Whether you’ve noticed a drop in your sexual interest, or you’ve simply stopped enjoying sex altogether, a different bedroom activity may be to blame: sleep.
If you’re suffering from low sex drive, also called low libido, you simply don’t have the urge or desire to have sex — or at least not as much as you’d like to. While our libidos change with age, there are many other things that can cause a low libido at any time of life.
Below, we’ll share the things that could be causing a low sex drive and dive into how you can increase it, with a special focus on sleep — an underrated yet powerful method.
Here are the most common causes of a low sex drive:
Let’s dive into sleep more below.
If you’re sleep deprived, you’ll feel more tired and most likely not be in the mood. But the sleep-sex connection goes deeper than that. Here’s how sleep can impact your sex drive:
If you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, you’re going to feel tired and therefore be much less likely to want to have sex the next day. And studies back that up.
A 2015 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found longer sleep duration was related to greater sexual desire the next day. In fact, a one-hour increase in sleep increased the odds of women having sex the next day by 14%, and women who slept for longer reported better genital arousal than those who slept for shorter amounts of time.
"The influence of sleep on sexual desire and arousal has received little attention in the field, but these findings indicate that insufficient sleep can decrease sexual desire and arousal for women," said Dr. David Kalmbach, lead author of the study. "I think the take-home message should not be that more sleep is better, but that it is important to allow ourselves to obtain the sleep that our mind and body needs."
The RISE app helps you do exactly that by calculating your unique sleep need. Your sleep need — the amount of sleep you need each night — is determined by genetics, just like height and eye color. The app works out your individual sleep need, giving you a number to aim for each night.
Testosterone is a key sex hormone for both men and women, and it’s intrinsically linked with sleep.
Testosterone levels start to rise as you first fall asleep and reach their peak during the first rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage. So, if you don’t sleep for long enough, you’re cutting short how long testosterone levels can rise and circulate for. Sleep loss during the second half of the night has been shown to reduce morning testosterone levels, too.
Low testosterone in both men and women can also cause a low sex drive and low sexual satisfaction.
And it doesn't take long for this to happen. One study looked at men who slept for five hours a night for one week. Their testosterone levels fell by 10% to 15%. That may not sound like a lot, but normal aging is linked to a decrease in testosterone levels of 1% to 2% per year. The men in the study experienced low energy, reduced libido, poor concentration, and increased sleepiness as a result.
Lowered testosterone levels can also lead to insomnia, so the cycle of poor sleep and poor sex continues.
Research suggests a build up of sleep debt may also cause adverse changes in testosterone levels. Sleep debt refers to the amount of sleep you owe your body over the last 14 nights, measured against your sleep need. The RISE app works out how much sleep debt you have, and keeps track of it as you work to pay it back.
Not getting enough sleep each night increases your likelihood of being obese. It makes losing weight hard to do, and can even cause you to gain weight.
That’s a problem for your sex life as obesity has negative impacts on your sexual health. Obesity has been linked to painful sex, arousal problems, and sexual dissatisfaction in women, and erectile dysfunction and low sexual desire in men.
Men with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 28.7 have a more than 30% increased risk of developing erectile dysfunction compared to men with a BMI of 25 or less. What’s more, if you’re obese, you may suffer from low self-esteem and poor body image, which leads to a low libido.
Not getting enough sleep also leads to increased cortisol levels. But stress can also cause these, too. Plus, sleep loss can actually contribute to stress levels, making you especially prone to high cortisol levels.
High levels of cortisol may cause a reduction in gonadal steroids and adrenal androgens — or sex hormones — which can impact sexual desire and genital arousal. It can also lead to erectile dysfunction in men over time, and for women, high cortisol levels have been linked to lower levels of sexual arousal.
If you’re stressed, you may also be too preoccupied to think about sex, or unable to relax enough to enjoy it. It can be a vicious circle though, if low sex drive is stressing you out, this stress may be making the problem even worse.
Beyond stress, a lack of sleep puts you at a higher risk of mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, which also tank your sex drive.
