If you’re lucky, sexual activity, either alone or with a partner/partners (no judgment here), will lead up to that highly anticipated burst of pleasure known as an orgasm.
Research suggests orgasms can do more than make you feel good — they may also help you sleep better. While you may have already figured this out yourself, you might not know that the benefit is a two-way street; quality sleep may also help you orgasm (whereas poor sleep can do the opposite).
“Orgasms make you feel good, and once achieved, your body is in a state of bliss and relaxation. Whether it is achieved solo, or with a partner, it promotes connectedness with your mind, body, spirit, and soul,” Dr. Angela Jones, an OB-GYN in private practice in New Jersey, told BuzzFeed News. “When these things are in order, you guessed it, so will be your sleep.”
Evidence suggests orgasms may help you sleep better
As you might imagine, conducting studies on whether orgasms help people sleep is challenging, said Michele Lastella, a sleep researcher and senior lecturer at the Appleton Institute for Behavioral Science at CQUniversity Adelaide in Australia. Most studies on orgasms and sleep are based on self-reported surveys that tend to underrepresent LGBTQ people and their experiences.
“Of the few studies that have attempted this feat, there has been a considerable argument to suggest that sexual activity that involves an orgasm may improve sleep,” Lastella told BuzzFeed News in an email.
In one of his studies published in 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, Lastella and colleagues looked at online survey responses from 778 people who were mostly in their 20s or 30s and heterosexual (more than 90%). The researchers found that 68% of men and 59% of women felt that they slept better after having sex with a partner. About 54% of the volunteers said they also slept better after having an orgasm from masturbation, regardless of gender.
However, some people — 11% of women and 4% of men — said they had a harder time falling asleep after having sex with a partner. Although his study didn’t seek to understand why, Lastella said it “may be related to the experience they have with themselves, or their partner.”
Every body is different, and there’s really no activity that’s “always a positive or negative experience for everyone,” Sara Flowers, vice president of education and training at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told BuzzFeed News.
“Some people feel calm, relaxed, or sleepy after an orgasm. Others may feel energized or amped up,” said Flowers, who emphasized more research is needed to better understand the orgasmic experiences of people of different gender identities, sexual orientations, races and ethnicities, abilities, and more. “Paying attention to your own experiences and patterns can help you figure out how orgasms may help or hinder your sleep,” she said.
Orgasms, at least from masturbation, didn’t seem to affect sleep either positively or negatively in one small study published in 1985 in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
In the study, researchers conducted polysomnographic recordings — the gold standard for sleep research that measures brain waves, blood oxygen levels, heart and breathing rates, as well as eye and leg movements — on five men and five women following masturbation with and without orgasm.
They found that masturbation seemed to have no major effect on sleep, regardless of orgasm. The experimental groups were compared to a control group that involved reading “neutral” material.
Why could orgasms help you sleep better?
Orgasms give you a boost in physical and emotional well-being because they trigger the release of hormones called endorphins, many of which happen to have important sleep-related duties.
Oxytocin, or the “love hormone,” is one of the star players released during orgasms that can give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, Jones said. In addition to its role in sexual activity, it facilitates bonding during childbirth and breastfeeding. Oxytocin reduces cortisol levels, aka the stress hormone, in our blood too.
“Cortisol levels increase in the morning, and are responsible for waking you up,” Jones said. “Elevated cortisol levels that occur during the latter part of the day can cause sleep disruptions,” so having an orgasm at night may help lower them and make you feel less stressed, more relaxed, and sleepy.
Other activities like yoga, hugging, and spending time with your pets can trigger your brain to release oxytocin as well.
Serotonin, or the “happy hormone,” also floods your body at the time of climax, “hence the elated mood you all of a sudden feel when you orgasm,” Jones said. Serotonin also helps regulate sleep-wake cycles.
The brain uses serotonin to form melatonin — the main sleep-inducing hormone — at night and releases it during the day. Low serotonin levels are linked with depression and insomnia in a wide variety of studies, and increasing it can improve mood and lead to better sleep, Jones said.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which include drugs like fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants and work by increasing serotonin in the brain. (One thing to keep in mind is that a major side effect of many SSRIs is a drop in libido or interest in having sex.) Vasopressin is also released after sex, and it lowers cortisol levels and boosts sleep quality, Jones said, though this hormone may play a larger role during sex in people assigned male at birth.
