Masturbation and Sleep

Last updated: December 31, 2019


As anyone who suffers from insomnia can attest, a little bit of self-love goes a long way in helping you catch some Z’s. The flip side is true as well: masturbation also helps you wake up in the morning.

What gives? How is it possible that masturbating can both help you fall asleep and wake you up? Just what the hell is going on in your brain that’s causing these two seemingly opposite reactions from the exact same activity?

The science behind masturbating and falling asleep

As of right now, there is no solid scientific evidence showing a link between masturbation and ease of falling asleep. The only scientific study out there that attempted to determine a link between orgasm and sleep showed that there is no link.

Even though this 34-year-old study claims that there is no link between masturbation and falling asleep, there have been many informal surveys in which the majority of respondents claim that their nightly masturbation ritual is a potent sleep aid.

Melinda Wenner explained the chemical reaction that happens in your brain when you masturbate for NYU’s ScienceLine: “Research shows that during ejaculation men release a cocktail of brain chemicals, including norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, nitric oxide and the hormone prolactin.”

Oxytocin, serotonin, and vasopressin are sometimes referred to as “feel-good” chemicals. They make you feel euphoric, relaxed, and safe. They also have a potent stress-reduction effect. Interestingly, Wenner claims that they are linked to melatonin: “Their release also frequently accompanies that of melatonin,” adds Wenner, “the primary hormone that regulates our body clocks.”

Since the common causes of insomnia include chronic pain, racing thoughts, and an unusual sleep schedule; it seems like orgasms release the perfect chemical cocktail for getting a good night of sleep. There’s nothing worse than trying to fall asleep while you have anxious, negative thoughts swirling through your brain. The relaxed feelings and reduced stress associated with masturbation can help turn off your “fight-or-flight” mechanism and help you drift off to sleep with a clear mind.

Falling asleep after masturbating
We all know the feeling.

Why masturbation wakes you up in the morning

So if all of these brain chemicals help make us feel drowsy, then how is it possible that so many people use masturbation to help themselves wake up in the morning?

It turns out that orgasms also release norepinephrine, a chemical that is very similar to adrenaline. Since you’re waking up after a solid 8 hours of slumber, chances are you aren’t going to fall back asleep any time soon so the sedating chemicals that are also released won’t have as much of an effect.

“High sexual arousal states look very much like mindfulness meditation,” Prause says. “We haven’t tested this directly, but there’s every reason to think whatever is improved by such brain states in meditation also could be improved by the very similar brain states seen during high sexual arousal.”

This means that a morning masturbation session can help clear away some of that early-morning grogginess, making it easier to start your day with a clear head.

Masturbating when waking up
Is there a better way to start your day?

What is sexsomnia (masturbating while asleep)?

Sexsomnia is a type of parasomnia (abnormal activity that occurs while you are asleep) that causes you to act out sexual activities during non rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. These activities can include sexual intercourse, fondling, and masturbation.

Masturbation during sleep was first reported as a clinical disorder in 1986, when a 34-year-old man was reported to masturbate until climax every night after falling asleep even though he had sexual intercourse with his wife each night while still awake.

One of the weirdest aspects of sexsomnia is that a person suffering from this condition may have their eyes open while engaging in the sexual activity, giving the indication that they are awake. Upon closer examination, however, their eyes will appear glassy and vacant because the individual is unconscious and not aware of their actions.

Causes of sexsomnia

Sexsomnia can be caused by some of the following:

  • sleep deprivation
  • stress
  • pre-existing parasomnia behaviors
  • drug and alcohol consumption

It’s well-known that sleep deprivation can have devastating effects on your brain and behavior. Being sleep deprived for extended periods of time can cause your neurons to malfunction, which directly affects your behavior. Neurons are not capable of regenerating while sleep deprived. The different stages of sleep have different roles to play in neuron regeneration. Some physically regenerate your neurons while others generate new synaptic connections and form new memories.

Can Ambien cause you to masturbate while asleep?

Zolpidem, sold under the brand name Ambien, is a sedative-hypnotic drug that is prescribed to patients suffering from insomnia. Sexsomnia is an adverse affect of the prescription medication.

W. Christopher Winter, M.D., president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and medical director of Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center claims that Ambien is in fact the most common cause of sexsomnia. He says that in many cases sexsomnia ceases when his patients stop taking sleeping pills. If you frequently masturbate while asleep and you take Ambien or any other prescription sleeping medications, it would be wise to talk to your doctor.

Bottom line

So there you have it. This is everything we know so far about how masturbation and sleep are linked. Unfortunately, there have been very few scientific studies done on this topic. For some reason I doubt that researchers are excited about studying this sometimes unsavory topic. As previously mentioned, the most recent scientific paper about masturbation and sleep is from all the way back in 1985.

If any more modern research emerges we’ll be sure to update this article accordingly. Until then, rest easy knowing that your nighttime and/or morning masturbation ritual is perfectly normal and healthy.