Can sleep apnea actually cause hormonal chaos and even infertility? It sure can.
My readers know that Brent and I have been on a medical journey over the last 2 years that has taken us away from our intended path of having a baby and led us to a whole new understanding of health.
Since Brent was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor, we have learned that hormones affect more than just reproductive health, they regulate your brain and mental health as well as your heart, blood, digestive, and other vital systems that keep our bodies going.
After medication and a year of environmental changes, Brent’s MRI showed the tumor did not grow and his prolactin levels are in the normal range now. Unfortunately, his testosterone is still low so his doctor is thinking that maybe the brain tumor isn’t the cause.
Brent’s endocrinologist is wondering if sleep apnea is the culprit. Here is what we know and what we are learning about how sleep apnea impacts your health.
Brent was diagnosed with sleep apnea 3 months ago after an at home sleep study revealed low oxygen levels while sleeping. This test just confirmed what I already knew and had been telling him for years (doesn’t wife always know best). Aside from daytime sleepiness and loud snoring, there are common symptoms of sleep apnea that many times only the partner will observe.
The most notable symptom is short periods of absent breathing.
I’ve been kept awake so many times by Brent’s snoring that I know his sleep patterns:
- He starts with deep breaths and sucks air so hard his entire chest heaves in and out.
- He struggles so much for air that he actually begins to sweat while sleeping.
- About an hour into sleep he will sometimes stop breathing for 5-10 seconds at a time.
- He wakes up often, sometimes without knowing he’s awake.
This unconscious waking throughout the night has actually caused some problems in our relationship. Whether he’s waking up to cough (or spit whatever has been caught in his airway), use the bathroom, or grab a snack or drink from the kitchen, I try to become invisible.
Middle of the night Brent is like an angry, walking beast, unaware of his path or anyone in its way. For this reason, I remain quiet and try to avoid a confrontation at all cost.
The problem is since he’s so tired all the time, he always falls asleep first, sometimes as early as 8pm on the couch. It takes everything in me to wake up this angry beast and hope he peacefully walks into the bedroom and goes back into his slumber. When he doesn’t, a wide range of things can happen:
- He questions everything I’ve been doing while he’s been asleep.
- He gets mad if I pick a certain show because I didn’t consult him (in his sleep).
- He blames me for why he fell asleep in the first place.
- He’ll put me down for the fact that I don’t have to wake up early like him.
- The worst is when he asks for sex after being asleep, snoring for hours. When I say no, he gets very angry and takes some pretty good shots at our relationship.
As hard as I try I sometimes find myself in a full argument with a nearly unconscious man who’s snoring has seemed to capture me as its prisoner as much as my poor husband.
I thought this was the worst of it, until Brent’s endocrinologist told us that sleep apnea could be causing major issues in every aspect of his health.
At his recent appointment, Brent’s endocrinologist prescribed a CPAP machine to regulate his hormones. What? Could his lack of sleep be causing infertility?
We’ve all heard that our body needs sleep in order to “recharge” and this is so true when it coming to hormones. 70% of the human growth hormone is released during sleep which means most men can replenish all the testosterone they need on a nightly basis. Since Brent is not reaching deep, restorative sleep at night, his body is not producing the testosterone he needs to function during the day.
Aside from low sperm count Brent exhibits no symptoms of “Low T” but there are other hormones impacted when this imbalance occurs, including dopamine, serotonin, and other necessary regulators. When one is out of whack, others are too sending your body into survival mode. When our bodies don’t create it, we look for other means to get it.
For couples trying to get pregnant, low testosterone and low sperm count can be treated with hormone therapy, unless the patient suffers from sleep apnea. Those who suffer from sleep apnea are at risk for heart attack, stroke, and arrhythmia due to decreased oxygen levels, so most doctors will not prescribe hormone therapy until a sleep study is complete and the apnea is resolved.
Sleep allows our body to repair damage at the cellular level. Brent works his muscles every day at the gym and at work, but at night he’s not getting the sleep needed to recover. Since there is a shortage of oxygen in his system at night, his body is creating more red blood cells than needed in order to make up for the shortage. This is why his blood results show elevated hematocrit levels.
Elevated hematocrit can indicate low oxygen levels in the blood. At night while Brent struggles to breath, his system is being deprived of oxygen. His body becomes so accustomed to these low levels that his blood levels remain elevated throughout the day.
Although symptoms of high hematocrit usually include fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and muscle pain, it could cause serious illness such as heart disease, kidney disease and stroke.
We now know that sleep apnea can cause chronic health conditions and may be causing more problems than a pillaging, angry beast in my bedroom at night. The CPAP machine may not be Brent’s ideal sleeping partner, but when I see him with that mask on, he looks like superhero to me.
Want to see Brent’s CPAP journey? Click here.