Sleep and sex need each other

Contributing Columnist


Sleep and sex regenerate people. They are made for and need each other. Humans cannot survive lacking the internal rebuilding of sleep; we cannot survive without sex. Less appreciated is how sleep and sex enhance the pleasure and creativity of both. Among the thousands of ways that happens, here are five that might aid you in daily life:

Female sexual arousal and engagement. A group led by David Kalmbach at the University of Michigan recently looked at the sleep records of 171 female students (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsm.12858/full). Some of their findings:

An extra hour of sleep accorded to a 14% increase in sexual engagements the next day.

More sleep across the nights correlated with increased sexual desire.

Better average sleep saw “improved” genital function.

Since there is generally less understanding of female versus male arousal, this is useful stuff. What the study really says is that better sleep – at least in younger women – may enhance sexual desire and lead to more sex. But can sleep otherwise improve sex? On to item two:

Viagra (sildenafil) and its cousins ended a lucrative sideline for many sleep labs – testing sexual arousal in males. In REM sleep, testosterone leaps. Androgen increases may partly explain why female sexual interest increases with better sleep.

But in males, testosterone has a very direct effect in REM: automatically, males get hard. Often these erections are not recalled: these guys were asleep. In the “old days,” testing for male sexual arousal involving clamping a monitor on the penis, waiting for people to reach REM, and then testing for “buckling pressure.” Many labs still possess large photographic archives assaying the results.

Few have seen these photos.

Yet REM remains singularly unappreciated as a way to improve sexual engagement and enjoyment. Men who otherwise have trouble becoming erect often will do so in REM. As most people – male and female – get their longest REM period just before awaking, putting the alarm a bit earlier can frequently provide ready made male sexual arousal.

People often describe the “dreamy state” of sexual union. They usually fail to see how much dreams by themselves contribute to sexual desire, engagement and fulfillment. Above all sex is a brain event. Quadriplegics can enjoy orgasm.

Much of sex engages fantasy. For many our understanding of fantasy begins early in life –  through dreams. Sex itself can be experienced as a series of different states of consciousness. Its intense sense of contentment often gives people a benchmark for other pleasurable activities. Both during and post-coitus, different parts of the cortex may be accessed that otherwise might remain bottled up. And sleep’s different phases – REM, light, deep sleep, in-between states – can also rank as different states of consciousness.

Not to mention that dreams often lead to imaginative sexual activity. Lots of people obtain sexual interest and sexual ideas from dreams – which occur in all phases of sleep, not just REM. Better yet, the complex dreams of REM sleep can be programmed in ways we like:

The complex sensory dreams of REM sleep are not random. They are markedly influenced by our thoughts and experiences of the previous day.

To change your dreams you can try to pre-dream – to visualize when awake the kinds of dreams you want to have. Barry Krakow and others have shown how a few short sentences added to the human imagination can quickly change the tenor, power, and pleasure of one’s dreams.

Some prefer to pre-dream through highly erotic visualization, involving all five senses. Others prefer to pre-dream entertaining and sustaining romantic experiences.  Erotic pre-dreams can be so arousing they prevent one’s ability to sleep – but male orgasm can also induce sleep. Romantic, erotic or both – it’s your choice.

Regenerating Brain and Body: the human body disappears without swift rebuilding. Most of your heart is replaced in three days. Most of the rest of you – barring the skeletal-structural bits, like teeth and the lenses of the eye – is  remade in a few weeks. Sleep rapidly regrows skin and muscle and so fundamentally reforms the brain that we are effectively reconstructed every waking morning. Exercise in the daytime, and you build new brain cells – while you sleep.

In animal models, sex also grows new brain cells (it’s hard to do such studies in people – humans routinely refuse brain biopsies, particularly after coitus.)

One should not forget that sleep is necessary for sex. The different states of consciousness brought by sleep can markedly improve sexual arousal and enjoyment. Sex does far more than continue the species. It pleasures people. It unites them. Knowing how to use sex to improve sleep – and sleep to improve sex – can give people new ways of using their brains and bodies – and new ideas of what to try next.

Sleep and sex are made for each other. Such basic pleasures can prove both powerful and procreative – if you know what to do.


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