Another important sleep-inducing hormone that orgasms produce is prolactin. It’s best known for stimulating milk production in people who give birth, but it’s also associated with both the quality of orgasms and overall sexual satisfaction, Lastella said.
When it comes to slumber, research shows prolactin can induce rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which helps your brain process new memories and learned skills. Studies also show sleep deprivation can reduce prolactin levels.
A 2005 paper published in the journal Biological Psychology analyzed prolactin levels in blood samples from 19 men and 19 women who either masturbated or had penis-in-vagina sex in a laboratory until they reached orgasm. Researchers found the boost in prolactin following climax was about five times higher following sex with a partner compared with masturbation. This suggests that sex with a partner may be more satisfying — at least under laboratory conditions, and of course depending on the partner — than masturbation.
The results were adjusted for control conditions, which involved watching an unsexy documentary either solo or with a partner.
Can good sleep help orgasms?
Quality sleep, which for adults generally means sleeping seven to nine hours a night, staying asleep throughout the night, and waking up feeling refreshed, has a multitude of health benefits. Over the long term, adequate sleep may help improve cognitive function, boost your mood, and reduce the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease — advantages that can also improve your sex life.
Sleeping for an extra hour a night, for example, was associated with a 14% increase in the odds women engaged in sexual activity with their partner, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. The research, which was based on survey responses from 171 women taken over two weeks, also found a link between longer average sleep duration and better genital arousal.
Sleep deprivation, as well as obstructive sleep apnea — a disorder that causes repetitive blockages in airflow during sleep — have been tied to erectile dysfunction in men and sexual dysfunction in women.
Another analysis of 93,668 postmenopausal women between the ages 50 and 79 found sleeping for less than seven to eight hours a night was associated with lower odds of sexual satisfaction, a trend that held true even when adjusting for other causes of sleep deprivation, such as depression and chronic disease. The 2017 study was published in the journal Menopause.
Inadequate sleep also affects mental health; meanwhile, depression and anxiety tend to make people less interested in having sex.
“Both more sleep and more sex can have positive effects on our immune function, our heart health, pain receptors, stress levels, psychological well-being, and our relationships,” Lastella said. “But one of the main problems in modern society is that we don’t switch off — we are addicted to our electronic devices, we are attached to our emails and other social media platforms that delay our sleep onset.”
How to enhance both sleep and sex
Engaging in any activity before bed that helps you relax and enjoy the present moment can have a positive impact on both your sleep and sex life.
Keep in mind what works for others may not work for you, and vice versa. Here are some general healthy sleep habits:
Calm down before bed by drinking noncaffeinated tea, taking a low-impact yoga session, meditating, sitting in a hot bath, or listening to music.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, exercise, and cigarettes (or anything else that can keep you awake) right before bedtime.
- Keep your phone out of the bedroom or put it on “do not disturb mode.”
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, plus or minus 20 minutes — even on the weekends.
- Keep pets outside your bedroom, especially cats.
- Aim to sleep seven to nine hours a night if you can.
- Bring some fresh air into your bedroom by opening a window, if possible.
- Consider changing your mattress to one that better suits your body.
- Keep your bedroom as dark as possible and fill it with calming items like essential oil diffusers and weighted blankets.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night and stay awake for more than 10 minutes, get out of bed and sit somewhere until you feel sleepy.
When it comes to better sex, namely achieving the big O, Jones suggests asking your partner for what you want, trying new things, and “recognizing that sex doesn’t have to be a team sport.”
Whether you have a partner or not, you can also consider trying sex toys, Flowers of Planned Parenthood said.
“A first step towards embracing sex and your sexuality may be getting comfortable with yourself and your body. Date yourself. Wear clothes that make you feel attractive, confident, and good in your body,” she said. “Get familiar with your genitals by looking at them in a mirror. Explore what feels good to your body — scented candles in a warm bath, physical touch, crisp clean bedsheets, or a run outside, for example.”