The key to a sex life that's out-of-this-world-amazing starts in bed.
But don't get too far ahead of yourself—we mean sleep.
"Everybody’s sleep requirement is different," says Bruce Corser, M.D., MBA, the medical director at the Sleep Management Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio. And while experts typically recommend 8 hours a night—a number that has stirred plenty of debate—Corser says it can vary from person to person. "The average self-reported sleep is 6.8 hours nightly," he explains. "But some people need more than 9, and some people function consistently well on less than 7 hours of sleep."
Of course, optimizing your sleep for your sex life also means optimizing sleep for whomever's sleeping with you. And while sleep necessity can very from person to person, men and women tend to have distinct issues related to sleep. Women, for example, take longer to fall asleep than men, but they tend to fall asleep earlier in the night and wake up earlier in the morning. (They also have a greater probability of developing insomnia and Restless Leg Syndrome.) Men, on the other hand, are two times more likely to develop sleep apnea—which often translates as loud snoring or awakening with gasping.
"In order for couples to have a harmonious relationship, these differences need to be acknowledged," Corser says.
So: How to can you hack your sleep for more energized, more enjoyable, and more frequent sex? And what's the payoff, anyway? Here are 10 things you need to know about getting the most of your time in the sack—whether you're awake or not.
1. Sleep Maintains Testosterone Levels
"A University of Chicago study found men who slept less than 5 hours a night for one week had lower levels of testosterone compared to men who get 7-9 hours," Corser says. One week of sleep deprivation dropped T levels down to 10-15 percent.
Why does that matter? "Testosterone is critical for building strength, muscle mass, bone density, and low levels are associated with reduced sense of well-being, decreased vigor, mood, and libido," Corser explains. Testosterone is the hormone most closely linked to libido, too. Men who sleep 4 hours nightly have morning T levels of 200-300 compared to men who sleep 8 hours a night who have levels of 500-700. So: Get. Your. Shuteye.
2. Sleep Keeps You in the Mood
"Studies have shown if people stay awake for 24 hours continuously, they’re cognitive function is the same as someone with blood alcohol level of .1 percent, which is legal intoxication," Corser says. Your memory and focus are fuzzy, but your mood also takes a hit. Not being in the mood = sex that's lackluster at best, if at all.
3. Sleep Prevents Risky Decision-Making
"After sleep loss, men make riskier decisions like having sex without protection, whereas women are more cautious and hyper-aware in lieu of sleep deprivation," Corser says. Rather than trigger an a sleep-deprived argument over protection, just minimize your risk of any unwarranted surprises: Get your shuteye. Then you'll both agree it's smart to wear a condom.
4. Fixing Sleep Disorders Brings People Together
Approximately 40 percent of adult men and 24 percent of adult women are habitual snorers, Corser says. Because of this, 23 percent of couples sleep in separate beds, and a third of couples admit there's disharmony in their relationship due to snoring. If you're sleeping in separate beds, the quality of your shuteye is probably better, but how do you think your sex life is faring? Yeah...
"A Mayo Clinic study from Rochester, Minnesota found spouses of loud snorers awaken 21 times on average per hour and lose approximately an hour of sleep per night," Corser says. That's not all. A Finland study found half of bed partners report being disrupted by snoring virtually every night; research published in the Journal of Chest tracked patients with sleep apnea and found once snoring and sleep apnea were cured, the partners' quality of life improved more than the patients receiving treatment (plus daytime sleepiness improved by 20 percent). Find what's disturbing your sleep and treat it.
5. Sleep Defeats Erectile Dysfunction
One in three men, and one in five women who are habitual snorers have some degree of sleep apnea, Corser says. The issue with men is sleep apnea significantly increases your risk for erectile dysfunction—by up to 45-65 percent. "The severity of the sleep apnea correlates with the severity of the erectile dysfunction, but sleep apnea patients who receive treatment typically see restored function," Corser says.
Sleep apnea is also associated with low T levels. "People with obstructive sleep apnea are breathing against a closed airway, so you get adrenaline bursts during the night when you're short on oxygen intake, which damages the the lining of very small blood vessels, causing erectile dysfunction; these bursts also stretch your heart muscle and increases something called atrial natriuretic peptide, a hormone that causes increased urine production," Corser says. So, aside from a zapped sex drive, you'll be getting up to pee five times a night.
The most common treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea is nasal CPAP, a machine that blows air through your nose. There are also dental devices you can buy online for mild cases. These work by either pulling your lower jaw forward or retaining your tongue so it's pulled forward in the mouthpiece. Other, more sophisticated, ones are fitted by dentists, Corser adds.
6. Sleep Increases the "Love Hormone"
"Sleeping together in the same bed can improve your relationship by lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increasing levels of the bonding or love hormone oxytocin," Corser says. "For women, sleeping with a man promotes feelings of safety, and studies have demonstrated women in stable relationships fall asleep faster and awaken less frequently compared to single women." But sleeping together isn't always an activity synonymous with harmony—especially when one of you wakes frequently through the night, tossing and turning, or has a condition like Restless Leg Syndrome.
Get a large mattress—one with variable firmness is even better—so if one of you is jerking and twitching, the other won’t be bothered.
7. Synchronize Sleep, Sync Sex Schedules
If your girlfriend wakes early and goes to bed early, you can adust your sleep patterns to mimic hers. "Ideally you want to go to bed and wake up around the same time," Corser says. Some people are genetically night owls and morning birds, so it might be challenging. But all it takes is two days for your circadian rhythm to reschedule itself. Get into bed with her at the same time each night. You'll have greater intimacy by spending the time together; and if you can't fall asleep, perform some relaxation techniques until you drift off. Besides, spending more time in bed together ups your odds of having sex; so it's really a no-brainer.
8. Stop Hitting Snooze, Reduce Tension
"If you want to wake up at 6 a.m., then set your alarm for 5:30a.m. and continuously hit snooze every 10 minutes, you’re going to fragment your sleep and hers," Corser says. It’s better to sleep the extra 10-30 minutes than to keep hitting snooze. Plus, nobody likes to hear your alarm going off over and over.
9. No Pets, No Middleman
An Arizona Mayo Clinic study found that 56% of pet owners allow their pets to sleep in bed with them, Corser says. "If both partners are in agreement, great," he adds. "If not, then it's bad for your sex life." (Besides—unless it's something you're into—who wants to get it on with spectators?) Pets should be relegated to another room, especially if allergies are an issue. No one wants to feel like they're being put below the family cat.
Oh, and speaking of felines: Cats tend to be more disruptive than dogs. "Dogs sleep through the night, while cats roam," Corser adds.
10. Treat Insomnia, Boost Sex
"If one partner has difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or awakening too early in the morning that can hurt quality of sleep and sex," Corser says. Quietly get out of bedroom and do something relaxing in another room like listening to music, reading under dim light, and meditating if you can't sleep. Chronic insomnia might need a prescription sleep aid like Silenor. You'll wake refreshed, have more energy throughout the day and night—or whenever you want to get it on.