Not Tonight Dear: Getting Better Sleep for Better Sex
In the beginning of a relationship, coming to work sleepy often means that your sex life is going well. But surveys, experts and common sense suggest that people who are chronically sleep-deprived actually have less sex.
"Sleep and sex is not a topic on which a lot of research has been done," says J. Catesby Ware, MD, the chief of sleep medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School and the director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. "But there are a lot of ways that sleep affects one's sex life."
Some people may be skimping on sleep and sex because of an overly hectic schedule. After all, when you're working long hours and doing your grocery shopping at 10 pm, you probably feel like sleeping when you hit the pillow. Even on the weekends, couples sometimes prefer catching up on their sleep to having sex.
People who do shift work at night may find it especially hard to obtain both sleep and sex. Not only is it is difficult for shift workers and their partners to find a time when they're both free to have sex, sleep-deprived shift workers are often too irritable to get in the right mood. Being awake at night also throws off the body's internal body clock, or circadian rhythms, which Dr. Ware says can impair sexual functioning.
Others may have psychiatric or medical problems that interfere with their ability to sleep well and perform well sexually. For example, symptoms of depression and anxiety can include both insomnia and a diminished sex drive. And many antidepressants, which can sometimes cause erectile dysfunction and/or a loss of libido, further complicate matters.
The medical condition most commonly associated with problems with sleep and sex is sleep apnea, in which the airway is sucked shut during snoring. People with sleep apnea may wake up as many as 400 times a night in order to breathe again, and this can cause severe daytimes sleepiness, and irritability. According to Dr. Ware, men with sleep apnea tend to have lower levels of testosterone, which can lower libido.
Other medical conditions that affect sleep and sex include diabetes, lung conditions and heart disease. And as with depression, some medications that treat these conditions don't help one's sex life. For example, medications for high blood pressure-which itself may cause erectile dysfunction in men-may affect sexual performance in men by inhibiting blood flow to the penis.
As Dr. Ware explains, "Sometimes the complexity of the interaction among the medication, the disease and the disturbed sleep can all gang up on a patient."
If you think your lackluster sex life is due to poor sleep, try to figure out why you're sleepy, and seek the help of your physician if necessary.
Improving your sleep behaviors, which are known as sleep hygiene, may also help. Good sleep hygiene involves practices such as going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day. Regular exercise and limiting sleep-disturbing substances such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can also make it easier to get some sleep-and hopefully some sex.