Sleep and sex. Sex and sleep. How are the two linked? While there’s significant evidence that better sleep can improve your sex life, the benefits go the other way, too.
How Sex Can Improve Sleep
This may sound obvious, but just being in bed with the lights off is a cue to your brain that it’s time to sleep. Add to that the fact that sex requires some physical exertion, and it makes sense that you’d feel tired afterward.
Sex is also a great stress reliever. If your stress levels are high, chances are it’s taking a toll on your sleep. Sex, and the feel-good hormones your body releases during it, can be a powerful antidote to stress and anxiety. During sex, your brain is flooded with endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers, and oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.” At the same time, sex lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. All this hormone action results in a sense of calm and wellbeing that can prime you for a good night’s sleep.
Why Men Get Sleepy After Sex
If it seems like guys want to skip the cuddling and go straight to sleep after sex, there’s a biological reason for it. Besides all the feel-good hormones coursing through their bodies, men also get a surge of a hormone called prolactin after they ejaculate. Prolactin is linked to sexual satisfaction, and it’s also associated with the “refractory period” guys experience after orgasm — i.e. why you can’t go another round right away. Prolactin levels are naturally higher during sleep, so it’s likely that the surge men get after orgasm causes them to feel sleepy.
It Works for Women, Too
Women also experience a prolactin surge after climax, but that’s not all. A study of healthy premenopausal women found that sexual stimulation boosted estrogen levels, while another linked higher estrogen levels with enhanced sleep amount and continuity.
Another study of women’s brains during sex found that during sexual stimulation, activity fell in the amygdala and the hippocampus — areas responsible for alertness and anxiety. In other words, good sex shuts down the parts of your brain that make you feel stressed and anxious. And less stress and anxiety often translates to better sleep.
How Does Sleep Improve Sex?
“Not tonight, honey. I’m too tired.” If you’ve ever heard those words, or uttered them yourself, you’re not alone. Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest reasons why people quit having sex. Who’s got the energy for sex when you’re barely getting 6 hours of sleep a night?
Research backs it up. One large study of women between 50 and 79 found that short sleep duration (less than 7 to 8 hours a night) translated to lower sexual satisfaction. A lot of things can take a toll on a woman’s sex drive in menopause, and this research suggests that poor sleep is one of them.
But the sleep-sex link is found in younger women, too. Another study of college-age women found that women who slept longer at night were more likely to have sex the next day. Women who regularly got more sleep also reported greater sexual desire and better arousal during sex.
Sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea can take a toll on sex as well. Research on men with sleep apnea has found that many, if not most, of them also experience erectile dysfunction (ED). It’s not completely understood why the two are connected, but researchers suspect that sleep deprivation plays a role. Men’s bodies produce testosterone at night. So if your sleep is compromised by apnea, it may affect your testosterone levels. Low testosterone in turn can lead to lower libido or inability to get an erection. ED in itself is stressful, which can contribute to the vicious cycle of poor sleep and bad (or no) sex. The good news is that men who get treatment for sleep apnea often notice an improvement in their sex lives.
How to Sleep Better and Have More Sex
If you’re stuck in a bad sleep-no sex rut, there are some things you can do to break out of it. First, make sure you’re practicing good sleep hygiene and setting yourself up for a good night’s sleep. Put away your electronics — tablets or laptops are notorious for inhibiting sleep, and they’re also a convenient way to avoid intimacy. Then you just need to do it. It may not feel very romantic at first, but if you get into the habit of having sex regularly, you’ll start to want and enjoy it. And hopefully the new, sexually satisfied you will sleep better at night, too.