explored the relationship between OSA and erectile dysfunction in 870 middle-aged men who were part of a cardiac screening program. Results of the study were presented at an Annual Meeting of the American Urological Association.2

After making adjustments for age and other health problems, the researchers found that the men who had erectile dysfunction were more than twice as likely to have OSA than the normal men in the study.

In fact, the chances of having the sleep problem increased as the severity of erectile dysfunction increased.

Later studies have shown that OSA and erectile dysfunction often also have heart problems that go along with them, like heart arrhythmias and endothelial dysfunction.

And if you’re a woman, you’re also at risk for heart problems if you have sleep apnea.

In one study, researchers followed the health of 967 women for 8 years. They discovered that women with sleep apnea were 244 percent more likely to have any coronary event … and 644 percent more likely to have a stroke.

What causes it?

In Spain, investigators set out to identify the factors that can influence the occurrence of erectile dysfunction in men with obstructive sleep apnea. After allowing for other factors, those associated with erectile dysfunction in the study were age and high cholesterol.

Next door in Portugal, researchers found that for both men and women, diabetes and sleep apnea go hand-in-hand.

What this means is that obstructive sleep apnea is a serious health condition that can be life-threatening if it is not diagnosed and treated.

Since higher cholesterol is related to sleep apnea, here are a few supplements that can help lower cholesterol:

  • Apple pectin.
  • Artichoke extract.
  • Beet juice powder
  • Blond psyllium
  • Fish oil
  • Lypase
  • Niacin
  • Red yeast rice

As with anything you consume, research the benefits, side effects and recommended dosages for each supplement you consider.

Dr. Geo Espinosa

By Dr. Geo Espinosa

Dr. Geo Espinosa is a naturopathic doctor, licensed acupuncturist and certified functional medicine practitioner recognized as an authority in holistic urology and men’s health. He is Clinical Assistant Professor and holistic clinician in Urology at New York University Langone Medical Center. As an avid researcher and writer, Dr. Geo has authored numerous scientific papers and books including co-editing the Integrative Sexual Health book, and author of the best selling prostate cancer book: Thrive, Don't Only Survive.