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Sex as Sleep Therapy

Sex as Sleep Therapy

In this guest post, Dr. Michele Lastella from the Appleton Institute for Behavioural Science discusses the early findings from his ongoing research into the relationship between Sex and Sleep ...

Sleep is essential for good health, mood, and performance among other things. For example, a lack of sleep has been linked with obesity, impaired glucose metabolism, poor immune function, learning and memory consolidation and psychological wellbeing.

Sleep is not the only thing we do in bed. What has sex got to do with sleep? Well, we don’t know a whole lot at this point about the relationship between sleep and sex. What we do know is that, more sex is associated with more sleep, and more sleep is associated with more sexual desire. A recent study by Kalmbach et al. (2015) examining 171 women over a two week period revealed that for every extra hour of sleep obtained women increased their likelihood of engaging in sexual activity with a partner the next day by 14%. These results suggest that obtaining a good night’s sleep can promote healthy sexual desire and arousal in women.

In addition, it seems that sex before bed can reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and improve overall sleep quality. In simple terms, sex produces a biochemical cocktail comprised of an increase in oxytocin (our love and bonding hormone that makes us trust and connect with our partner) and prolactin (associated with sexual satisfaction) and a decrease in the production of cortisol (stress hormone). This post-orgasmic cocktail can leave us feeling quite relaxed (both physiologically and psychologically) making it easier for us to initiate sleep. Women have an extra advantage as sex increases estrogen which has been shown to increase REM sleep and shorten the time it takes to fall asleep.

The key word here is ‘orgasm’ – Anecdotally, we often hear women complaining about ‘le petit mort’  French translation for ‘the little death’ in popular culture referring to their partners falling asleep immediately after sex. However, the question is whether this is associated with the discrepancy between the time it takes men to orgasm compared to women. On average men take between 7 – 14 minutes to reach orgasm by all methods of stimulation, but average 2 – 3 minutes after initiating intercourse. Women on the other hand take between 10 - 20 minutes to reach orgasm. What is clear is that we need more information about the relationship between sex and sleep, as there may be sleep benefits associated with a healthy (safe) sex life.

Given that there are relatively few studies exploring the relationship between sex and sleep, we are asking Australians to open up about their sleep and sex life (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/sexandsleep) in attempt to further understand the differences between sex with and without orgasm, sex with and without a partner, and the potential differences that may exist between genders.

While this study is ongoing, our preliminary findings in 282 adults found that 64% of women reported sleep improved compared to usual following an orgasm with their partner, 33% reported their sleep remained unchanged, and only 3% stated that their sleep was worse than usual. Men followed a similar pattern with 61% reporting they slept better than usual following an orgasm with their partner, 37% reported that their sleep remained unchanged, while only 2% stated that it worsened their sleep. Although only preliminary (as we are still collecting data), these findings indicate that men and women perceive that sex before sleep is associated with better sleep afterwards. One thing is for certain – it most definitely won’t hurt.    

Ref: Kalmbach, D. A., Arnedt, J. T., Pillai, V., & Ciesla, J. A. (2015). The impact of sleep on female sexual response and behavior: A pilot study. The journal of sexual medicine, 12(5), 1221-1232.

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