Sleep Resources

The Relationship Between Sex and Sleep

What's the secret to great sex? Getting a good night's sleep.

By Jennifer Walker-Journey

It’s amazing how good sleep impacts so much of our health and wellbeing — including sex. When sleep is good, sex is good. But when our sleep suffers, so does our sex life. And when our sex lives suffer, it can adversely impact our relationships

Despite both sleep and sex typically being enjoyed in the bedroom, they are rarely linked together in our minds. But inside our bodies, it’s a different story. Both sex and sleep trigger chemical and emotional responses that impact libido, energy, stress levels, and our mood. 

How does sleep impact sex and vise versa? Let’s take a closer look:

Couple laying together in bed and sleeping

How does sleep affect sex?

The effects of a good night’s sleep on sex are well documented. One study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that those who slept longer at night felt greater sexual desire and more genital arousal the next day. In fact, getting just one hour of extra sleep translated to a 14 percent increase in the likelihood of engaging in partnered sexual activity the next day.

There are several ways great sleep makes you more amorous, says Kelly Nolan, owner of intimacy products site Lush Sensation. “Hormonal production improves with better sleep,” she says. “This is because REM sleep encourages testosterone production, an essential hormone for sexual drive in both sexes.” 

 A University of Chicago study gauging men’s sleep time using high-tech wristbands to measure testosterone levels found that men who slept eight hours at night had significantly higher testosterone levels than men who slept just four hours at night. 

Sleep also reduces the level of the stress hormone cortisol, “which, in turn, affects both male and female sexual energy,” Nolan says. When you’re body is better able to manage stress, you’re more in the mood for sex. Plus, a good night’s sleep increases energy, which improves sexual performance, giving you the stamina to stay in the game, Nolan adds. 

Conversely, sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your sex life. “Our bodies know when they’re not fully rested, so they compensate by doing everything to preserve energy. When this happens, the body prevents itself from doing any sexual activities since that can burn unnecessary energy,” says Stephen Light, co-owner and Certified Sleep Science Coach with Nolah Mattress. “Hence, the lack of desire to conduct sexual activities when sleep deprived.”

The hormonal changes that occur when you’re sleep deprived can lead to sexual dysfunction. “More cortisol and less estrogen and testosterone in the body lead to decreased libido levels and might cause erectile dysfunction in men and infertility in both men and women,” says Dainis Graveris, certified sex educator and relationship expert at SexualAlpha.

Insufficient sleep can also make you cranky. When you’re sleepy, you are more likely to fly off the handle and act out in frustration, irritability, or sadness. If you suffer from mental health issues and become sleep deprived, you are more apt to experience bouts of anxiety or depression. That means, if you’re experiencing excessive sleepiness, you may feel more emotionally sensitive and take offense to things your partner says. And when you and your partner are fighting, chances are you’re not in the mood for sex. 

Lack of adequate sleep impairs the frontal lobe of the brain, according to a study published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which has a negative effect on decision-making variables such as moral reasoning, inhibition and risk-taking sensitivity. In other words, if you show up at a bar sleep deprived, you’re less likely to shrug off inappropriate offers, which can saddle you with other problems including sexual harassment, unplanned pregnancy, and sexual transmitted diseases.  

How does sex affect sleep?

Sex just before bedtime does wonders on your sleep quality. Sex stimulates the release of certain chemicals and hormones that work as sort of a natural sedative, lulling you to sleep after a pleasurable, intimate experience. 

“When you orgasm from sex or masturbation, cortisol levels go down, and the release of prolactin, endorphins, and oxytocin hormones takes place,” Graveris says. “The release of these hormones relieves anxiety and triggers feelings of relaxation in individuals. It further leads to drowsiness, making falling asleep easier, which improves relationships between partners.” 

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that are released after vigorous exercise. They activate the body’s opiate receptors and create an analgesic effect similar to morphine, that work to numb the body and leave you with a sense of drowsy euphoria. 

