Today we’re looking at something else you may have pondered while wide awake at 3 am: does getting more deep sleep lead to healthier sex life, or does having a healthy sex life help you get more deep sleep?
A great starting point, philosophically, is to focus on getting more deep sleep and having more sex, no matter the order of preference. The bottom line is that if you’re sleeping well you have the potential to get more sex, and if you’re having sex before bed you’ll probably sleep better. This is a classic win-win situation!
Does Sex Help You Sleep?
One large study of women between 50 and 79 found that shorter sleep duration translated to lower sexual satisfaction. Many things can take a toll on a woman’s sex drive in menopause, and this research suggests that poor sleep is one of them.
However, the sleep-sex link can be 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.
Men and Sex
Let’s also consider the well-known cliché: many guys like to skip the cuddling and go straight to sleep after sex. However, there’s actually a biological reason for it. Besides all the 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, which is why they usually are most interested in relaxing directly after sex. Prolactin levels are naturally higher during sleep, so it’s likely that the surge men get after orgasm causes them to feel sleepy after sex.
Women and Sex
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, the 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 translate to better sleep.
Helps with Stress
Of course, sex is also a great stress reliever; if your stress levels are high, chances are it’s taking a toll on your sleep. Sex, along with 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. So, why does sex make you tired? Well, all these hormone action results in a sense of calm and well-being that can prime you for a good night’s sleep.
Sleep Disorders and Sex
It’s important to note that sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea can take a toll on sex as well. Research on men with sleep apnea has found that many 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, and lower testosterone 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 the amount of sleep they get and their sex lives.
How to Improve Sexual Health and Sleep
There are some suggestions on how improving your sleep can affect your sex life, and improving your sex life can lead to improving the quality of your sleep.
Let’s start with the obvious: simply being in bed with the lights off can help you sleep better! It’s a cue to your brain that it’s time to sleep (this goes back to those sleep habits we mentioned). So when you add in the fact that sex requires physical exertion, it makes sense that you’d feel tired afterward.
Maintain a Healthy Sleep Schedule
It's been shown that keeping a sleep schedule can improve the overall quality of sleep. This means falling asleep and waking up simultaneously each day: this includes vacation time and weekends. A sleep schedule is essential.
Items to Reduce or Avoid
Items such as tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol can negatively affect the quality of your sleep, and it's recommended to avoid them before going to sleep. Other things to consider include television, cell phone, and more, as they can emit blue light, which can potentially interfere with your sleep cycle.
Good Sleep, Better Sexual Health, Happier Humans
Obviously, this post outlines the fact that you can approach this from two different fronts: work to improve sleep naturally or engage in more sex. The beauty of this advice is that each road leads back to the other.
Beyond creating healthy sleep habits, creating a bedroom conducive to cooler sleep and sex—that’s really what it’s for, right?—is the perfect way to give back to yourself, and your partner.
That means putting away the smartphones and turning off the TV to spend more time with each other at bedtime. Maybe you both fall asleep. Maybe you get lucky. Like we said earlier, either way, it’s the definition of a win-win situation.
Kalmbach, D.A., Arnedt, J.T., Pillai, V. and Ciesla, J.A. (2015), Sex and Sleep. J Sex Med, 12: 1221-1232. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsm.12858