What does untreated sleep apnea affect?

A better question might be – what doesn’t sleep apnea affect? In addition to untreated sleep apnea causing cognitive and bodily deficits, sleep apnea also has negative effects on sexual functioning. In fact, previous research has shown that women with untreated sleep apnea have a much higher rate of sexual functioning complaints (e.g., low sex drive, low sexual satisfaction, etc.) when compared to those without sleep apnea. However, it is unknown whether sexual functioning can be regained after sleep apnea treatment has been initiated. Recently, a research team set out to examine this issue.

This study, which was performed by researchers in Denmark, included about 40 women of all ages (22-71 years). Each participant was given a multitude of sexual functioning surveys (Female Sexual Function Index, Female Sexual Distress Scale, and Manifest Female Sexual Dysfunction), which asked questions about sexual encounters with or without their partners and also anxiety about sexual functioning. These surveys were administered both before and after one year of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment. Results from both surveys were compared to determine whether or not sleep apnea treatment does indeed affect sexual functioning.

As expected, results showed that sexual distress and sexual functioning both improved following 1 year of CPAP treatment. This improvement was more pronounced in older women (>45) than younger women. What’s more, sleepiness levels, as assessed by the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, also decreased following 1 year of CPAP treatment.

These results suggest that untreated sleep apnea and sexual dysfunction may be linked in older women (and possibly younger women too) and that these women may benefit from sleep apnea treatment. It is important to note that sleepiness levels also decreased following sleep apnea treatment. Perhaps sleepiness is a factor in the relationship between sexual functioning and sleep apnea. This remains unclear, however, as the authors did not mention doing an analysis that involved all 3 of these factors. So did you think you would ever be seeing a sleep physician about troubles in the bedroom?



Petersen, M., Kristensen, E., Berg, S., & Midgren, B. (2013). LongTerm Effects of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Treatment on Sexuality in Female Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Sexual Medicine, 1(2), 62-68.

Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

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