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New study: Sleep apnea linked to decreased libido


Male patients who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) -- the inability to breathe properly during sleep -- produce lower levels of testosterone, resulting in decreased libido and sexual activity, according to researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Previous studies had indicated that male sleep apnea patients had reported decreased libidos but the studies were unable to establish a scientific link. The current study, reported in the July issue of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that nearly half the subjects who suffered from severe sleep apnea also secreted abnormally low levels of testosterone throughout the night.

"For years we have seen sleep-disorder patients complain of decreased libido but we had no explanation for this phenomenon until now," said Professor Peretz Lavie, head of the Technion Sleep Laboratory and study leader.

Sleep apnea is a respiratory disorder that affects 4%-9% of adult males. Its most common manifestation is loud snoring and it may occur several hundred times throughout the night, resulting in sleep fragmentation and excessive daytime sleepiness. For many years sleep apnea sufferers have complained of decreased libidos, yet previous studies reported that patients’ testosterone levels, although low, were within the normal adult male range.

The current study adopted a different methodology. Earlier studies had only measured participants’ testosterone levels once after awakening. In this study, subjects were admitted to the Technion Sleep Center for an entire night and were fitted with electrodes and catheters. They were monitored between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. with blood samples collected every 20 minutes. At 10 p.m., lights were turned off and the participants retired to sleep. Two groups -- one of sleep apnea patients and another of normal controls of similar body weight and age -- were investigated.

The study found that nearly half the sleep apnea patients secreted abnormally low testosterone levels throughout the night.

"Should follow-up studies confirm these findings, then therapeutic intervention of sleep apnea could become a recommended remedy for certain forms of male sexual dysfunction," said Prof. Rephael Luboshitzky, an endocrinologist on the research team. "It is our hope that in the future, by correcting nighttime breathing patterns we will be able to stimulate hormone production and thereby raise libidos."

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is Israel’s leading scientific and technological center for applied research and education. It commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine. The majority of the founders and managers of Israel’s high-tech companies are alumni.

Based in New York City, the American Technion Society is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel with more than 20,000 supporters and 17 offices around the country.

To arrange for an interview with Dr. Lavie, please contact Efrem Epstein at (212) 307-2519.

Efrem Epstein | EurekAlert!
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