Are you looking to invigorate your sex life? “Date nights” are one good idea, but getting to bed—and to sleep—early might be an even better one. New research suggests that getting enough sleep can have a positive effect on sex drive for women.
We’ve seen studies linking poor and insufficient sleep to diminished sexual desire in women and in men. But overall there’s been a lack of investigation into the influence of sleep over sexual desire and sexual function. Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School examined the impact of sleep on the sexual behavior of 171 women. After collecting baseline data in laboratory, researchers gathered daily sleep information using daily web-delivered surveys for a period of 14 days. The women also provided survey information about sexual function. Researchers’ analysis revealed that sleep duration was linked to desire, arousal, and the frequency of sex:
- Longer sleep duration was associated with higher levels of next-day sexual desire
- One hour of additional sleep was linked to a 14% increase in the likelihood of engaging in sex with a partner
- Longer average sleep duration was associated with better arousal
These results suggest both a day-to-day and a cumulative relationship between sleep and sexual behavior in women. Not getting enough sleep can put a damper on sexual desire and sexual function in women. This isn’t the first evidence we’ve seen that poor and insufficient sleep can impede sexual behavior in women. There are a number of ways that disrupted sleep can interfere with our sexual lives.
The hormone testosterone has an influence over sexual drive and sexual function for both men and women. Testosterone levels naturally rise at night during sleep and fall during the waking day. Poor quality and disrupted sleep can lead to diminished testosterone levels, which in turn may interfere with sexual response for women as well as men. Higher levels of testosterone appear to boost desire and sexual satisfaction in some women. Research indicates that women who experience low libido may improve desire and satisfaction by elevating levels of testosterone. In men, low testosterone levels are linked to erectile dysfunction and to low sex drive.
Research has found strong links between sexual dysfunction and sleep disordered breathing, including obstructive sleep apnea, in both men and women. Scientists are still working to understand how sleep-disordered breathing might interfere with sex drive and function. But the disruption to normal testosterone levels that can result from sleep disorders such as OSA may be one important factor. There is some good news for people with sleep apnea who use CPAP therapy. Research suggests that for people with OSA, using CPAP can help improve sexual function and elevate desire.
Sleeping well—both getting enough sleep and making sure that sleep is restful and high-quality—can help you maintain healthy testosterone levels, which may protect your sex drive.
Sexual desire—and the relationship between sleep and sex—ultimately involves a great deal more than hormones. Regular, high quality sleep is critical for physical and emotional well being. Too little sleep leads to fatigue and daytime tiredness. When you don’t have the energy to make it through your day, you’re less likely to be in the mood for sex. Poor sleep also has a negative effect on judgment—even judgments and perceptions about sex. One study showed that when sleep deprived, men were more likely to overestimate women’s interest in sex.
Insufficient and disrupted sleep can have a profound effect on mood, and on attitudes toward relationships. Research indicates that lack of sleep can diminish feelings of appreciation and gratitude for others, and lead to an uptick in selfish feelings. And it may not only be the poor sleeper whose emotional well being suffers. Research found that people felt less appreciated by their partner if either they or their partner slept poorly. This is an indication of how deeply sleep can influence the dynamics of a relationship. When the dynamics move away from appreciation and toward more negative feelings as a result of sleep deprivation, couples’ sex lives can also take a serious downturn.
Stress can be another desire-killer for many people, and a healthy sleep routine is essential to coping well with stress. Stress is among the most common disruptors to sleep. Poor sleep and stress often exist in a debilitating cycle, where stress interrupts sleep and lack of sleep heightens stress levels and interferes with our ability to cope, leaving people feeling tired and overwhelmed, frustrated and helpless—and not much in the mood for intimacy.
Poor sleep also shares a close and complex relationship to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Difficulty sleeping is a common symptom of these disorders. More than a symptom, poor sleep may increase significantly the risk for depression and anxiety. Sexual dysfunction, including diminished sexual desire, often accompany these conditions. You can use sleep to help protect your emotional and psychological health, and in turn protect the health of your relationships and your sexual life.
This latest study offers a glimpse at how sleep may influence daily sexual behavior for women. But we need to see more attention paid to the relationship between sleep and sexual function, in both men and women, at all stages of life. Sleep may have a significant role to play in the health and vitality of our sexual lives.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™