Prolactin is the hormone that promotes breast growth and milk production in pregnant and nursing women. But levels also increase in both men and women following orgasm, the amount of which increases based on the quality of orgasm. Prolactin also influences sleep and promotes REM sleep

Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone.” It plays an important role in childbirth by helping form a bond between mother and child. In that same sense, it also helps you connect emotionally to your sexual partner. When you and your partner feel more emotionally connected, you’re less likely to lie awake at night fretting about your relationship and more likely to take advantage of the chemical reactions that are working to whisk you off to a good night’s sleep.

This post-orgasmic cocktail of hormones “are in synergy with the circadian timing of the body that influences sleep patterns,” says McKenzie Hyde, a Certified Sleep Science Coach with Amerisleep. “Any sleep disturbances can impair sexual hormone production that could potentially lead to diminished sex drive and reproductive potency.”

Couple laying in bed talking

Improving Sleep Hygiene for Sex and Sleep

Even if you are enjoying both good sleep and good sex, there are practices you can adopt to help improve sleep hygiene:

  • Consult a licensed health professional. “A doctor can diagnose your sleep issue or find any underlying health condition that might be interfering with your sleep. Once they find the root of the problem, they can recommend the most suitable treatments, so you can get adequate sleep and improve your overall sex life,” Graveris says. “The same goes for any sexual issues or problems that you or you and your partner have. Don’t hesitate to talk to a licensed sexual health counselor or doctor and bring up these issues.”
  • Talk to a therapist. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you work through any emotional barriers that may be interfering with your ability to enjoy sexual intercourse or get a good night’s sleep. 
  • Open communications with your partner. Talk openly with your partner about any concerns you have about your sex life or intimacy. “If you’re not talking, cuddling, or bonding before sleeping, sex won’t be on the table,” Graveris says. “Even without sex, a dissatisfied relationship will not get you a good night’s sleep.”
  • Consider your sleep environment. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary reserved only for sleep and sex. Look around your bedroom. Block outside light with blackout curtains. Mask outside noises with a sound machine. And set the thermostat a few degrees cooler than what you set it at during the day so you can remain comfortable during sex and throughout the night. 
  • Assess your bedding. Comfortable bedding is a must when it comes to intimacy and sleep. Sheets and blankets should be cozy but crisp enough to keep you cool. Pajamas — if you choose to wear them — should also be comfortable and nonrestrictive. Your pillow should also provide comfort with enough support, based on your sleeping position. 
  • Check your mattress. You’d be amazed how much a new mattress can improve your sleep and your sex life. Newer memory foam, latex and hybrid mattresses provide a good mix of comfort and support along with other features such as pressure point relief and motion isolation. 
  • Improve your sleep habits. Ensure you’re not too sleepy for sex by take time before bedtime to wind down with relaxation exercises or mutual back rubs. Unplug from electronic devices, too, as these give off blue light which stimulates the mind and runs counterproductive to sleep. And limit caffeine and alcohol before bed. Caffeine can prevent you from falling asleep. Alcohol can interfere with restorative REM sleep and cause you to wake during the night. 
  • Carve out time for “self love.” As mentioned above, orgasms increase the production of prolactin — whether you enjoy one with a partner or on your own. A hearty dose of prolactin helps improve your chances of delicious REM sleep. In fact, former university professor Dr. Nicole Prause has created a sexual biotechnology company to investigate the benefits of sexual stimulation with one study focused on measuring the sleep benefits of masturbation before bedtime.

The Takeaway

You don’t need to be a scientist to know that getting a good night’s sleep is an aphrodisiac. It boosts your libido and helps improve your sexual performance. Good sex can also relax your body and your mind and help you fall asleep and stay peacefully asleep through the night. 

“Lack of sleep, however, is a bit of a passion killer,” says Brett Armstron, Sleep Consultant at Inspiring Dreams. If your sleep is less than satisfying, it can dampen your sex drive, make you more prone to emotional outbursts, and create a strain your relationship. 

The good news is that it is possible to get your sleep and your sexlife back on track, and ultimately improve your relationship. Communicate more openly with your partner, improve your sleep habits, or consult with a health professional. You’ll find you can reap great rewards with just a few changes.