Chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders like insomnia can wreak havoc on your life, affecting everything from your work and relationships to your health. One commonly overlooked aspect of life affected by poor sleep is your sex life. Sleep and libido are linked in many ways. Sleeping with a partner may make sleep more difficult, but sleeping separately can damage your relationship and sex life. On the other hand, a lack of sleep can reduce your energy and your interest in sex. There may even be other factors at play that contribute to low libido and poor sleep. Here’s how your sleep disorder may be affecting your sex life and tips for managing it.
The Link Between Sleep and Libido
Many couples find themselves in a cycle. Their lack of sleep makes them feel tired and moody with little interest in sex. Research has shown that having sex before bed can improve sleep quality and your ability to fall asleep faster, but this is hard to achieve when you feel too tired to have sex.
Chronic sleeplessness can also lead to extremely low energy, tension and stress. This tension and anxiety can be responsible for sexual dysfunction in men and women. Studies have found that poor sleep quality can reduce testosterone levels in men and women. Both genders need healthy testosterone levels for libido and sexual performance. One study found that just one week of sleep deprivation resulted in a 15 percent drop in testosterone among young men, which is equivalent to aging about 15 years.
While insomnia has been found to impact testosterone levels, sleep apnea can also be to blame. Obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially serious type of sleep disorder, is more common in men. Men who have the condition often report low libido and sexual function which is likely due to the fact that sleep apnea has been associated with low testosterone levels. In one study, about 50 percent of men with severe obstructive sleep apnea had very low levels of testosterone at night.
According to one recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, women who sleep for an extra hour are 14 percent more likely to engage their partner for sexual activity after controlling for other factors. On average, women who get more sleep also report better lubrication and arousal compared to women who get a lower-than-average amount of sleep at night.
A lack of sleep has even been found to reduce the ability of men to gauge when a woman is sexually interested, according to a study published in SLEEP. Researchers found that the effect was similar to alcohol by inhibiting the frontal lobe, which is responsible for decision making, risk taking, and moral reasoning. When men are sleep deprived, they are more likely to significantly overestimate a woman’s interest in sex.
Poor sleep is also linked to depression, which can be a libido-killer for men and women. It can be hard to tell if insomnia has caused depression or if it’s the other way around, however.
Men and Women Have Different Circadian Rhythms
Making matters even worse is the fact that men and women have differences in sleep and circadian psychology. Women are more likely to suffer from insomnia, for example, which is difficulty staying or falling asleep or non-restorative sleep. This difference in insomnia rates begins around puberty and continues throughout life. Middle-aged women have a 40 percent higher chance of developing insomnia than men and a 70 percent higher chance after reaching the age of 65.
Men are more likely to stay up late as well whereas women tend to be early risers. This difference is probably caused by different circadian rhythms with women having shorter circadian cycle lengths than men. Women usually have higher levels of sleepiness during the night and lower levels of fatigue during the day than men.
These differences can affect life in many ways. Along with affecting how the sexes deal with jet lag and shift work, it can also have a big impact on a couple’s sex life. When couples sleep together, their circadian rhythms will always be off-sync and likely to interfere with sleep quality and libido.
Tips for Improving Sleep Quality
Lifestyle changes are often the first step to improving your sleep quality and hopefully your sex life as well. While these tips don’t work for everyone — especially those with a serious sleep disorder — they may help you get better rest at night.
- Get enough exposure to sunlight. Exposing yourself to sunlight at the right time of the day can improve your sleep at night. Make sure you get some sunlight in the morning or the early part of the day to improve energy and alertness. A bit of sun exposure during the day also helps your body produce melatonin to sleep when you should.
- Skip stimulants near bedtime. Cut the caffeine and nicotine before bed. Alcohol does help people fall asleep faster, but it also disrupts your sleep later in the night when your body begins to break it down.
- Exercise daily. Even 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise, such as taking a walk, can significantly improve the quality of your sleep. Some people sleep better after light exercise before bed while others benefit from exercising early in the morning.
- Avoid disruptive foods at night. Soda, citrus, and foods that are fatty, fried or rich can trigger indigestion and make sleep even harder.
- Create the right environment. A dark, cool, and quiet bedroom environment can help you sleep easier and more deeply Use heavy curtains or an eye mask as a cue to your brain that it’s time to sleep. The room should be kept cool, or between 60 and 75 degrees, with a comfortable mattress. Many people benefit from limiting bedroom activities to sex and sleep. If you watch TV or use a computer in bed, it can reduce the mental association of the bedroom and bedtime.