Can Sex Help Me Sleep?
Yes – depending on certain conditions. The act of sex itself appears to be healthy in multiple ways.
Yet many Americans do not take the time. A recent survey of working couples by CBS found that 70% of women were “too tired” to engage in sex once they return home. As sexual activity of many kinds decreases stress and improves most people’s sense of overall wellbeing, with nice effects on immunity, this result is unfortunate. Why in a time of economic crisis people can’t avail themselves of such a natural, practical, usually inexpensive activity to promote their sleep?
And there’s more.
The journal Sleep Medicine just reported a case of restless legs syndrome treated effectively by completed sexual activity, whether performed solo or as a couple. Restless legs syndrome may affect 5-8% of the total population, but sleeptime leg kicks affects the majority of the elderly. Besides evening exercise, the main treatment for leg kicks are dopaminergic drugs which have many side effects. Their overall results will not be as salutary as that of sexual activity.
And sex increases oxytocin, not only making people feel good, sometimes very good, but helping them feel socially connected – a powerful form of social rest that also helps people sleep.
The original studies of sex, performed in the seventies and eighties, did not demonstrate sex improves sleep. However, these research studies were performed in sleep labs that may not have been the ideal experimental setting. More recent data does argue that sex, probably through multiple mechanisms involving pleasure, socialization, dopamine and oxytocin release, and feelings of greater intimacy, really does help people sleep.
So why don’t people use it more?
Here are a few reasons, based on clinical practice:
- No time. Given that sex can be performed within rather restricted time constraints, it’s odd that this reason is given so frequently. People appear to want at least a minimal rest period before sex, and often do not take it. The result is that a population often anxious about its economic, social and psychological health has difficulty “getting in the mood.” Shift work is a particular barrier to sex for many.
- No place. Home life is becoming more complicated with several generations coming to live together. However, a figure like the great paralyzed physicist, Stephen Hawking, who has suffered from motor neuron disease for nearly fifty years, somehow managed to promulgate an affair. Hawking is a genius, but conventional couples may also prove ingenious.
- The kids. Children need a lot of time and attention. Parents often feel “too tired” after coming home from work and then spending periodically intense “quality time” with their often media obsessed children. Afterwards, they often feel they cannot engage in sex without the “children knowing.” This becomes a major psychological break on sexual activity.
A few things to do:
1.Time – unlike the vast majority of mammals, many of whose sexual seasons are controlled by melatonin, humans are capable of sex 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are an intensely sexual species who need rest in its many forms – including passive rest like sleep, and active, social rest, like sex.
It therefore makes a lot of sense to schedule times for sex – not just at night, but when people more rested and physically alert – as in weekend evenings. Spontaneity is often more talked about than used, but can aid intimacy and pleasure. And there’s nothing wrong with having sex on a summer afternoon and then taking a brief nap afterwards
2. Place – Some may prefer the television fueled “adventure” of sex in department stores or between library stacks, but that is not the desire of much of the population. In parts of the world where privacy is difficult, like China, friends are invoked for tightly scheduled assignations that operate with near military efficiency.
However, it’s usually better to find a bedroom that a couple enjoys, that feels comfortable and private, and make sure it’s available at least for brief periods of day or night. Many have this capacity at hand.
- Children. Many children have seen enough sexual activity through electronic media that they appear to know more about sexual arcana than their grandparents. Yet keeping sexual activity private, intimate, and fun remains very worthwhile. Just as parents can keep to their part of the home, so children can remain in theirs – at least for specified periods.
As an excellent form of social rest, sex can directly aid sleep as well as overall health. Sex can also over time help create the deepest and deepest felt bonds people know. Improving sleep is just part of a much larger equation.
And restful sleep can certainly aid sex – but that’s for another article.
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