Sleep experts and sex educators explain the relationship between sleep and sex and offer tips for how to optimize your bedroom for both.
If you've ever fallen fast asleep immediately after sex, then you've already learned firsthand that orgasm functions as a natural sleep aid — and science proves it.
One 2019 review found that both solo and partnered sex before bed can aid in sleep quality and latency, while earlier research went as far as to suggest that sex and masturbation can be a helpful intervention for insomniacs.
Below, sleep experts and sex educators explain the relationship between sleep and sex and offer tips for how to optimize your bedroom for sleep and sex at the same time.
One word: Hormones. For people across the gender and genital spectrum, orgasm releases a cocktail of feel-good hormones into the body, including oxytocin, prolactin, serotonin, and dopamine.
Dubbed the cuddle- or love-hormone, oxytocin contributes to a feeling of being bonded between people, explains traditional Chinese medicine practitioner Anna Hsieh Gold. Meanwhile, prolactin is known to produce a deep sense of relief, while serotonin and dopamine promote feelings of calm and euphoria, she explains.
"For many people, the combination of these hormones leads to a sense of calm and drowsiness," says Dr. Gold. In cis-gender men and other people assigned male at birth, the release of prolactin is especially linked with sleeping, according to Nilong Vyas, M.D., a sleep consultant at Sleepless in Nola and medical review expert at SleepFoundation.org.
And you don't actually need to achieve orgasm to achieve the sleepy-time benefits of sex. Assuming the intimacy you're engaging in feels stress-relieving, orgasm-less play can support your snooze, according to Chris Winter, M.D., author of The Sleep Solution and medical director of Martha Jefferson Hospital's Sleep Medicine Center. "Stress is one of the biggest impediments to a good night's sleep," he says. "And anything you do to lower your cortisol levels before bed can benefit sleep." That can include things that don't often lead to orgasm such as kissing, cuddling, and outercourse. (Or even meditation or yoga!).
Here's the thing: Just as with any matter of the bedroom, there is no one size fits all rule. Because serotonin and dopamine can also create a euphoric sensation, Dr. Gold says, "some people may feel awake or stimulated following sex." If you typically prefer morning sex, likely it's because serotonin and dopamine power you up rather than down.
Ultimately, figuring out whether fornicating before bed revs you up or calms you down is going to take a little trial and error. (Fun!). Though it's worth noting that factors like the music you listened to while you got it on, the things you did (or did not) say to one another, and the ambiance of the room will all influence whether it wakes you up or puts you to sleep, too.
No matter your relationship status, implementing these tips can help you blend your sex and sleep needs, seamlessly.
1. Have Sex Someplace Other Than Your Bed
The best way to use sex to promote sleep? Do it outside of the bedroom — especially if the sex you want to have might be described as on the rowdier side.
"The brain is smart," explains Dr. Winter. "If you start doing things in your bed other than sleep, your brain will begin to associate your bed with those things." While it's true that your brain associating bed with sex may be good for your sex life, it could become a real issue for your sleep hygiene, especially if you're a nit-picky sleeper as is.
Your move: Don't be shy about having sex places other than your bed. Outfitted with a handrail and non-slip mat, the shower and bath can be a hot place to get down. Heck, even the kitchen table, bathroom counter, and living room floor can make do.
2. Adjust Room Temperature
If you've been seeing cooling mattresses, mattress covers, and blankets pop up on your Instagram feed, there's a good reason: The temperature of your sleep space really does impact how deep into your dreams you're able to go. "The best temperature to sleep in is about 55 to 65 degrees," according to Dr. Winter.
Of course, skin-on-skin should create some heat, but most sex-havers would say that's a cold room for love-making. So if staying under the sheets with your socks on isn't your vibe and you choose to crank the heat or use a space heater, just be sure to shut it off after to promote better sleep.
3. Experiment With Lighting
Good news: The red lighting you associate with getting freaky may actually be good for your sleep. Generally speaking, dim and red lights can help you sleep better, says Dr. Winter, while exposure to bright and blue lights before bed can interfere with sleep.
His recommendation: Swap your current light bulbs for dim and/or red light bulbs. And limit the amount of bright, blue light electronics, and screens in your sleep (and sex!) space.
4. Get Aromatic
Candles are another way to achieve optimal lighting, notes Dr. Gold. And (scented) candles have the added benefit of infusing your space with sensual and sleep-forward scents. "Aromatherapy is a wonderful practice for simultaneously aiding in sensuality and sleep," she says. "The scents most beneficial for promoting relaxation include ylang-ylang, lavender, jasmine, and chamomile."
5. Target Your Tunes
"Playing soft music or nature sounds like ocean waves can help some drift off to sleep," says Dr. Gold. So, why not turn on pre-recorded wave noises and pretend you're having sex on the beach? Or, opt for music that's a little more slow-and-sensual than raunchy-and-raucous to make it easier to drift off afterward.
6. Prep Your Space Appropriately
Maybe you squirt. Maybe you drool. Maybe you like to lather on the lube. Whatever the reason, if your sleep space tends to get a little messy, lay down a waterproof blanket or towel before getting it on, suggests Dr. Vyas.
"Putting a blanket or extra sheet on the bed, which can be easily removed afterward, will allow for easy and quick cleanup," she says. "That way, after 'the act' you can efficiently get to snoozing." And when it comes to your vibe or other toys, leave the deep clean for the morning and opt for a sex toy cleaning wipe to make things quick and easy post-play.
Whether it's partnered, multi-partnered, or solo, sex before bed can help some people sleep. But having sex, of course, isn't the only way to improve the quality of your nighttime slumber — and it's shouldn't be the only avenue you take.
As Dr. Winter puts it, "It puts a lot of stress on your partner to become a kind of human sleeping pill if partnered sex is the only thing you're doing to improve your sleep." Even if you're self-pleasuring, feeling obligated to do so can take some of the joy out of the act!
So, rather than forcing it, if you consistently have a hard time falling asleep, he suggests implementing other good sleep hygiene practices. "Exercising in the morning and going to bed and waking at the same time every single day [....] can all aid in more restful sleep, too."