Being sleep deprived in today’s busy world is almost taken for granted. In fact, in some circles, it’s cause for bragging rights.
Yet science has linked poor slumber with high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, weight gain, mood swings, paranoia, depression and a higher risk of diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, dementia and some cancers.
And just in case you didn’t know, it’s also a buzz kill for your libido.
“It’s pretty simple,” said Laure Mintz, author of “A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex.” “If you’re exhausted and not getting enough sleep your sex drive is going to be extremely low.”
A recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine followed nearly 4,000 men and women in their early- to mid-60s for a year and found that poor sleep was associated with erectile dysfunction for men, and arousal problems and orgasmic difficulty for women. True, these were older folks, who are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea (a known culprit for an unhealthy sex life), and overall health issues that might impact their slumber.
But sleep apnea is on the rise in younger generations – especially in men – and guess what, guys? No matter what your age, a lack of sleep impacts your levels of testosterone. Low levels of testosterone can lead to a lack of sexual desire and erectile dysfunction.
Here’s how those are connected: It turns out that your highest levels of that important hormone occur during REM sleep, which is the deep, healing sleep that occurs late in the sleep cycle. Your first REM will last about 10 minutes, but as the night goes on REM stages grow longer, with the final one lasting up to an hour. So, if you don’t sleep long enough to enter REM sleep, you don’t get those restorative levels of circulating testosterone.
Like men, women need natural testosterone to keep bones healthy, boost cognition, improve muscle mass and create new red blood cells. It’s believed sleep apnea is widely underdiagnosed in women, so the lack of quality sleep could well impact their sex drive too.
“Women are particularly at risk for undiagnosed sleep problems,” said clinical psychologist and sleep expert Michael Breus, “so women who are experiencing problems with sexual function should have their sleep evaluated.”
It works the other way around too, Breus added. If a woman or a man is under treatment for a sleep disorder, they should be sure to question their doctors about the potential impact of the disorder on their sex drive and function.
Still not convinced? One study looked at 171 female college students and found that just one hour of extra sleep a night increased not only their desire for sex the next day but the likelihood of it occurring. That single hour lead to a 14% increase in the odds they would have sex with a partner the next night.
What to do?
It’s a no duh: Sleep more! Most adults should be getting between 7 and 9 hours a night of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Of course, we all know that already. Yet one in three American adults do not get adequate sleep and we’re not alone. Sleep deprivation is affecting the health of up to 45% of the world’s population, according to World Sleep Day statistics.
But if you’re ready to take some action to get more shut eye, and hopefully improve your sex life, here’s some expert tips:
Practice good sleep hygiene
There are a number of things you can do to lead to a successful night’s sleep, according to the American Sleep Association. Go to bed and wake up at about the same time, even on weekends. Avoid alcohol – while a drink might seem a good idea to make you sleepy, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night.
“Don’t nap or drink caffeine after 3 p.m.,” added sex therapist and educator Laura Berman. “Even nicotine can affect the quality of your sleep.”
Set up a bedtime routine
Part of good sleep hygiene is creating a bedtime routine, Berman added. Have a warm bath or shower, meditate or read a book in bed.
“It’s a lot like putting a child to bed,” she said, “you want the room dark and cool, with no blue light for an hour before bed.” Yes, that means no TV or computer, she said.
“If you can’t fall asleep after about 10 minutes, get up and go to another room to do a quieting activity,” suggested Berman, who is the host of the nationally syndicated show “Uncovered Radio.”
“Or you could use this time to be intimate with your partner or yourself,” she added. “After all, sex improves sleep and sleep improves sex.”
Practice mindfulness about sex
To better enjoy sex, men and women – but especially women – need to be focused in the moment, which is difficult for tired, stressed out women and men, said Mintz, who is also a professor of human sexuality at the University of Florida. To boost the ability to focus, she tells clients to set an hourly alarm on their cell phone and then take a minute to think about something sexy.
“Think about a fantasy or a past sexual experience,” she suggested, to begin to set a mood of expectation. And when it’s time to be intimate, she said, it’s also time to turn off the thoughts and focus on immersing yourself in the moment.
Schedule your sex (along with your sleep)
Mintz also suggested trying to schedule sexual encounters.
“It sounds so unromantic, but it is one of the best things you can do,” she said. “So many women say ‘I have no interest in sex, but it’s good when it gets going.’”
Pick a time that’s your time, she said, and put it in your calendar, just as you would if you were scheduling time for the gym or coffee with a friend.
“We have to get rid of this myth that sex is only good if it’s done spontaneously,” Mintz added,”because in certain life stages, you just aren’t going to have spontaneous sex.”