If you’re having trouble sleeping soundly, studies show having sex with your partner (or yourself) can help improve the quality of your sleep.
The bedroom, according to the National Sleep Foundation, is designed for two things: sex and sleep.
But there’s one big problem: Not enough Americans are getting enough of either.
However, recent research suggests fixing one could fix the other.
A 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests people, whether single or married, were having sex less often during the early 2010s than they were in the late 1990s — at a rate of nine fewer times per year.
Millennials are having the least amount of sex, but the researchers say it’s not due to longer working hours or increased pornography use.
Overall, fewer people are in steady relationships and those who are, including married people, are having sex less often.
And research has shown that a lack of quality sleep for the right number of hours a night can lead to a decline in mood, libido, and romantic motivation.
That alone may keep you up at night.
Experts say while there isn’t enough solid clinical proof to suggest that sex makes you sleepy, the basic underlying mechanics of the chemicals released during sex may help one sleep better.
Among other things, it has a lot to do with the hormone oxytocin, nicknamed “the love hormone.”
Dr. Amer Khan, a Sutter Health neurologist, sleep specialist, and founder of Sehatu Sleep in Northern California, says the release of oxytocin has been stated to occur in conjunction with feelings of affection and affectionate or sensual touch, leading to a feeling of pleasant well-being and relief from stress.
“Other hormones, such as dopamine, prolactin, and progesterone, have been implicated in affecting the mind with a sense of relief, relaxation, and sleepiness following the act of satisfactory sex,” Kahn told Healthline.
But everyone is different, so these chemicals shuffling through your brain right at bedtime may be stimulating and wake-promoting or sleep-inducing, Khan said.
“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.”
A 2016 review of research done at the University of Ottawa 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.”
Still, Khan warns, more large-scale studies are needed to explore the subject in more detail. Either way, 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.”
Then again, some research suggests a good orgasm doesn’t hurt when trying to get better sleep.
A 2017 study out of CQUniversity in Adelaide, Australia found that more than 60 percent of 282 adults studied reported having slept better after having sex that led to climax.
Chris Brantner, a certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo, said women also experience increased estrogen levels after sex, which can enhance REM sleep — the truly regenerative kind — while men get a surge of prolactin, which causes a feeling of fatigue.
“However, like most things involving sleep, there’s a deeper relationship here,” Brantner told Healthline. “Because not only does having sleep help you get to sleep, but getting good sleep helps you have more sex.”
To help increase your libido, Brantner recommends the full seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
“Lack of sleep throws your hormones out of whack and decreases testosterone, which is crucial for both male and female sex drive,” he said. “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 earlier noted, people are having sex less often, partially due to having a steady relationship with a partner.
So, what’s to prevent masturbation from being the way to calm oneself to sleep? Nothing, actually.
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 shown males who ejaculated had better sleep latency and quality, but it hasn’t yet been shown 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. “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.”
Besides studying the effects that sexual gratification has on sleep, Prause is also a licensed psychologist who works in behavioral medicine, including sleep maintenance issues.
Masturbation is not currently mentioned in any standardized sleep assessments or treatments, but Prause thinks it 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 worth their salt will tell you it’s not just the completion of the act, but the act itself.
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 sex.
But since the bedroom is made for either sleep or sex, there are a few small things you can do to keep that space sacred. That includes removing distractions like TVs, tablets, phones, and anything else with a screen that isn’t a window.
Brantner says staring at your phone right before bed can mess up your circadian rhythm, or the body’s natural sync with the sun. Also, he says, research suggests it also contributes to partner dissatisfaction.
“If you’re staring at your phone, you aren’t cuddling, you aren’t conversing, and you’re definitely not having sex,” he said. “In other words, you’re ignoring your partner.”
So, if you’re reading this in bed, put your phone away and talk with your partner about sharing a hormone-filled experience in the bedroom.