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Can Sleep Impact Fertility?

Sleep and the lack of sleep have been being linked to a laundry list of physical problems ranging from obesity to hypertension. Now comes word that sleep disorders, or more specifically obstructive sleep apnea, may also be associated with the trend towards male infertility. There has been a broad decline in male sperm quality that has been noted over the last two decades. This issue was documented in a 2012 French study that showed that between 1989 and 2005, men with an average age of 34 to 36 years old showed a decrease in sperm concentrations. The average numbers fell by an astonishing 32 percent. There have been other studies that have backed up these results, and the medical community has expressed concern about what they referred to as a sperm crisis. The obvious question was ‘why?’ What could be causing such a rapid decline?

Though medical experts are quick to point out that the trend has no single cause, but one theory that is being raised is that it an be a result of increases in the number of cases of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). A Spanish study recently looked at whether there was a relationship between the troubling sleep disorder and sperm concentration, and found that when breathing is disrupted in the way that is characteristic of OSA, a decrease in fertility may follow. Using male mice as their subjects, the scientists introduced periods of repeated oxygen deprivation in order to approximate what people suffering from OSA experience. The deprivation was followed by periods of normal access to air, so that it would be similar to what OSA sufferers breathe while they are awake. After a period of two months of this regimen, the mice were permitted to mate, and the scientists found that the number of pregnancies coming from the OSA mice versus the control group showed dramatic results. Those that had been robbed of nighttime oxygen had substantially lower numbers of pregnancies resulting from their mating efforts than those that had full access to oxygen.

Researching this further with human subjects will take time, but it is very important to see whether the same type of results are actually occurring in human men who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. There is no question that there is a link between the sleep disorder and sexual function in both men and women, with between ten and sixty percent of men who suffer from the condition complaining of erectile dysfunction. Because modern adults are tending to delay parenthood into their later years, the risk of obstructive sleep apnea in fathers increases, making fertility a bigger issue.

For those who are experiencing issues of low sperm quality and who suspect that they may be suffering from OSA, sleep studies can quickly confirm a diagnosis and good and effective treatments are available. The most popular of these is continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, which sends a continuous streem of air into the airway.

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