If you struggle with erectile dysfunction (ED), you’re not alone — data suggests this medical condition affects around 30 million men in the U.S. While you’re not alone in dealing with erectile dysfunction, there are many causes of erectile dysfunction. One of them may indeed be sleep. Can lack of sleep cause erectile dysfunction?
We know sleep is crucial to health and overall well-being, and being deprived of enough sleep can cause plenty of issues in your day-to-day life.
But can it really affect your erectile function?
Erectile dysfunction is an inability to get an erection or being unable to sustain an erection sufficient for penetrative sex.
Erectile dysfunction can also include:
Being able to get a normal erection but having trouble maintaining it during sex
Not being able to get an erection every time you want to have sex
Not getting an erection at all, even with sexual stimulation
This condition can either be a short-term problem that comes up now and again or a long-term issue that develops over years.
Not only can ED affect sexual intercourse, but it can also hurt your self-confidence and negatively affect your sex life. So it’s understandable to want to find out the cause.
As we mentioned above, there can be many causes of ED. Can lack of sleep cause erectile dysfunction?
As we mentioned earlier, a lack of sleep can certainly impact your mental and physical health, including sexual health. So can sleep deprivation cause erectile dysfunction or other sexual dysfunction?
Lack of sleep could be a possible cause of erectile dysfunction. Chronic sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea can be a risk factor and accompany ED.
If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep or if you don’t get quality sleep, you may be dealing with insomnia. Other insomnia symptoms include laying awake for a long time, only sleeping for short amounts of time or waking up too early in the morning.
A lack of sleep and disrupted sleep — common insomnia symptoms — have been linked to a higher risk of erectile dysfunction.
Sleep apnea is a condition in which your breathing stops and restarts multiple times while you’re asleep. There are two types of sleep apnea:
Obstructive sleep apnea. The most common type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your upper airway becomes blocked and airflow completely stops or significantly decreases.
Central sleep apnea. This type of sleep apnea happens when your brain doesn’t send signals to breathe and may be caused by health conditions that affect how your brain controls chest muscles and the airway.
Symptoms of severe sleep apnea can include loud snoring, feeling sleepy in the daytime, headaches and sexual dysfunction or decreased libido.
A 2016 study also found that obstructive sleep apnea is associated with a significantly higher risk of erectile dysfunction.
Disrupted sleep, whether from sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, can also affect testosterone levels. Testosterone levels are generally at their highest during REM sleep, a stage of sleep associated with rapid eye movement (REM) and dreaming.
This disruption to levels of testosterone production could lead to hypogonadal symptoms, a condition where the body’s sex glands don’t produce hormones, and can potentially cause erectile dysfunction.
Mental health concerns can often influence sexual desire in men and there can be a strong connection between erectile dysfunction and mental health concerns, as a 2015 study found.
Poor sleep or a lack of sleep can also lead to relationship issues, which can then affect sexual health and sexual activities with your partner. A lack of sleep can heighten stress and cause conflict with a partner.
Another way a lack of sleep and ED are connected? Work schedule.
Working non-standard hours or night shifts can throw your circadian rhythm — the body’s internal clock that carries out essential functions — out of alignment and interferes with bodily functions, like sexual function and erectile dysfunction.
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Now that we’ve determined that sleep, or lack thereof, can affect erectile function, let’s talk about the ways to right the ship.
Since a lack of sleep and ED are connected, improving both can help your sexual health and overall well-being.
Improving your sleep can start with talking to your healthcare provider. Diagnosing and properly treating sleep disorders like sleep apnea can help improve sleep and therefore, may improve your sex life.
We mention sleep apnea specifically because in one randomized trial, using a consistent treatment plan for sleep apnea reduced erectile dysfunction in men. But that’s just one of many examples.
Sleep hygiene — or good sleep habits — is also important for getting quality sleep. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, making sure the room is dark and quiet, getting exercise during the day and removing screens from the room can all help improve sleep.
For long-term insomnia, your healthcare provider may recommend cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). CBT-I can help you overcome the underlying cause of your sleep problems by identifying thoughts and behaviors that worsen sleep problems and replacing them with habits that promote sound sleep.
If sleep deprivation isn’t the cause of your erectile dysfunction, there are other treatment options.
Therapy is another treatment option for ED and can also be beneficial if you struggle with a sleep disorder or mental health condition like depression or anxiety.
Can lack of sleep cause erectile dysfunction? Yes.
There are many links between lack of sleep and ED. From worsening mental health issues to impacting testosterone levels and more, a lack of sleep can affect your sex life and sexual performance.
There are also many ways you can manage sleep deprivation and treat erectile dysfunction. From getting better rest and sticking to a better bedtime routine, to seeing a healthcare provider and learning more about erectile dysfunction medications, this is a problem that has plenty of possible solutions.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.