It’s Just Biology, People: How Sex Can Make You Sleep Better

Having trouble getting deep, restorative sleep that recharges your body and gives you that morning energy surge? If the answer is no, it might be that you need to have more sex before bed time, research suggests.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a bedroom is for two things: sex and sleep. Everything else should be left at the door. Not having a great mattress is part of the equation, though a mattress designed for sex can certainly improve both situations at the same time.

If you’re having trouble sleeping soundly, studies show having sex with your partner (or yourself) can help improve the quality of your sleep. Let’s take a look at that part of the equation first.  A 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests that, whether single or married, we are having sex less frequently during the early 2010’s than we were in the late 1990’s , at a rate of about 10 fewer times per year.

Millennials are really holding back on sex, but surprisingly,  the researchers say it’s not due to exhaustion from work or increased exposure to pornography. It’s fairly straightforward, actually. Fewer people are in steady relationships and those who are, including married people, are opting out of regular sex.

And further research suggests that a lack of deep, REM state sleep for 7-9 hours a night can lead to a decrease in mood, libido, and romantic motivation. Lack of sex can actually be causing you to toss and turn and fail to fall asleep quickly, which creates further stress, and can keep you up for hours

So, how does having sex help you sleep?

Most research suggests that while there isn’t enough solid data to suggest that sex makes you sleepy and woozy, the compounds released during sex has been demonstrated to make you sleep better.

For example, your body produces oxytocin, a substance released during sex nicknamed “the cuddle hormone.” Dr. Amer Khan, a Sutter Health neurologist, sleep specialist, and founder of Sehatu Sleep in Northern California, stated that the release of oxytocin produces feelings of affection and closeness, leading to a feeling of pleasant well-being and relief from stress. “Other hormones, such as dopamine, prolactin, and progesterone, have been implicated in saturating the brain with a sense of relief, relaxation, and sleepiness following a session of sex,” Kahn said.

“But everyone is different, so these chemicals shuffling through your brain right at bedtime could actually either be stimulating and sleep suppressing or sleep-inducing”, he added. “After all the considerations, it seems reasonable to say that a mutually satisfying physical and mental interaction before sleep enhances mood, feelings of well-being, releases stress, and makes it easier to switch off the busy mind to go to sleep and stay asleep,” he said. 

“If a satisfying sexual orgasm after an exciting foreplay is a part of that interaction, it is also likely to lead to better sleep.” Ah, that feeling of just being completely spent and floating, right?

A 2016 review of research done in Canada suggests engaging in sexual intercourse before sleep can decrease stress and possibly help insomniacs initiate and maintain their sleep, making it a “possible alternative or addition to other intervention strategies for insomnia.” This could mean that gobbling Ambien and melatonin supplements and other compounds could be completely eliminated, just by a really zesty session of sex.

Still, Khan advises, more large-scale studies are needed to explore the subject in more detail. Nevertheless, he says, there’s more than one way to connect with your partner that can put your mind at ease before bedtime.

“As a sleep physician, I would advise people to enjoy their time together,” Khan said. “Physical, emotional, and mental togetherness is more important than focusing on the need to have an orgasm before sleep.”

But, there is good research suggests a mind blowing orgasm doesn’t hurt when trying to get better sleep.

2017 study out of CQ University in Adelaide, Australia found that more than 60 percent of 282 adults studied reported deeper and more gratifying sleep after having sex that led to a full on orgasm. Hey, we’re just talking biology here, people.

Chris Brantner, a certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo, said women also experience increased estrogen levels after sex, which can boost REM sleep — the truly restorative and regenerative kind — while men get a surge of prolactin, which causes a feeling of fatigue and wooziness. Both of these responses end up in some serious sleep induction.

“However, like most things involving sleep, there’s a deeper relationship here,” Brantner told Healthline. “Not only does having sex help you get to sleep, but getting good sleep helps you have more sex.” A really nice circle, there.

To help increase your libido, Brantner advises getting a  full seven to nine hours of sleep a night. “Lack of sleep throws your hormones out of alignment and decreases testosterone, which is essential for both male and female sex drive,” he noted. “Sleep deprivation also has a negative impact on your energy levels and mood, which both will make you less likely to want to have sex.”

But what about those without a partner to help release those love hormones?

As was mentioned earlier, people are having sex less often, partially due to having a steady relationship with a partner. So, what’s wrong with masturbation being the mechanism to release the same hormones? Nothing at al, according to researchers. 

Nicole Prause, PhD, founder of the Liberos Lab in Los Angeles, is researching just that. Some of those experiments include whether masturbation leads to more quality sleep. Animal studies, she says, have demonstrated that males who ejaculated had better sleep induction and onset as well as quality, but it hasn’t yet been demonstrated as effectively in humans.

“In animals, the effect is thought to be due to vasopressin, which also increases with orgasm in humans, so it is likely to work the same in humans,” Prause told Healthline. Vasopressin is also known as Arginine Vasopressin, or “AVP”. Some AVP may be released directly into the brain from the hypothalamus, and may play an important role in social behavior, sexual motivation and pair bonding, and maternal responses to stress.  Prause added, “Our federal government, however, does not fund sex research, so it is unlikely we ever will receive funding at the level necessary to demonstrate this in a sleep laboratory with humans.”

The one thing we all want to know more about, and there’s no funding. 

Besides studying the effects that sexual gratification has on sleep, Prause is also a licensed psychologist is involved with behavioral medicine, including sleep biology. Masturbation is not currently discussed in any standardized sleep assessments or treatments, but Prause thinks they should be.

“I think it is a terrible disservice to patients, especially those struggling on their medications, and can increase the stigma for those who successfully use masturbation to manage their sleep disturbances,” she said.

Any sex expert who knows their material will be the first to tell you that there’s much more to lovemaking and getting the hormones flowing that just an orgasm. 

Sleep can be improved drastically merely by cuddling and being physically close to another person, skin on skin. Intimate behavior of any kind seems to improve sleep by delivering more of the beneficial hormones to the blood.  As Khan mentioned, hormones that may help you sleep are released just by being close and intimate with someone, even if it doesn’t involve an orgasm.

Remember, too, that bedrooms are designed for primarily sleep or sex, there are a minor adjustments you can implement to keep to create the perfect “Z-Cave” (we actually wrote an entire page on how to create your own). That includes removing distractions like TV’s and any blue light emitting device, including phones, tablets, laptops or other devices.

Brantner says glaring at your phone before retiring can completely confuse your circadian rhythm, the body’s natural alignment mechanism with the sun. Also, he says, research suggests it also contributes to partner dissatisfaction.

“If you’re texting, you’re not cuddling, you aren’t talking to each other, and you’re definitely not having sex,” he said. “Basically, you’re telling your partner that they are less important than your electronic addiction. 

So, if you’re reading while you’re in bed, put your device down and start sharing a hormone-filled experience in the bedroom.