Fact: Bedtime sex will help you sleep—and sleep will help boost your libido. Let’s call it the sex-sleep-sex cycle, and we have the science to explain how it all works.
How sex affects your sleep (and vice versa)
Actually, though, it’s not all that scientific. It’s just some basic biochem: An orgasm creates an all-natural cocktail of increased dopamine, oxytocin, prolactin, endorphins, and serotonin, while at the same time decreasing the stress hormone cortisol.
All of which has some serious sedating powers that can lead to more relaxation and, ultimately, a better night’s sleep. Which in turn helps you feel more rested and ready for sex. And around and around again, like a perfect never-ending circle.
That said, the circle spins the other way around as well: Less sleep lowers your sex drive, says Michael J. Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist and sleep expert, which leads to less bedroom activity and fewer of those romantic dividends.
One study in 2016 at the University of Ottawa found that intercourse before sleep can decrease stress and possibly help insomniacs initiate and maintain their sleep. The study authors even drew the conclusion that if you suffer from insomnia, an orgasm makes a good alternative to sleep meds.
Jane Greer, PhD, marriage and family therapist and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness from Ruining Your Relationship, explains how the circle keeps going once you come down from a climax: “Since sex functions to release the hormones that support calm and relaxation, sleeping can tend to be easier,” she says. “The better you sleep, the more hormones you will have to increase your libido and help you decrease your anxiety, as well as feelings of depression that can stem from sleepless nights.”
How to improve your sex life—and your sleep
Greer cautions, though, that good sleep alone may not always add up to more sex if there are other issues that are causing tension and/or resentment. “Very often, couples are not in the mood at the same time,” she says.
One way around that: “Make a plan to get it on in the a.m. or the next night, so your partner doesn’t feel that their needs are being flat-out rejected,” Greer suggests. “In this way, you relate to them while at the same time taking care of yourself.”
Greer advises taking steps to eliminate pre-sleep stress and making a plan to retire early, while your energy for sex is still wide awake. “Make a to-do list, and then leave it where you can read it the next day, so you don’t get caught up in a loop of anxiety thinking about everything on your plate,” she says. “Add some exercise to your routine. Even a simple walk daily for a few minutes can help clear your mind and rev up your sexual energy.”
And it’s not just doing the deed that benefits sleep. Sure, there’s a physical component, but there is an emotional one too. What helps you get to sleep after you get there—beyond that spike in oxytocin that can lead to literal euphoria—is the way sexual touch makes you feel closer to that partner. “Feelings of safety and comfort with someone will help you feel relaxed,” says Gigi Engle, certified sex coach, sexologist, and educator.
So the next time you’re tempted to reach for a sleeping pill, consider reaching for your partner instead.
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