Occasional lack of sleep is usually little more than an annoyance.
But when sleep is constantly disrupted long term due to factors like having a new baby, working rotating shifts, or having health conditions that interfere with rest, the results can affect many areas of life. Not only are you more likely to be less alert when you’re awake, you may be prone to irritability and rely on coffee or energy drinks to feel sufficiently awake.
Lack of sleep, as any new parent will tell you, also affects your sex life. One or both parents may be too tired for sex until the new addition to the family adopts consistent sleep habits. Lack of sleep due to other factors affects your sex life too. Not only can chronically poor sleep make you too tired for sexual activity, it can affect hormone levels, including testosterone levels.
Sleep Loss and Testosterone in Men
A man’s body produces testosterone during sleep. This hormone plays a major role in sexual drive and sexual function, contributing both to libido and erections. A study from the University of Chicago in 2011 monitored the testosterone levels of a group of men who were subject to sleep deprivation and the effects were clear. After only a week of getting fewer than five hours of sleep a night, testosterone levels fell by 10 to 15%.
A drop in testosterone levels of this magnitude may not seem like much, but consider that once a man hits middle age, his testosterone levels drop by about 1 to 2% per year naturally. Aging combined with sleep loss can reduce testosterone levels to the point of causing feelings of sluggishness, lack of ability to concentrate, and lower sex drive.
Snoring: More Than Just Noise
Snoring affects sleep quality in multiple ways. It can seriously disrupt the sleep of a sleeping partner, causing him or her to become sleep deprived and suffer related effects. It also makes for lower quality sleep for the snorer, and can lead to waking up still feeling sleepy, even after a supposedly full night’s sleep.
Sometimes snoring is an occasional problem, like when a person has a cold and has trouble breathing through his or her nose until the cold clears up. And sometimes excessive alcohol consumption can lead to snoring. But sometimes snoring is a chronic problem due to the particular anatomy of a person’s air passages. In some cases, sleeping in a different position can stop snoring, but in other cases, dental appliances, surgery, or special positive airway machines are required to combat the problem. If snoring is chronic, your health (as well as your sleeping partner’s disposition) can be seriously affected, and this can put a damper on your sex drive.
Sleep Apnea Can Seriously Affect Quality of Life
Sleep apnea is a more serious and dangerous variant of snoring. With sleep apnea, breathing actually stops during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times in a night. This results in the brain not getting sufficient oxygen, and can cause serious health problems. In fact, sleep apnea can be deadly, and is believed to have contributed to the 2004 death of NFL star Reggie White at only 43 years of age.
If you’re a man, you’re automatically at higher risk of sleep apnea than women. Additionally, men who are over age 40, overweight, have a large neck circumference (greater than 17 inches), have large tonsils, have gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), deviated septum, or family history of sleep apnea are themselves at greater risk for the disorder. Men with poor sleep quality, or whose partners say they snore heavily or occasionally stop breathing, should speak with a physician to learn if they have sleep apnea and be treated for it if necessary.
How Sleep Deprivation Affects Women’s Sex Lives
It isn’t just men whose sex drives are affected by sleep problems. A study of female college students, who completed detailed questionnaires about depression, anxiety, and sexual distress, found that longer sleep corresponded to higher levels of sexual desire. Specifically, an extra hour of sleep correlated to a 14% increase in the likelihood of sexual activity the following day. This effect was evident even after researchers controlled for age, feelings of happiness or sadness, sexual distress, and menstruation.
Women don’t produce anywhere near as much testosterone as men do, but they do need some of it for energy and sex drive, and insufficient sleep can lower a woman’s testosterone production just as it does for men. Lack of sleep is not just an excuse; it genuinely can lower a woman’s libido.
How to Develop Healthier Sleep Habits
Some sleep disrupters simply develop from poor habits, but they can be addressed through lifestyle changes. Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule – even on weekends, can help you regulate your sleep-wake cycle better. Having a consistent, low-key bedtime ritual can help cue your body that it’s time for rest. Regular exercise during the daytime is good for sleep (and many other bodily functions as well).
Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine in the evenings can disrupt sleep, as can consuming a large meal before bedtime. A light snack an hour or 45 minutes before bed is fine, but a late dinner of enchiladas and rice, or a double cheeseburger may make falling asleep difficult. Many doctors also recommend keeping electronic gadgets to a minimum at your bedside because the temptation to use them “for just a few minutes” can be overwhelming for some people.
Helping Prescription ED Medications Work Optimally
If you are a man with erectile dysfunction (ED), you may be prescribed a medication like Viagra to help improve blood flow to the penis. While these drugs have revolutionized treatment of ED, there are things you can do in your everyday life to help them work even better. That advice from your doctor about quitting smoking, exercising regularly, losing excess weight, and eating a balanced diet is more than just pontificating: these lifestyle changes can improve your sex life and help ED medications work better.
The same is true with sleeping. Sure, ED medications can make it easier to achieve or maintain an erection, but these medications can’t make up for the many harmful effects chronic sleep deprivation causes.
An occasional restless night may be nothing to worry about, but chronically disrupted sleep can affect your mood, alertness, and your sex drive. Practicing good sleep habits, and seeking medical help if you have problems like excessive snoring or suspected sleep apnea can make an enormous positive difference in quality of life. Medications like Viagra that treat ED can be beneficial, and they work even better when men adopt healthy lifestyle choices like better sleep habits, regular exercise, and kicking the smoking habit.
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