We have all seen them… the images of adoring couples, lying happily in bed after sex and drifting off to sleep peacefully. We encounter these images everywhere – in advertisements, commercials, movies, and television shows. The relationship between sex and sleep is, ahem, intimate. However, understanding whether sex promotes sleep or sleep promotes sex is more complex than it might seem.
You Might Be Sleepy After Sex
It may seem obvious that sex would help us sleep better. The physical exertion and rush of chemicals through the brain would tire anyone out. The reputation for men to fall asleep right after sex is so well-known, the French even have a term for it: le petit mort. However, the experience can be different for some people.
In both men and women, there are measurable sleep benefits to healthy sex. For one, a hormone called oxytocin is produced during sex. This is the “attachment hormone,” and it promotes a feeling of closeness and relaxation. In women, estrogen is produced during sex, which deepens REM sleep and helps sleep last longer. During orgasm, another hormone called prolactin is released, inducing a feeling of drowsiness. Each of these can help you sleep a bit better.
However, a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine noted that women who failed to have an orgasm would have no increase or even a reduction in prolactin levels after sex. In other words, those women were more awake. While it is true that orgasm promotes sleepiness, this and other studies suggest that sex might stimulate arousal in some people, preventing easy sleep.
The Benefits of Pillow Talk
But wait! Don’t give up on bedtime sex yet. There is another way sex can help with sleep. Following sex, many couples chat, caress each other, and snuggle together – also known as afterplay, or pillow talk. This may help with relaxation and increase closeness, encouraging both partners to fall –and stay- asleep.
When partners engage in afterplay/pillow talk after sex, more oxytocin is produced, which further increases the feeling of trust and bonding, and allows couples to relax together. Several published studies have examined the impact of post-sex oxytocin production on sleep, relationship satisfaction, and behavior. They concluded that pillow talk plays an important part in peaceful sleep with your partner.
What makes good pillow talk? Think romance! Touching each other or saying things to make your partner smile: compliments, happy plans for the future, sharing your warm feelings, memories, or confidences. With pillow talk, the warm feeling of closeness will lull you in to a restful sleep.
The Link Between a Good Night’s Sleep and Your Sex Life
Not only can sex and pillow talk help you fall asleep, but experiencing deep sleep can also improve your sex life. Getting a good night’s sleep reduces the blood level of a stress hormone called cortisol, which can make getting in the mood easier. A pilot study on women published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine determined that women were 14% more likely to have sex after only one extra hour of sleep. That’s a good reason to hit the snooze button.