Can Sex Help You Sleep Better?
The science of how sex can be a natural sleep aid
Feb 24th, 2020 •
If you struggle to fall asleep at night, you might be willing to try anything to drift off into sweet slumber. But what if we told you that getting busy with your partner could be the answer to your sleep despair?
Recent research suggests that sex may be a powerful natural sleep aid. We discuss the merits and pitfalls of the research and attempt to demystify the idea of the post-coital snooze.
Why sex might be a great natural sleep aid
Emphasis on might.
The science on sex-sleep interactions is brief and emergent (a.k.a. lacking peer review, replicated studies, decades of foundational research, etc.). Most mentions of sex helping sleep in the news all stem from one study based off of research that is still pretty shiny and untouched. So this is your warning to proceed with a bit of skepticism…but to still proceed. (Come on, this is juicy stuff here.)
The sex-sleep study results
The main evidence for sex acting as a sleep aid in humans stems from a survey on Australian sexual health done by researcher Dr. Michele Lastella alongside Dr. Jessica Paterson, Dr. Amy Reynolds, and Dr. Cathy O’Mullan. The team, based out of CQUniversity Adelaide, surveyed 460 Australian adults and found that 64% of respondents reported sleeping better after sex. The catch? Both partners need to orgasm.
Even for single gals and guys, there is hope. Half of the respondents in the survey found that sleep came more quickly (HA!) after engaging in some self-service.
So, why does this happen? Well, we’re not 100% sure on this, but we have some ideas.
Phone, hormones, and dog bones: mechanisms of post-coital sleepiness
All life is driven by an inescapable urge to produce and protect your offspring. Humans are no different than birds or dogs in this regard, though our sexual selection process is quite a bit different. Dogs don’t find software engineers and data scientists as sexy as humans do; humans don’t spend as much time sniffing potential partners’ butts as dogs do.
Let’s keep it going with the dog stuff.
Much as a dog learns to sit or stay with the use of a bone as a reward, our brains make sex an attractive prospect using a series of hormones and neurotransmitters.
During arousal, intercourse, orgasm, and post-coital cuddling, our brains are awash with floods of different neurotransmitters designed by evolution to keep us engaged in sex and wanting to come back for more – keeping our species numerous and flourishing.
Oxytocin, dopamine, prolactin, vasopressin, and numerous other hormones all play a role in human sexual behavior – many with alternate functions and effects differing on a person-by-person basis. Basically, it’s complicated, and we don’t have a complete picture yet of what sex does to the body.
However, we do have some clues on why sex might make us sleep better.
The reason sex might help you sleep
The author of the previously mentioned CQUniversity study suggests that post-orgasm oxytocin release may act as a sedative. Oxytocin, the “love hormone” that aids in pair bonding, social success, and empathy may also act to reduce stress levels – making you feel calmer and therefore more able to fall and stay asleep.
Prolactin has also been implicated as a player in why men specifically seem to fall asleep so quickly after sex, with sleep researchers reporting that the explosion of prolactin after an orgasm helps to suppress dopamine. Dopamine may act as a stimulant, driving excitement, passion, and alertness.
Additionally, Dr. Lastella posits another, and more simple, explanation – sex keeps us from thinking about the stressors of the day and looking at our phones. Stress and blue light stimulation via electronics are suggested to be two major factors in difficulty falling asleep, and sex is one of the very few things we deem important enough to abandon our malaise and gadgets for.
Summing up the sleep-sex relationship
Mix together some calming neurotransmitters, sprinkle in some time spent away from screens, toss a bit of engagement in an activity that focuses you on things you enjoy…and you’ve got a nice sleep-stew brewing.
Yes, the research is still in its infancy, but it’s a hell of a good excuse to have some fun with your partner tonight. Go get after it, for your health. (With consent, of course.)
Pro tip: if you need some help increasing your sex drive, cutting back on carbs can help.
Would You Give Up Sleep for More Sex?
How much sleep do people give up for sex? We surveyed over 1,000 people to find out.
Navigating One-Night Stands
Read our survey on the frequency of one-night stands and the emotions and anxieties associated with them.
Does Morning Sex Boost Productivity?
We surveyed nearly 1,000 people in a relationship and asked them if morning routines (including having sex) made them feel more productive.