A new study shows that undiagnosed sleep 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.
Sleep apnea 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 percent 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.
Up to 40 percent 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 pressure and diabetes, 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.
Nalan Köseoðlu, M.D., of Dokuz Eylül University Hospital in Izmir, Turkey, and colleagues say up to 93 percent 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.
SOURCE: Köseoðlu, N. Journal of Sexual Medicine, Aug. 14, 2006 online edition.
By Jennifer Warner
Reviewed by Louise Chang