Here are all the ways sleep deprivation is killing your sex life


Turns out having a rockin’ sex life is less about the XOXOs and more about the Zzzs.

A new study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine this week has further proved the power of sleep, finding that a good night’s rest greatly enhances a woman’s sex drive.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School studied the sleep and sex patterns of 171 female college students for 14 days. During the study they controlled for a variety of factors that could affect participants’ libidos such as age, hormonal birth control, menstruation, antidepressants, and sexual distress.

At the end of the study researchers concluded that every extra hour of sleep the women received made them 14 percent more likely to engage in partnered sexual activity. In other words more sleep led to more sex.

A result like that made us wonder what other effects sleep—or lack thereof—is having on our sex lives. Here’s what we found:

Lack of sleep lowers testosterone levels, kills your libido.

Testosterone plays a key role in a person’s sex drive (especially men), which is why not getting enough sleep can have profoundly negative effects on the libido, considering it lowers testosterone. For example, a 2011 study put out by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), found that after one week of sleep deprivation (less than 5 hours of sleep a night), young men had 15 percent less testosterone than normal—which is by no means insignificant. According to researchers that’s the amount of testosterone loss that occurs with 10 to 15 years of aging. As expected, the low testosterone levels resulted in a reduced libido.

Similarly, a comprehensive analysis of research found that sleep deprivation may also lower testosterone levels in women—although it’s much harder to measure—which can lead to sexual dysfunction and a reduced sex drive as well.

Lack of sleep can negatively affect vaginal lubrication.

In the same University of Michigan study first mentioned, researchers found that women who, on average, got more sleep reported better genital arousal and vaginal lubrication versus women with lower average sleep duration. As many ladies know, vaginal lubrication is a key component to pleasurable, pain-free sex (wetter is definitely better). Word to the wise, if you’re constantly missing out on zzz’s invest in some lube.

Chronic sleep loss can cause erectile dysfunction in men.

Several studies have found links between erectile dysfunction and sleep loss. In 2009 researchers highlighted this link when they asked 401 men who supposedly had sleep apnea—a sleep disorder which causes short pauses in breathing and fragmented sleep—to come in for testing. Of those who were diagnosed with the disorder, 70 percent also had erectile disfunction, leading researchers to believe they were connected. Not only that, after patients are treated for sleep apnea they are less likely to have erectile dysfunction and their sex lives improve as well.

Sleep loss causes men to misjudge women’s sexual interest.

A lack of sleep can have a profound effect on the brain, especially in regards to the frontal lobe which influences risk-taking, decision-making, and moral reasoning. Specifically, a 2013 study published in SLEEP found that following just one night of sleep deprivation men greatly overestimated the sexual intent of women—i.e. they were more likely to think women wanted sex with them, when that was sooo not the case.

“Our findings here are similar to those from studies using alcohol, which similarly inhibits the frontal lobe,” said Jennifer Peszka, associate professor of psychology at Hendrix College who led the study. “Sleep deprivation could have unexpected effects on perceptual experiences related to mating and dating that could lead people to engage in sexual decisions that they might otherwise not when they are well-rested.”

Sleep problems cause women to have more sexual distress.

It’s true, not getting enough sleep can lead to stress in the bedroom. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that women with sleep apnea were more likely to have sexual distress (i.e. sexually-related personal distress) and more likely to report sexual dysfunction than the general female population. FYI: More than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, which doesn’t include the millions more who may have it and don’t know it, thinking they just “can’t sleep.”

Sleep and depression are linked, another blow to the sex drive.

One of the key symptoms of depression is insomnia, or an inability to fall asleep. However, it can be difficult to determine if depression causes insomnia or if insomnia may cause depression. For example, in a study published in SLEEP, researchers found that sleep deprivation seemed to actually cause psychological distress. After analyzing 20,822 young adults they found that those who were short sleepers were more likely to report psychological distress from the lack of sleep and, for some, it turned into full-blown depression.

As many are already aware, depression has been known to greatly reduce sex drive as have the anti-depressants used to treat the disorder. Making depression a lose-lose for your sex life and just one more reason getting a good night’s sleep is key to a happy and healthy life.

Now excuse me while I go nap.

Taryn Hillin is Fusion’s love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.

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