How More Sex Can Lead to Better Sleep and Vice Versa

By Dr. Justin Health More Sex Leads to More Sleep

The average person spends nearly one-third of their life sleeping. At first glance, that might sound like a huge waste of time, especially in our modern and extraordinarily busy lives. Why spend so much time sleeping when you could be productive or have fun instead? This kind of thinking makes it easy to deprioritize sleep in favor of other things you want to do or need to do. However, you may not realize that this isn’t just bad for your health—it’s also bad for your sex life. Research finds that sex and sleep are intimately interconnected. Getting good sleep can help us achieve better sexual satisfaction, and, at the same time, a healthy sex life can help us to get better sleep. So let’s talk about sex and sleep!



Sexual Intercourse Promotes Sleep 

In a study of 778 adults surveyed about how sex affects their sleep quality and sleep latency (how long it takes to fall asleep), the results were clear: a majority of men and women alike reported that having sex before bed has a benefit on subsequent sleep. Specifically, 59% of women and 68% of men said that the overall quality of their sleep improved. Likewise, most women and men (53% and 66%, respectively) said that they fall asleep faster following sex. For the most part, the remaining folks said that sex doesn’t have a notable impact on sleep one way or another, and only a small minority said that sex worsens sleep. So, as always, there is individual variability, but more often than not, sex tends to make us sleep better. Why is that? There are several possible explanations. One is that sex is a well-known stress reliever. To the extent that you feel less stressed after sex, sleep should just naturally come easier. It’s also the case that sex is a form of exercise because it involves some degree of physical exertion. So part of the reason we get sleepy after sex might just be because physical activity generally wears us out. On top of this, certain hormones are released during sexual activity (namely, oxytocin and prolactin), which are known to facilitate sleep.



But Orgasms Matter—and There Are Benefits of Masturbation, Too!

If you break the results down to look only at the effect of sex on sleep when orgasm occurs, the number of men and women who say sex improves their sleep jumps to over 70%. Further, whereas men report a more beneficial effect of sex on sleep than women when you ask about sex in general, this gender difference disappears when you only look at instances in which orgasm occurs. What about masturbation? The story here is similar. Masturbation is also linked to better sleep quality for men and women alike, especially when orgasm occurs. Also, there is no gender difference in the link between self-pleasure and sleep (with or without orgasm). All of this tells us that the fact that men report a more beneficial effect of partnered sex on sleep than women in general probably has to do with the fact that men, on average, have more orgasms. Translation: the orgasm gap may be hurting women’s sleep, which is yet another reason it’s important to close that gap between sex and sleep!



When We Don’t Get Good Sleep, Our Sex Lives Suffer

As you can see, engaging in sexual activity (alone or with a partner) before bed can help us get a better night’s rest. But in order to experience desire for sex and to have the ability to become—and stay—aroused, we also need to be getting decent sleep, to begin with. Temporary sleep disruptions, such as pulling an all-nighter to study or cutting sleep short for a week to finish up an important work project, can throw your sex life off for a little while. Acute sleep deprivation tends to do a few things:

It makes us tired

It increases negative moods (think irritability and sadness)

It decreases positive moods

The combined effect is that we’re less likely to be in the mood for sex. However, once you get back to your regular sleep schedule, your sex life will probably get back on track pretty quickly. That said, chronic sleep disruptions are another story and can have a more lasting, detrimental effect on sex. For example, research finds that people with sleeping disorders (such as sleep apnea) experience elevated rates of sexual dysfunction, including low sexual desire and arousal problems. We see something similar in people who have work or home lives where sleep becomes a constant struggle. This includes new parents who are frequently getting up in the middle of the night to care for a child. It also includes shift workers who don’t work standard hours, such as healthcare and other workers who might work nights one week and days the next. For these folks, constant fatigue and negative mood changes are part of the story when it comes to the impact on sexual health—but there’s more to it than that. When we go long periods with poor sleep, it can throw off hormone levels (especially testosterone), which further contributes to sexual problems. Likewise, chronic sleep problems can impair immune function (making us more likely to get sick) and create cardiovascular issues (which can contribute to difficulties with sexual arousal). For this reason, when patients show up with sexual difficulties, sex therapists and healthcare providers will typically ask how they’re sleeping. Sexual dysfunction can be an early warning sign of a problematic sleeping pattern. In these cases, the way to treat sexual difficulty is to treat the underlying sleep issue.



Tips For Better Sex and Better Sleep

In short, paying attention to our sex lives can help us to get better sleep—and paying attention to our sleeping patterns can help us to have better sex. So here are a few tips for both better sex and better sleep. First, if sex is a priority in your life or relationship, it’s also important to make sleep a priority. A few handy ways of prioritizing sleep are to establish a regular bedtime, start dimming the lights about a half-hour before you go to bed, and take your electronics out of the bedroom (or at least put them on “do not disturb” mode). Second, if you’re having trouble falling asleep, consider taking matters into your own hands, so to speak. For most people, self-pleasure to the point of orgasm is a handy way of getting to sleep—and staying asleep all night long. And finally, make your partner’s sleep a priority, too. Research finds that, for women in relationships, getting one extra hour of sleep on a given night translates to a 14% increase in the likelihood of having sex with their partner the next day. So let your partner sleep in or take some things off their to-do list so they can go to bed earlier, and you might just give your sex life a boost.



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