If you’re in a relationship, sleep can play a role in how you interact as a couple. A 2017 study found when both partners slept less, they interacted in a more hostile way. And sleep problems have been linked to increased arguments in couples.
What’s more, when you’re sleep deprived, your brain’s amygdala doesn’t work as well as it should, meaning emotions are impacted. You’re therefore more likely to overreact or not respond to your partner’s emotions as well. As how you feel about your partner plays such a big role in your sex drive, any extra arguments or hostility from sleep loss will impact your sex life.
The RISE app can help you see how you and your partner are sleeping, so you can be aware of when their sleep debt is high and therefore when their sex drive may be low and you need to be more aware of your behavior towards each other.
For men suffering with erectile dysfunction, sleep apnea may be to blame. One study found those with sleep apnea had a high risk of erectile dysfunction, and the more severe the sleep apnea, the more severe the erectile dysfunction. Sleep apnea can also cause low libido in men, especially older men and those with a depressed mood.
How do you know if you've got sleep apnea? We've covered what to look for here.
It’s not just men, though. Sleep apnea has been shown to negatively influence sex drive in women, too, as well as negatively impact desire, arousal, and orgasm.
And it’s not just the person with sleep apnea who is affected. The disorder can disturb your partners’ sleep, impacting their sex drive too.
Other sleep disorders can also increase the risk of erectile dysfunction, and sleep problems like insomnia have been linked to sexual dysfunction due to lowered testosterone levels.
Low libido getting you down? There are some lifestyle changes you can make to help improve it. Here’s a quick round up:
We’ve covered more tips on how women can increase their libido here.
Now you know how sleep can impact your sex drive, it’s time to do something about it.
The first step in boosting your libido through sleep is finding out how much sleep you need each night. The average sleep need is 8 hours 10 minutes, plus or minus 44 minutes or so, but 13.5% may have a sleep need of 9 hours or more.
The RISE app calculates your sleep using your phone use behavior and proprietary sleep-science-based models to give you a number to aim for in hours and minutes.
In an ideal world, we’d all be meeting our sleep need each night. But life often gets in the way, causing you to build up sleep debt. We recommend keeping sleep debt to five hours or less to feel and perform your best, in and out of the bedroom.
If you find you’re carrying a lot of sleep debt, you can pay it back by:
Sleep hygiene is the set of behaviors you can do throughout the day to help you fall and stay asleep at night. They can also help you get more sleep overall as you’ll improve your sleep efficiency, the measure of how long you spend in bed actually asleep.
Here’s what you can do:
We share more sleep hygiene tips here.
The RISE app can help you practice good sleep hygiene by telling you the best time to do certain habits like get and avoid bright light, stop drinking caffeine, and put on blue-light blocking glasses.
So, we’ve proven sleep impacts your sex life, but does it work the other way around? The good news is yes! Sex can improve your sleep. In fact, it’s the only form of exercise we endorse close to bedtime.
Orgasms improve sleep by triggering oxytocin and prolactin and suppressing cortisol, resulting in a more relaxed body and mind, and an easier time falling asleep. Orgasms, especially in women, also cause brain activity to decrease in the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex, reducing alertness, anxiety, and decision-making thinking respectively.
But it’s not just sex with a partner that improves sleep. A 2019 study found orgasms from masturbation were associated with better sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and better sleep quality (although experts still don’t agree on a definition for sleep quality).
There are many ways you can boost your sex drive, but sleep can improve it the next day and long term. By meeting your sleep need and keeping your sleep debt low, you can ensure you feel your best each day (and night), your sex hormones are working as they should, and other factors — like weight and stress — are less likely to impact your sex life.
The RISE app can help make it happen. The app can tell you your unique sleep need, calculate your sleep debt, and keep track of it as you work to pay it back. For better sleep, and therefore better sex, the app can also remind you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits.
You can increase your sex drive by getting enough sleep and lowering your sleep debt, reducing stress, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Low sex drive can be caused by sleep deprivation, sleep disorders, stress, mental health issues, age, medications, or menopause.
There’s no such thing as a normal sex drive, as everyone’s desire for sex is different and naturally changes throughout our lives.
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