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Sleep, Sex, and Prostate Cancer: What’s the Connection?

December 29, 2020
man and woman in bed

Sleep and sex are two very important and personal concerns that many people struggle with at times. But if you have prostate cancer, the challenges can be even greater. Treatment with surgery, radiation, or hormone therapy can affect sexual function and desire. Urinary issues after treatment and worry about cancer recurrence can affect sleep…..the list goes on. But how exactly are these problems related in prostate cancer, and how can doctors use this connection to better help their patients? A team of researchers in New Zealand aimed to find out more about the link between sleep problems and sexual problems in prostate cancer patients.

Two years ago, we posted a link to a survey on behalf of the researchers. It was purely optional and anonymous, and the PCF community responded, contributing valuable information about these topics. The researchers combined PCF data with responses from other patients around the globe.

Recently, the final study results were published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. The majority of patients (59%) had at least mild insomnia, and many (nearly 70%) were bothered by sexual problems. (Sounding familiar?) While most patients reported having a sex drive and being able to get an erection, only about 20% were able to have an orgasm. The main finding of the study is that orgasmic difficulty and insomnia are not only common, they are also statistically related – having one predicts that a person may have the other. This suggests that when men seek help for sexual problems, clinicians should ask about insomnia, as poor sleep may be contributing to problems with orgasm. Furthermore, treatments for insomnia – such as cognitive behavioral therapy or increased physical activity – may improve sexual functioning. Conversely, when patients present with sleep problems, providers should proactively ask about problems with orgasm – potentially identifying another way to help improve the patient’s quality of life.

Ultimately, this is good news for prostate cancer patients: identifying and treating problems in one area may boost functioning in the other. Better sleep and better sex can improve survivorship both during and after prostate cancer treatment. Don’t hesitate to tell your doctor about symptoms or side effects you may be experiencing, even if you’re not sure whether it’s related to treatment.