Guest Post by Chris Brantner
One of the public health crises currently affecting millions of adults is the widespread sleep deprivation we’ve all seemed to have accepted as part of our lives. Between the ever-increasing rates of anxiety, career, and family demands, and our newfound dependence on our shiny mobile devices and streaming video, most of us are getting far below the recommended number of hours of sleep each night.
While the exact amount of sleep needed each night varies from individual to individual based on differences in our sleep cycles and habits, studies conducted by the National Sleep Foundation have found that adults typically need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Polls and clinical studies have found that the average adult today gets less than seven each night, however, opening up the door for all sorts of mental and physical health complications.
Long-term sleep deficits increase one’s risk of developing serious medical issues like cardiovascular disease, cancers, and neurological disorders, and also significantly affect one’s mood and personality. Clinical sleep studies have found that sleeping less than eight hours a night can lead to anxiety and depression, mental health issues that have far-ranging effects. Aside from making you feel unhappy, these conditions can affect your relationships, particularly when it comes to your intimate life.
The connection between romantic desire and sleep goes much deeper than the fact that both are typically done in bed; often, a healthy intimate life will lead to better sleep health and vice-versa. If intimacy or sleep is suffering, chances are that one can be improved by improving the other.
How Short Sleep Negatively Impacts Our Romantic Lives
Anxiety and depression, both side effects of insomnia and sleep deprivation, are known to cause sexual dysfunction for a variety of reasons, both physical and cognitive. When the body becomes stressed because of sleep difficulties, the brain suppresses the production of sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone in favor of stress hormones like cortisol. This shift in hormone levels can lead to decreased libido, infertility, or erectile dysfunction.
The sleep-intimacy connection may be more prevalent in women because of the effects of pregnancy, postpartum lifestyle, and menopause. Pregnancy, menopause, and of course new babies, can all cause sleep disorders or insomnia, lowering some women’s interest in intimacy due to fatigue, stress, or depression.
It’s not all biological, though. Often, sleep deprivation takes its toll on individuals’ intimate lives for the obvious reason: it makes them tired. Being too tired for intimacy is the leading reason reported by individuals or couples who have lost interest in being intimate.
On the other hand, a 2015 study conducted at the University of Michigan Medical School found that the longer individuals slept, the more interested in intimacy they were the following day. Short sleep impacts almost every aspect of one’s overall health and well-being, and sexual health is certainly no exception.
The Flipside: Intimacy Helps You Sleep
It’s clear that sleep deprivation takes a significant toll on one’s romantic life. Luckily, however, the flip side is that a healthy intimate life can help you sleep better, which in turn improves your intimate life further. Intimacy and sleep truly share an interdependent relationship.
Research has shown that being intimate with your partner before bed can help improve sleep quality thanks to the endorphins released by intimate activities, which serve to ease anxiety and relax you. And all of that great sleep can subsequently improve your relationship with your significant other. Intimate activity can also releases oxytocin, a hormone known as the “love hormone,” which has numerous benefits to your body and mind, including cueing relaxation.
"This hormone among many other feel-good hormones has been said to act as a sedative to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep,” says Michele Lastella, Ph.D., a sleep scientist at Central Queensland University in Adelaide, Australia.
Lastella conducted a survey of 460 adults between 18 and 70 in which participants were asked about their intimate lives and sleep habits. Some 64 percent of respondents said they slept much better after satisfying intimate activity shortly before bed, likely due to the release of oxytocin and other endorphins.
How to Improve Your Sleep and Intimate Life
To ensure your body is ready for intimacy, follow the National Sleep Foundation’s guidelines and shoot for between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. Sleep scientists say you might need to plan for more than eight hours each night depending on your individual sleep habits and circadian rhythm. If you don’t wake up feeling rested in the morning, it’s likely a sign that you need more sleep.
To improve both your quality and quantity of sleep, it’s important that you focus on behaviors throughout the day that directly affect sleep. This is known as sleep hygiene. Be sure to limit your nighttime intake of caffeine or other stimulants and try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day to help your body fall asleep naturally.
Remember, turn off all screens at night and leave your phone out of the bedroom. Artificial light can keep you awake and disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm long after you finally turn the screens off. Plus, if you and/or your partner spend each night staring at your phones in bed, you likely won’t be in the mood for intimacy anyway.
Sexual health and sleep quality share a deep relationship with one another. Intimacy before bed may help you sleep better, which in turn can improve your romantic life even further. Getting enough sleep ensures you have the energy and stamina to be intimate with your partner, while sufficient sleep also allows your body to regulate its hormones to be ready for intimacy.
Like most aspects of our health, it all starts with sleep.