The Sleep Disorders Program will be the first one run by a major hospital in Silicon Valley to focus on the link, according to Dr. Edward Karpman, a urologist at El Camino.
"We don't want to just give patients a pill," Karpman said. "We want to get down to that root cause" — which in the case of sexual issues such as erectile dysfunction is very often related to sleep apnea.
"There is a significant relationship between sleep disorders and many of the problems men face when they get older" related to sexual dysfunction, Karpman said.
Men are not the only ones who may suffer sexual side effects as a result of sleep apnea. According to 2011 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, men and women with obstructive sleep apnea between the ages of 28 and 64 had significantly higher levels of sexual dysfunction than those in a similar group without the sleeping disorder, according to a Sleep Disorders Program press release.
It isn't exactly clear why sleep disorders impact libido, Karpman said, but he offered a theory to which he ascribes.
The airway of someone with obstructive sleep apnea becomes partially or completely blocked. This not only causes the person to repeatedly wake up — thus disturbing the natural sleep cycle — it also deprives the body of oxygen.
"Oxygen is essential to every cell in the body," Karpman explained. "If you deprive the brain of oxygen repetitively, it could cause a disturbance of the circadian rhythm and of hormone production in the brain." This could, in theory, cause a cascade of hormone disruption and depletion, which would result in lower testosterone production in men, and ultimately, sexual dysfunction.
Karpman said he believes a large number of people who come into his office for sexual dysfunction, as well as for waking up in the middle of the night to urinate, are really experiencing some form of sleeping disorder.
"When people wake up in the middle of the night, they often get up to pee, even if that wasn't the reason they woke up in the first place," he said. "It's a confusion people have."
Not all sexual dysfunction is attributable to a sleeping disorder, Karpman said. It is important for people to understand all the potential causes for the condition, as a lackluster libido can put a damper a relationship, and consequently, on a person's marriage and overall happiness, he said.
"I think this is an exciting thing for the local community," he said of the new Sleep Disorders Program, "and I think this is something people should know about."
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