Humans are curious creatures – always asking questions and researching in order to better understand their world and themselves. And so it is in the area of human sexuality as well – we look to scientifically explain each phenomenon we encounter. Such is the case with the question as to why men fall asleep after sex. It seems often that women complain, and men have found themselves a scientific defense – an excuse, if you will? This year, there has been quite a bit of buzz regarding the role of oxytocin, prolactin, and other neurotransmitters released at orgasm that cause men to feel sleepy after sex. But let’s face it – our psychology has more to do with this phenomenon than our biology does. These neurochemicals facilitate sleep – but it is our state of mind that actually causes it.
Let’s examine this. When is it exactly that men mostly fall asleep after sex? Usually it is at the end of the day, after eating dinner, when they are in their beds, with the light off or turned down low. Makes sense so far. But what about those times when they have sex in the morning before work? Or when they purposely have an orgasm in order to keep going 20 minutes later and be able to last longer (ah, remember your 20’s !)? The fact is that men don’t fall asleep after sex at those times because, basically, they have things (or people) to do. They need to be awake and alert, and their brain tells them so. If this wasn’t the case, we would have men dropping like narcoleptic flies at Sunday brunch, or even driving to work!
Sure, we know that at orgasm the brain releases prolactin, oxytocin, and GABA in both men and women. But the elevated levels of these only last about 5 minutes after orgasm. In other words, by the time you finished washing up, they’ve washed out (of your brain, that is). And haven’t you noticed how quickies tend to invigorate more than sedate?
There is another argument that relates to the physicality of sex. Supposedly, men work harder at sex than women (true) and have a greater muscle mass than women (mostly true). So doing all this physical exertion, men release more glycogen from their muscles, which makes them feel tired. This argument doesn’t ‘pull its weight’ and I’ll tell you why. With this reasoning, younger and more athletic guys would feel sleepier after sex than say, 60-ish less in-shape and less muscular men – which they will debate. Also, as a physician, I specifically advise patients having difficulty sleeping not to exercise in the 3-5 hours preceding their bedtime because this physical activity actually keeps them awake.
So here we have it – it is a combination of all of the biological factors that make it easier for us to be relaxed enough to sleep after an orgasm. But it is the rest of our brain that tells us whether we will fall asleep or not. In essence, it is our state of mind – our expectation of sleep after sex – that causes us to fall asleep after sex. After all, we are creatures easily conditioned as is evidenced by the fact that for over 20 years, the theme to the ‘Late Show with Johnny Carson’ was America’s cue to have sex and/or go to sleep.
So men – stop making excuses and telling us that you can’t help it! And women – stop complaining and do something constructive about it! Talk to your man about what you want – 2 or 3 orgasms, a little cuddling afterward. Usually a couple can come up with a compromise if they want to – i.e. woman comes first so he can fall asleep right after his orgasm; set some time aside apart from sex for cuddling and talking. And if both of you cannot agree about your mutual wants – women, just buy a vibrator loud enough to keep him awake after he’s done until you get yours.