Did you know – poor or insufficient sleep can wreak havoc on your sex life?
There are a number of reasons, but two of the biggest are the effects of fatigue, and reduced testosterone levels.
Lack of Sleep and Reduced Interest in Sex
Most people who are in ongoing sexual relationships will recognise that they are less likely to feel up to having sex, particularly lengthy sex, when they are really tired. So it will hardly be surprising that the subjective feeling of fatigue is linked to a reduced interest in sex.
Fatigue will also often reduce the amount of energy we have to give to the needs of others, and can reduce feelings of “connectedness” and emotional intimacy.
However, did you know that one of the things that is impaired by getting insufficient sleep is our ability to assess how much we are affected by it? We know that one of the first things to deteriorate when we don’t get enough sleep is our ability to assess just how much we are impacted. That is, people tend to think that they are coping “just fine” with reduced sleep – when in fact they are impaired. Research consistently demonstrates that the effect of fatigue on our performance is very similar to that of drinking alcohol, with 24 hours awake being similar to having a Blood Alcohol Content over 0.05!
Lack of Sleep Reduces Testosterone
Poor or insufficient sleep is linked to reduced testosterone – and reduced testosterone is linked to reduced sex-drive. Research suggests that this effect occurs in both men and women. Surely it is not that significant? I hear some people ask. In one study, men were sleep restricted for just a week and demonstrated drops in testosterone equivalent to them aging by between 10 and 15 years. Yikes!
Some conditions such as sleep apnoea (which is associated with reduced sexual interest or performance), achieve this through both creating significant fatigue and through lowering testosterone.
But it is not just “medical” problems that do this, in that study I mentioned earlier the researchers limited the sleep their subjects got and still achieved these changes in testosterone.
How Sleep Affects Your Sex Life
Poor sleep increases your risk of other conditions such as obesity and depression – which are also associated with lowered libido. It can also impair the functioning of your immune system, leaving you prone to bugs. Who feels horny when they have a cold?!
Let’s not forget that when we are tired we are often irritable, moody, have difficulty concentrating … the list goes on. This hardly makes us attractive to others.
So for whatever the cause, poor or insufficient sleep can mess with you, and thus your mojo.
Why do People Struggle to Sleep?
Poor sleep occurs for a range of reasons: stress; illness; injury; mental health disorders (such as depression); caffeine; alcohol; poor sleep hygiene; snoring (yours or your partner’s); hormonal fluctuations (eg menopause); and environmental factors, such as being too hot or cold.
Many adults in our modern urban society are chronically sleep deprived, and are getting less sleep than they really need in order to fit in other things.
How to Know if You are Getting Enough (Sleep, that is!)
Here are some signs that you are not getting enough, quality sleep:
- If you fall asleep very quickly upon going to bed – this is often a sign that you are fatigued and require more sleep.
- If you sleep in on days where you don’t have to get up, and in the absence of other conditions such as depression – the body is not particularly good at oversleeping without feeling awful.
- If you sleep through your alarm.
- If you are getting less than 8-10 hours a night. Some people can squeeze by on about seven and a half hours per night. Generally people sleep less as they age, though this does not necessarily mean that they need less sleep.
So is getting more sleep the answer?
In a rare study on the impacts of sleep on sexual desire in women, it was found that a one hour increase in sleep was associated with a 14% increase in the likelihood of engaging in sexual activity the next day. Similarly, treatment studies of sleep apnoea find that sexual activity and interest increases with improvements in sleep. So the answer is – it’s a good place to start.
How Psychologists can Help with Sleep Problems
People often don’t think of seeing a psychologist for problems sleeping, but a psychologist can help in a number of ways:
- By providing treatments such as CBT:
- incorporating elements such as stimulus control (avoiding things that keep you awake, and helping you to be physically ready for sleep);
- cognitive therapy;
- sleep restriction;
- relaxation training; and
- improving your sleep hygiene.
- By treating underlying conditions that are causing the sleep problems (eg depression).
If you are experiencing problems with your libido, and sleep is a problem for you – then consider seeking assistance from a psychologist via your GP, who will be able to talk with you about medication options. If your sleep problems are due to a sleep disorder or an underlying mental health problem then they can provide you with a Mental Health Care Plan which will help make seeing a psychologist more affordable.
Author: Kelly Gall, BSc (Hons), M Psych (Health), M Clin Psych, MAPS, MCHP.
Kelly Gall is a Health Psychologist who is passionate about helping clients improve their physical and emotional wellbeing. Kelly develops tailored, holistic and evidence-based treatment plans that incorporate psychological, physical and social strategies aimed at empowering her clients to achieve relief from psychological symptoms and improve their health. Find out more on her website, Healthy Inside and Out.
To make an appointment with Health Psychologist Kelly Gall, please call (07) 3067 9129 or you can book online today.
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