When Sleep Problems Cause Sex Problems
Lack of sleep can wreak havoc on sex, relationships, and your social life.
By the time people with sleep problems come to the Penn Sleep Centers at the
University of Pennsylvania, many of them are no longer sleeping with their
“People who have trouble sleeping often develop elaborate routines over
time,” says Phil Gehrman, PhD, CBSM, assistant professor of psychiatry and
clinical director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at the University of
Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “They become very sensitive to anything they
think might threaten their sleep. And one of the things that can disturb sleep
is a bed partner.”
Not surprisingly, sleeping in separate beds or bedrooms doesn’t usually bode
well for a marriage. And that’s just one of the ways that chronic sleep loss
can take a toll on people’s family, work, sex, and social lives.
No Sex, Please -- We’re Sleep Deprived
Sleep disorders and chronic sleep loss can hit the sack hard in another
area: sex. Both Gehrman and Allison T. Siebern, PhD, a fellow in the Insomnia
and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Stanford University Sleep Medicine
Center, say sleep-deprived men and women report problems with sex.
“Lack of sleep can lead to low energy, fatigue, and sleepiness,” says
Siebern. “This may affect libido and/or decrease interest in sex.”
Robert Thayer, PhD, a professor of psychology at California State University
in Long Beach and a mood researcher, believes that the combination of low
energy and increased tension caused by lack of sleep -- a situation he calls
“tense tiredness” -- can also lead to sexual dysfunction.
“People who experience tense tiredness are too anxious to relax,” Thayer
says. “Tension and anxiety are very basic to sexual dysfunction most of the
time. That increases as energy decreases.”
Sleep Apnea and Men’s Libido
Men with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), an inability to breathe properly
during sleep, commonly report low libidos and sexual activity. This may be
because OSA may be associated with lower testosterone levels in some men. A
2002 study of men at the Technion Sleep Laboratory in Israel found that nearly
half of those who suffered from severe sleep apnea also secreted abnormally low
levels of testosterone during the night.
Sleepy and Grumpy: How Personal Relationships Are Affected
Sleep loss can make you quarrelsome and less able to cope with life’s ups
and downs. “Patients with sleep disorders often report mood changes such as
increased irritability or frustration,” says Siebern. “This can impact their
interactions with spouses, children, and friends.”
Parents who don’t get enough sleep commonly worry that they are not spending
enough time with their children or engaging with them enough because of
fatigue, Siebern adds.
Unfortunately, the time of day when mood problems tend to be worse may also
be the time of day when your children return from school or you have alone time
with your spouse. “As people are increasingly sleep starved, they suffer
from lack of energy late in the afternoon or evening,” Thayer says. “They
become more vulnerable to tension, anxiety, and stress at those times.”
According to the Sleep Disorders Institute, people with insomnia -- an
inability to fall asleep or stay asleep long enough to be rested -- say they
have a difficult time dealing with even minor stress. They also have more
problems relating to other people in social and work settings than those
without insomnia. Some research shows that people with insomnia generally have
a lower quality of life than people who do not have sleep difficulties.