Do It Better

How Better Sleep Can Improve Your Sex Life

| 11/17/2020

sex and sleep Illustration by Sara Wong

It’s no secret that a lot of us sleep terribly. Tech fatigue, anxiety, and responsibilities can weigh heavy on us, resulting in sleepless nights and grouchy days. Although most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, polls and studies have shown that the average adult is regularly getting less than seven. We’re tired—glued to our phones, worried about our bills, kept up by raucous children or snoring partners. 

At the same time, sexual interest/arousal disorder is the most common sexual health condition that affects women and AFAB people. We’re flocking to doctors to help us understand why we’re rarely in the mood. No wonder our libidos are low, when we’re waking up in the middle of the night or unable to fall asleep in the first place.

Who Does This Affect?

The short answer? Pretty much everyone. A 2015 study focusing on younger women showed that just getting one extra hour of sleep increased sexual desire and sensitivity by 14 percent. A 2019 study focusing on 60+ year olds found that poor sleep was associated with erectile dysfunction for men and made arousal and orgasm difficult for women. 

How a Lack of Sleep Affects Your Sex Drive 

There are many physical processes at play when we sleep, and one of those is the replenishment of key hormones. Particularly testosterone, which plays a huge part in maintaining our libidos. 

We usually think of testosterone a male hormone, but it’s also important for regulating the sex drives of women and AFAB people. That’s especially true for people going through the menopause, as testosterone is produced by the ovaries, and thus in decline during this time. A lack of sleep also causes the body to produce higher levels of the stress hormones adrenocorticotropic and cortisol, both of which block the production of testosterone, inhibiting our sex drive. 

Men are also affected by this lack of testosterone production. SLEEP Journal published a study showing how sleep disorders can affect fertility, demonstrating how men who suffer from sleep apnea have a reduced sperm count. 

In addition, lack of sleep affects the normal function of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The part of the ANS that reacts to “good” stimulus plays an important part in sexual arousal. So, if our nervous system isn’t responding efficiently, it can’t respond as well to sexy times. Plus, the part of the ANS that responds to negative triggers, like stress, becomes more sensitive when people do not get enough sleep. 

In other words, our bodies need sleep to get in the mood, and everyone could benefit from a better slumber cycle. (Normally, masturbation is a great way to ease ourselves into sleep, but ironically, a lack of sleep can suppress that desire in the first place!) Here are some tips to help you drift off and replenish your body’s sexual energies in the process.

Turn It All Off

Screens keep our brains active, which isn’t ideal when you need to wind down. As great as the (happy hormone) dopamine hit can be when we get a phone notification, turning off electronic devices an hour or even half an hour before bed can help your drift off a lot easier. Try reading a book or listening to a podcast instead.

Warm Yourself Up

If you happen to live in a cold environment, you can end up going to bed slightly chilly or tense, meaning your body slightly too awake. Try showering or having a bath just before bedtime to warm your body up, with some candles instead of bright lights to help you get into a sleepier mood. Wearing socks can also help you drift off, as it warms the blood vessels in the feet, signaling to the brain that it’s time for bed. 

Once you’re asleep, however, a colder environment might help you stay asleep. Try using a timed thermostat and experiment to see what works for you. 

Sleep Apart For a While (If You Can)

It may seem unromantic, but sleeping apart from a partner may help you both to slumber better, reviving your desire for each other. It has been proven that couples who sleep together have more disturbed nights than those with separate beds or rooms. It doesn’t have to be forever, but a night or two without dealing with your partner’s restlessness, cover-stealing, or snoring could do you both a world of good. 

Check Out Some Sleep Tech

Sleep tech like Muse Headband and Motion Pillow use sensors to track movements, sounds, and breathing, learning your sleep cycle and adjusting to help you drift off and sleep longer. Apps like Sleep CycleSleepbot, and Pillow do a similar job of tracking your sleep habits, while also adjusting alarms to wake people during the lighter phase of sleep. You can also track sleep using smartwatches like Apple Watch and FitBit.

A word of warning, though—tracking sleep stats can become addictive or create more unhelpful anxiety if the stats are worse than you’d hoped. Remember, it’s all about how you feel in the end, not just what the numbers tell you. 

Enjoy a Bedtime Story

Podcasts are not just for true crime investigations nowadays. In recent years there’s also been a growth in sleep-focused content. Podcasts like Nothing Much Happens; Bedtime Stories for Grown-ups and Sleep Life from mattress company Simba help listeners relax by telling them nice, undramatic bedtime stories. You can also try ASMR apps like Tingles which offer soothing ASMR sounds, white noise and even guided relaxation – helping you to relax every part of your body, bit by bit. 

Just ensure that you turn the screen and notifications off so you can listen to the content without getting distracted.

Take a Moment to Pause

Mindfulness techniques have gone from a niche yogi pursuit to a widespread wellness phenomenon. While it’s not for everyone, incorporating some meditation into your daily life can help you slip into a relaxed state more easily at bedtime. Headspace is an accessible and simple meditation app for beginners. 

Reconnect in Bed

If you or your partner are usually rushing around, watching Netflix or playing on phones right up until the moment of sleep, it can be hard to suddenly switch modes and rest immediately. Try turning everything off, climbing into bed, and spend half an hour chatting without distractions. This way you can ensure that the other person is your focus as you’re going to sleep, and allows you to wind down together, restoring some of the intimacy that may be missing when you’re dealing with, you know, life.

Most of All, Go Easy on Yourself

Bad sleep, stress, menstrual cycle, anxiety: All of these things can affect our sex drive. If you’re not feeling in the mood, try not to worry – you are definitely not alone. The pressure to be amazing partners, employees, parents, and friends can be a lot, and sex is sometimes the first thing that’s affected. Be kind to yourself, acknowledge the pressures you’re under, and talk to your partner about it if you feel it’s becoming an issue. Making the commitment to a better sleep schedule may not be a magic fix, but it’s always a good idea to take care of our bodies and minds, and it might just give you the boost you need to feel more in touch with your sexy side.

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