It’s natural to assume that having sex right before bedtime would keep you awake, but the opposite might actually be true, according to doctors.
“Sex and other forms of physical intimacy at bedtime have been shown to increase drowsiness, reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, and improve overall sleep quality,” says Shanon Makekau, MD, chief of pulmonology and sleep medicine director at Kaiser Permanente in Honolulu.
This doesn’t mean sex makes you sleepy, or that sex has to be boring or calming at night. Understanding the relationship between brain chemistry and different activities is one of the keys to living a healthier, more vibrant life. In the case of sexuality and good sleep, the name of the game is hormones.
“After an orgasm, there is a release of two hormones that can induce drowsiness: oxytocin and prolactin,” says Peter Polos, MD, PhD, sleep medicine specialist at JFK University Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey.
You may know oxytocin as the “love hormone,” Dr. Makekau says. “It helps to promote bonding, affection, and overall well-being, which can lead to better sleep.” A small 2017 study published in the American Journal of Physiology corroborates this thesis: administering oxytocin to patients with obstructive sleep apnea resulted in improved sleep time and sleep satisfaction.
Prolactin is another hormone that’s increased during sleep. Prolactin is a hormone that’s responsible for lactation, certain breast tissue development and milk production in females, though males also produce the hormone (which is involved in hundreds of bodily processes, including rest). And a great way to boost prolactin levels in the body? Orgasm.
Sex and sleep are linked because both trigger a calming effect in the body
“Levels of prolactin are higher during sex with a notable spike after orgasm, which may be responsible for the post-coital drowsiness that many people experience,” Makekau says. “These higher levels of prolactin, along with increased levels of estrogen in women, also promote rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep and thus overall sleep quality.”
Sex also has a stress-relieving effect the likes of which are hardly replicable in nature. During sexual arousal, cortisol levels drop to their lowest levels while dopamine rises, both of which help the body calm down enough to drift off to sleep. People with low cortisol levels also tend to enjoy more hours of uninterrupted sleep than those with higher levels.
Interestingly enough, the brain releases these chemicals with or without a partner, but sexual acts with a partner led to much greater success rates in terms of sleep satisfaction (71 percent versus 48 percent). “Sex with a partner may enhance these hormonal effects by augmenting feelings of close connection, affection, and intimacy that can promote sleep quality,” Makekau says.
Not only does sex prime the body and mind for good sleep, but the opposite holds true as well: good sleep primes the body more more sexual desire and arousal. You see, the body will gladly perform at more optimal levels than you ever thought possible if you nourish it holistically (meaning, from every standpoint).
“Evidence shows that insufficient sleep is linked to decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, and has a negative effect on energy and mood,” Makekau says.
Bottom line — the body craves good sleep and regular sex, and the mind rewards both with elevated hormone levels. Make your rest and relaxation a priority in your life and you’ll soon the reap the benefits.