If you’ve ever found yourself saying, “I’m tired, honey, not tonight,” to your partner, you’re not alone: A 2010 study by the National Sleep Foundation found that about one in every four married or cohabitating Americans claimed they were routinely too tired to have sex with their partner.
With the added distractions of modern technology keeping us awake later, and longer -- like smartphones on our nightstands, e-readers in bed and the 24/7 churn of email and social media -- we can only surmise that this number is growing.
In search of a better understanding of the complicated relationship between sleep and sex, we partnered with Sleep Number to find out if our bad sleep habits are consequently ruining our love lives.
A Zesty Sex Life Takes Zs
Today, the resounding excuse for not having sex isn’t “I have a headache,” says Dr. Michael Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine. He says, “It’s ‘I’m exhausted.’”
“A 2014 study concluded that for women, a longer sleep duration led to greater sexual desire the following day. Multiple studies have found that sleep deprivation lowers testosterone levels in men.”
Breus estimates that 30 to 40 percent of Americans who experience a lowered sex drive can chalk up their sexual frustrations to sleep deprivation.
“There’s plenty of data that shows undiagnosed sleep apnea lowering libido in men and women,” Breus says. (It’s also been linked to lowered sperm count in men.)
Breus says he regularly finds himself treating male patients for hypogonadism -- low testosterone production -- who are simultaneously looking for better sleep solutions. “Once they’re treated for whatever their sleep problem is, they don’t need [testosterone] shots anymore because their testosterone naturally rises,” Breus says. The reason? They’re getting their full rest.
Do Sleep Woes = Smaller Libidos? It’s Complicated
You don’t need to have a diagnosed sleep disorder to appreciate that a week’s worth of bad sleep can leave you feeling emotionally raw. These psychological effects of sleep deprivation -- be it occasional or longer term -- can also affect your sex life.
“There’s ... a level of anxiety that goes along with being sleep deprived, especially if you have insomnia,” Breus says. “Anxiety contributes to a lower level of libido, negatively affecting your sexual performance, as well.”
How strong is the correlation? Experts are still unsure. Britney Blair, Psy.D., CBSM, a licensed clinical psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Sleep Medicine Center, says that more specific research is needed to outline the magnitude of the impact lack of sleep can have on our naughty hormones (our technical term).
The Cooling Effects Bad Sleep Can Have In The Bedroom
We know that, “Sleep disorders can affect someone’s libido or desire for sex, and generally, their desire for their bed partner,” Blair says. But these drops in sex drive can also be “passed on” to partners.
“If your partner is snoring, or has PLMD [Periodic Limb Movement Disorder] and is kicking you in the middle of the night, that can create agitation, keeping you awake,” Blair says. “That’s not the sexiest feeling and can negatively affect your libido for your particular bed partner.”
The consequences can bleed into the next night, and so on. Sex involves physical exertion, Blair points out, so the feeling of exhaustion and irritability after a night of little sleep paired with a long work day makes sex the last thing you want to pursue come nighttime
So, Is Your Sex Life Compromised? Well, How Deep Is Your Sleep Debt?
Since everyone’s sleep need is individual, there are a number of ways to figure out if you’re sleep deprived, Breus says. One indication is if you fall asleep within five minutes of your head hitting the pillow, he explains, while another is if you find yourself hitting snooze in search of a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning.
“The bottom line? For your best performance, get your full rest.”
If that sounds like you ― or you got less than sufficient shut-eye last night ― don’t freak out just yet. One or two nights of faulty sleep won’t have a huge, long-term effect on your sex life, Breus says. But for those with chronic sleep debt, it may take approximately three to four weeks to regain their natural libidos.
The bottom line? For your best … performance … get your full rest.