What the Makers of Viagra Missed

March 24, 2009

A recent poll revealed that the most common reason for lack of desire in intimate relations was that people are just too tired. Needless to say, drugs like Viagra and similar medications are selling like hotcakes. And for good reason: Lack of sexual desire and function is rampant in our over-stressed, overly tired society. And just like many other medications for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and anxiety, these medications only cover up the end-resulting symptom without addressing what’s really causing the problem. It may be debatable as to what that original cause is, but one thing’s for sure is that either lack of sleep quantity, or lack of efficient sleep can definitely aggravate, if not cause every disease previously mentioned.

The Connection Behind Sleep and Sex

Sexual desire and arousal, just like every other body function, is regulated by the involuntary nervous system (or the autonomic nervous system). This nervous system is divided into two parts: the sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight state), or the parasympathetic nervous system (what regulates digestion, sleep, and reproduction). There’s a relative balance between these two states, one being more activated, depending on what you need to do. However, if there’s too much stress of any kind in your body, then the sympathetic portion dominates and ends up suppressing the parasympathetic portion. What I’m talking about is an internal, physiologic stress. However, any kind of external stress (psychological, emotional or physical) can aggravate the internal stress as well.

One of the most common reasons for increased stress in our modern society is lack of good, quality sleep. Not only are we not sleeping enough since many of our modern conveniences like the light bulb, cell phones, the internet, and very bright LED lights on our electronic appliances make it much more convenient not to, we are also not able to sleep efficiently due to our inability to breathe properly at night.

What I describe in my sleep-breathing paradigm (see my book, Sleep, Interrupted: A physician reveals the #1 reason why so many of us are sick and tired) is the concept that all modern humans are unable to breathe properly at night, especially in deep sleep. Due to a gradual narrowing of our jaws in the last 50 years, along with dental crowding, we have relatively less room for our tongues, leading to potential collapse due to muscle relaxation in deep sleep. Most people with these issues prefer to sleep only on their sides or stomachs, but some people can only sleep on their stomachs.

As a result, even if you can get the requisite 8-9 hours of sleep, those with mild to moderate sleep breathing issues, like snoring (see this month’s article: Solutions for Your Bed Partner’s Worst Sleep Problems) and upper airway resistance syndrome, can be affected. Yet when 85% of the people who have a more severe form of this problem, like obstructive sleep apnea is not being diagnosed, it’s most likely that those who have milder sleep breathing problems get diagnosed and treated inappropriately as well. This may be why viagra and sleep aids are so popular even though they may not be all that effective over the long haul.

Sleep Can Be Better Than Viagra

So how exactly does lack of quality sleep affect sexual desire and functioning?

As I mentioned before, sex is controlled by both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, in both men and women. Arousal is activated by the parasympathetic nervous system. In men, this leads to sexual desire and erection. Orgasm is activated by the sympathetic nervous system. But it you have too much "stress," then you can have various problems such as not being able to maintain an erection, or have premature ejaculation. Erection occurs when a certain muscle that surrounds an artery that normally constricts a blood vessel that goes to the penis relaxes. This relaxation response is stimulated by the parasympathetic nervous system. What Viagra and similar medications do is to artificially relax this particular penile muscle, but this can cause symptoms due to increased blood blow in other parts of your body as well (leading to headaches, flushing, stomach irritation, and other numerous side effects).

If you are one of those people who have narrow airways, and therefore aren’t breathing properly at night, or if you have a severe form of this sleep breathing condition called, obstructive sleep apnea, you’re probably suffering from chronic deep sleep deprivation, which causes a low-grade degree of physiologic stress. This can feed into the various sexual arousal and performance problems that I described earlier. Any additional stress from your job, relationships or even your financial worries can aggravate your internal physiologic stress levels. This ends up over-stimulating your sympathetic system, leading to an inability to activate your parasympathetic nervous activation. There are various breathing techniques that can help to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which delays orgasm for men whose sympathetic nervous system comes into too quickly.

On the other hand, even if everything goes according to plan, getting pregnant may be difficult if the woman has similar sleep breathing problems. The other resulting cause of inefficient sleep can be that you’re able to get pregnant, but are unable to maintain the pregnancy. Knowing that elevated stress hormones can significantly alter reproductive hormone levels, it’s not too far fetched to see why our sleep quality can wreak so much havoc on one’s ability to have a healthy and vital sexual functioning.

So if you’re one of those people who think viagra make you more vital, think again. What you may actually need is to breathe better, so you can sleep better.

2 Responses to “What the Makers of Viagra Missed”

  1. Solutions for Your Bed Partner's Worst Sleep Problem | Dr. Steven Y. Park - Information on How You Can Breathe Better, Sleep Better, and Live Better on March 24th, 2009 7:37 pm

    […] disease, diabetes, snoring is even linked to erectile dysfunction in men (see our feature article: What the Makers of Viagra Missed). Fortunately, snoring is something you can get rid of. The problem is in knowing […]

  2. Trish on December 5th, 2012 1:28 pm

    You should differentiate between orgasm and ejaculation because they are NOT the same thing. Orgasm is energy-based response whereas ejaculation is a physically-based reflex. Men can orgasm for hours, but they don’t believe they can thanks to the fakery of porn and bad information on the orgasmic response. Separate orgasm from ejaculation. They “can” be the same, but they can also be very separate with a man having orgasms for hours and never ejaculating.

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