How Better Sleep Leads to a Better Sex Life (and Vice Versa)
A global pandemic. A social justice movement. A groundbreaking election. The worst wildfire season on record in parts of America. Wild winter storms. No wonder a whole new term, "coronasomnia," popped up during 2020 as U.S. clinical insomnia rates jumped 37 percent since the start of the pandemic, according to a January 2021 study in the journal Sleep Medicine.
And just like a perfectly-choreographed BeyChella routine, our sex lives are tanking in lockstep with our sleep patterns. Savage.
How does sleep impact your sex life?
With the volume cranked up on nearly all things stress-inducing since March 2020, many of us are more than just tired. We’re grinding our teeth instead of grinding our partners.
This lack of rest is a buzzkill to our sex drives in every way, explained Marla Renee Stewart, a sex expert for sexual-wellness brand Lovers. "The better sleep you get, the more energy you'll have for sex," Stewart said. "Exhaustion is exhaustion; no matter if it's physical or mental."
Excess stress can cause struggles with both sleep and sex, added Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., a certified sex therapist in Gainesville, Florida, and the author of "A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex." It’s a vicious cycle, she said: "Lack of sleep can lead to sexual problems and a lack of sex can lead to sleep problems. Conversely, a good night’s sleep can lead to a greater interest in sex, and orgasmic sex can result in a better night’s sleep."
Energy levels are important, but like many things in life and love, chemistry is key. Both insufficient sleep and stress spike levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can mess with your sex drive by lowering testosterone levels. Researchers are still trying to get to the bottom of how and why–and investigating other hormones, including estrogen, that may play a role–said Mintz. Some theorize that testosterone teams up with serotonin to regulate mood and sleep, and if there’s not enough testosterone, both your mojo and your mood go down the tubes.
On the flip side, Mintz noted that one of the major stress hormones, cortisol, has been proven to decrease after orgasm, so if you’re having less sex, you might be feeling more stressed—and sleeping less as a result.
How to make 'bed time' better all around
"Getting great quality sleep is one of the first steps you can make towards having the sex life and sexual experiences that you want. When we have a regular, healthy sleep routine, that means we can be ready for what's to come and it's one less stressor we have to worry about when it comes to invoking our desires," Stewart said.
The longer women slept, the more desire they had for sex the next day, a March 2015 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine discovered. Even just one hour of extra sleep for the average sleep-deprived participant led to a 14 percent jump in the chances of having sex the next day.
There’s no magic amount of sleep that makes us all feel well-rested, but the Sleep Foundation advises that we aim for 7 to 9 hours per day. So if you’re currently tallying less than that, follow these tips from Mintz and Stewart for sleep (and sex) success:
- Set an alarm to ensure you go to bed on time.
- Stick to a schedule for sleep and sex. Note that sex doesn't need to be a before-bed thing (especially if you find it eats up too much of your R&R time).
- Try to limit smartphone usage one hour before bed—and whenever you’re spending dedicated time with your partner.
- Make your bedroom a haven by adding fragrance, decor, art, lighting and more that set the mood for better sleep and sex.
- Use your bedroom only for sex and sleep—not work, tinkering around on your laptop or watching TV.
And when all else fails, remember that sometimes sex can help you find that spark, even when you’re feeling totally tuckered. According to a 2016 University of Ottawa research review, having sex (especially an encounter that includes an orgasm) results in lower stress and better sleep. So that afternoon delight might lead into the best, most restorative cat nap of your life.