This January, we’re on the search for quick, accessible hacks to kickstart 2023 in the strongest way possible. Today’s sleep kickstarter: how healthy is it to prioritise sleep over sex?
A healthy sex life is really good for us. Having sex is linked to a number of benefits, from a better immune system to improved self-esteem. But what if life just gets in the way, and all you’re up for in the evenings is an early night with a hot water bottle rather than a steamy session with your partner?
The pressure to have sex regularly can be immense, particularly when the benefits of orgasming or connecting physically with someone else are so well publicised. If you’re too tired or busy to get into the right headspace to have sex, you might be left feeling guilty or unhealthy.
To find out whether we should be concerned about preferring an early morning gym session to a pre-work romp, we’ve been asking the experts to explain whether sexual wellbeing can coexist with other priorities.
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Tiredness and sex: a common barrier
I’ve always loved my sleep, but since becoming a mother, it’s become even more precious. Gone are the days of a lazy lie-in at the weekend, and I literally dream about being able to sleep uninterrupted. So there’s little chance of anything going on between my sheets other than snoring.
I’m not alone: according to intimacy expert and therapist Sally Baker, tiredness is the most common reason for couples not wanting to have sex. “If you’re tired and you don’t want to have sex, then it should be perfectly OK to turn your partner down without it being a drama,” she tells Stylist.
“However, if you find you’re frequently too tired for sex then you might want to explore what’s happening in your relationship, and when or why sex stopped being a priority for the two of you.”
There will be times when it’s sensible to place sleep ahead of pretty much everything else. Baker explains that “if you’re recovering from illness or you’re a new parent, the need for sleep dominates all other drives, including your sex drive, and rightly so”.
We also need to understand the symbiosis of sleep and sex, explains sex, love and relationship expert Serena Novelli. “It’s important to recognise the connection between sleep and sex because they’re both linked to our body and mind.
“Prioritising and getting good quality rest enables us to be fully present in our bodies when the mood arises, allowing sex and emotional intimacy to flow more naturally. That then leads to a more connected, wholesome relationship with ourselves and our lovers.”
More sleep can lead to better sex
Sleep expert and co-founder of Rise Science, Jeff Kahn, agrees. “Prioritising sleep over sex in the short term can help you have better sex when you do have it,” he says.
“Research shows that getting enough sleep can boost women’s sex drive and sexual health, and has been linked to increased sexual desire, improved genital arousal and healthier testosterone levels that support both our sex drive and sexual satisfaction. And the good news is that sex, when you have it, will help with sleep in a virtuous circle.”
And better sex can lead to more sleep
“Orgasms improve sleep by triggering oxytocin and prolactin and suppressing cortisol, resulting in a more relaxed body and mind, and an easier time falling asleep. It’s win-win,” says Khan.
Is it healthy to prioritise fitness goals over sex?
If marathon training or a hard gym session is leaving you more knackered than horny, or you’re busy chasing a fitness goal that sees you getting up mega early in the morning rather than lounging in bed with your partner, you might want to put the brakes on your sex life for a while.
“Absolutely it’s OK to prioritise fitness over sex at times,” reassures Novelli. “A regular exercise routine will boost libido as it promotes wellbeing and helps ease stress and anxiety, enabling us to feel more comfortable and confident in our own skin.”
Baker agrees: “If you are in training for an event or need to exercise for a specific health goal, then exercise will need to be a priority. Exercise also helps strengthen connection to our physical self and helps shift our focus from any stresses and anxieties we are experiencing, which may enhance our sex life.”
Sex and exercise release the same hormones
But if you do have the energy, you can supercharge the self-esteem boost from your workout by following it with a make-out session. “Sex to orgasm has massive beneficial impact on self-esteem and creates a positive mindset,” says Baker.
“This is aided by the production of the so-called ‘feel-good hormones’ dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which are released during and after sex.”
Communication is key to a better, healthier sex life
If you’re still struggling to find time and energy for intimacy, rest assured it’s very normal. “Limitations on time and energy for sex in a long-term relationship are part of the reality of being in a couple,” advises Baker. “It’s important to keep communication open and talk about what is happening with your partner so they’re not left in the dark and doubting themselves.”
And if you’re not in a couple? There’s good news. “Sex with yourself has all if not more of the benefits of sex with a partner,” says Baker. “If nothing else, it’s the ideal primer for a good night’s sleep.”
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