DR. DONALD JOHNSON: Sleep problems: They kill your sex life and can lead to divorce

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Sleeping — the most important part of your 24-hour day. It helps restore and maintain our body’s systems — immune, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems. It also helps to maintain mental health including performance at our daily tasks, our mood, our memory, and our sexual health. If you live to be 90 years old, you should have spent 30 years asleep. That’s the way God made you.

Over-stimulating daily activities, less-than-great lifestyle choices, work deadlines, as well as iphone and iPad technology make it much harder to get the eight hours we need. And there are many medical conditions that also make it much harder to get those eight hours.

What is the most common medical condition? Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Sleep, what now?

OSA is a condition in which there are repeated episodes of partial or total blockage of the airway each lasting for 10 seconds or longer — sometimes 100 seconds. This causes the oxygen level in the blood to drop. This, in turn, causes a person to awaken subconsciously so breathing can start up again. These interruptions in breathing, oxygen levels, and sleep have a huge negative effect on the quality and quantity of sleep. And they sometimes occur hundreds of times during the night, and the patient has no idea that this is happening while they think they are sleeping.

What are the most common characteristics of a person with OSA? Snoring and teeth clenching and grinding, and daytime tiredness. The clenching and grinding make those with OSA more likely to have cracked teeth, headaches, and jaw pain (TMJ dysfunction). Similarly, those who suffer from OSA are more likely to be depressed and stressed, which can lead to irritability.

And while snoring doesn’t usually seem to a big deal, it leads to serious health issues — stroke, heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety, car/truck accidents, obesity, panic attacks, PTSD, depression, and poor work performance.

So how does OSA affect one’s sex life?

OSA has been shown to be the cause of a loss of libido in women, and it has been shown to be the cause of erectile dysfunction (ED) in men. Testosterone is usually produced in correct quantities and therefore, sexual health is maintained. Lack of oxygen in the blood reduces the amount of nitric acid in the blood. Nitric acid is a vasodilator and therefore lack of this in the blood can result in ED. With OSA, hormonal levels can drop causing sexual dysfunction. Studies have found that lack of sleep makes one focus on self’s needs rather than other’s needs. Then the relationship suffers.

What can one do?

A sleep study, either a polysomnogram (PSG) in a sleep lab or a home sleep test (HST) in one’s own home, is the way to determine whether or not the problem is OSA or not. Treatment is dependent upon that diagnosis.

The treatment may be very simple — a change of lifestyle such as diet swaps, weight loss, avoiding smoking and alcohol as well as adjusting your sleeping position off the back. Or treatment may be more complicated. A mask with an air blower (CPAP) or an oral appliance may also be prescribed. A last line of treatment, surgery, may be prescribed. This may involve removal of tonsils and adenoids.

So, what’s the bottom line?

In a lifetime of 90 years, we should sleep for about 30 years, so it’s important. If you don’t get good, restful sleep and you snore, I suggest that you see a sleep doctor or dentist qualified in treating OSA at your earliest convenience… Your life depends on it!

• • •

Dr. Donald Johnson founded Northwest Treatment Center for Snoring & Sleep Apnea in Coeur d’Alene to help patients stop their snoring and live free with no limits! Obstructive sleep apnea is usually able to be treated with a small oral appliance. Dr. Johnson’s office is at 114 W. Neider Ave., near Costco. The website for more information is www.NWSleepDoc.com and the office phone is (208) 667-4551. Schedule a free consultation appointment today!

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