Sleep: the overlooked ingredient in fixing erectile dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction is a common problem that affects millions of men worldwide. It can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, and can negatively impact relationships. I work with countless men whose sexual confidence is at an all time low because of ongoing problems with getting or maintaining an erection. Many have sought medical advice and been given the ‘solution’ of taking viagra, or other similar drugs. These usually have unpleasant side effects and just aren’t a viable long term solution. They also completely take any sense of spontaneity out of sex. While there are many factors that can contribute to erectile dysfunction (which you can read about in my other blog article), one factor that is often overlooked, yet can create profound improvements, is sleep. Getting enough good quality sleep is essential for optimal health and well-being; making positive changes in your sleep habits can therefore have an incredible impact on sexual function. There are many good scientific studies out there that show that addressing sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can lead to the reversal of erectile and sexual dysfunction in men.
Sleep, hormones and blood flow
On a very basic level, lack of sleep can lead to fatigue, which makes it difficult to for your body to feel excited and energised about engaging in sexual activity. Beyond that, there are so many complex and essential physiological, neurological and endocrinological processes that happen during the different stages of sleep; if you’re cutting your sleep time short, or not getting your full dose of these different phases of sleep on a regular basis then things are going to start going wrong. Sexual function is, ultimately, an indicator of overall balance and health in your body.
Sleep plays a critical role in regulating the body’s hormonal balance, including the hormones that are involved in sexual function. Cumulative and regular lack of sleep can lead to a decrease in testosterone levels, which lowers your libido (your sexual drive) and reduces sexual function.
Poor sleep quality can also contribute to other factors that can negatively impact sexual function, such as stress and anxiety. When we don’t get enough good quality sleep, our bodies produce more cortisol, a hormone that is associated with stress. Chronic stress can lead to anxiety and depression, both of which can contribute to sexual dysfunction.
Another way that sleep can impact sexual function is through its effect on blood flow. During sleep, our bodies release nitric oxide, a chemical that helps to relax blood vessels and increase blood flow. This increased blood flow is essential for achieving and maintaining an erection. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies may not produce enough nitric oxide, which can make it more difficult to achieve and maintain an erection.
Improving sleep quantity and quality
If you’re struggling with erectile dysfunction, I highly recommend that you take a look at any underlying sleep problems. This is generally a simple, free and non-medical way to improve the situation (and it will have the added bonus of just generally improving your quality of life…) For starters, I suggest reading ‘Why We Sleep’ by Dr Matthew Walker to really understand how important sleep is and the mechanisms involved in this essential process. From there, look at what lifestyle changes you could make, for example:
- establishing a regular sleep schedule (going to bed and waking up at the same time every day/evening)
- avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and alcohol before bedtime
- creating a relaxing bedtime routine (avoiding phone/computer/tablet screens after 9pm, dimming the lights in your home, spending time gently stretching or meditating before going to bed)
- Installing blackout curtains in your bedroom or using an eye mask
If you snore or suffer with sleep apnea it’s important to get medical advice and address this. A 2009 study showed that 69% of men with obstructive sleep apnea also experienced erectile dysfunction. Improving the way you breathe (i.e. not breathing through your mouth as a default) will improve sleep, which will improve ED. Another great book to read on this topic is ‘Breath’ by James Nestor.
In my experience, 60-70% of my male clients experiencing erectile dysfunction could improve their sexual experience simply by addressing lifestyle factors – with sleep being an important foundation. Bodywork and intimacy coaching are great tools that I can share with you, but if we’re applying them to a sleep-deprived baseline not much is going to change in the long run.
If you want help or support in addressing any of the issues mentioned in this article then drop me an email and book an intake call.