Male sufferers of sleep apnoea may not have to endure erectile dysfunction as well.
Researchers claim that wearing a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) at night could improve people's sex lives.
Sleep apnoea occurs when the walls of the throat collapse during sleep, blocking off part of the airway and disturbing a person's sleep. This can lead to daytime sleepiness and loss of concentration.
The CPAP is a mask worn during sleep, which pumps air into the airways to keep them clear and replenish oxygen levels.
Researchers from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre in the US say the Darth Vader-like mask might be unattractive but it improves erectile function and libido in men who wear it.
Army captain Dr Joseph Dombrowsky recruited 92 men who had severe obstructive sleep apnoea and were being treated using CPAP machines.
The average age of the participants was 46 and they suffered an average of 39 apnoea events per hour. After completing a sexual function survey, 43.5 percent reported erectile dysfunction. They were then ranked as mild, moderate or severe.
When the doctors reassessed the men after one, three and six months, they found a considerable improvement.
Fifty-four percent of those with mild erectile dysfunction noticed an improvement, 29 percent of those with moderate erectile dysfunction improved and 27 percent of those with severe erectile dysfunction noticed a positive difference. Sexual desire also improved.
Dombrowsky hopes that starting CPAP therapy early could prevent men having to use drugs like Viagra.
“What the results say to me is that erectile dysfunction is a progressive disease, as is sleep apnoea,” Dombrowsky said. “So if we were to intervene earlier, we might be able to stave off the progression of erectile dysfunction.”
Past studies have shown erectile dysfunction can be an early sign of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and poor fitness.
Scientists are still determining the specific link between sleep apnoea and erectile dysfunction. Dombrowsky believes it could be because men naturally get erections during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep, but in apnoea sufferers REM is interrupted.
The researchers plan to recruit a larger sample size of men to further investigate.