Guest post by Sarah Cummings
Modern humans are pretty weird creatures indeed. We are constantly doing things that aren’t in our long term interest.
We know climate change is destroying the earth, yet we continue to pump the air full of fumes. We know junk food is killing us, yet we continue to chomp our way through burger after burger. We all know sleep is good for us yet a third of Americans don’t get anywhere close to the doctor-recommended eight hours a night.
Most shockingly we know how good sex feels and yet the current young generation are having less of it than ever before.
This is despite a far more relaxed attitude to premarital sex, easy access to contraception and the immense popularity of dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr. Amazingly, one recent study reported millennials are having 15% less sex annually (that’s annually for those who misread) than the previous generation.
Now, psychologists will tell us there are numerous reasons why our actions don’t correspond with what is best for us – too many to get into in so short an article. Instead we are going to take a brief look at the importance of both sleep and sex, and how a change in our attitude to our bedroom has had such a profound impact on both.
Sleep and the Immune System
To best way to explain the health benefits of a good night’s rest is to flip the question and look at the consequences of a bad night’s sleep. While one poor night isn’t going to have too much of an impact, chronic broken sleep certainly is.
A myriad of processes take place while we are asleep at night and unsurprisingly they all work most efficiently when they are able to work in an uninterrupted fashion.
For instance at night our immune system replenishes itself of a number of important components such as T-cells. These are the little legends that patrol our body fighting off foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Sleep-deprived individuals have an impaired immune system making them more susceptible to colds and flus, and less able to bounce back quickly when illness strikes.
The impact of poor sleep doesn’t stop with a few sniffles, either. Sleep-deprivation has been linked to increased risk of stroke, heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes and obesity. Plainly speaking not getting enough sleep increases the risk of an early demise. Sorry, sleepy head!
Sleep and Mental Health
It’s not only physical health that suffers from poor sleep, the link between mental health and getting sufficient rest is also well known to medical science.
While we sleep our body attempts to regulate the levels of stress hormones and neurotransmitters in our system, such as cortisol. If our sleep is regularly broken, this process is interrupted. The resulting imbalances can lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety and can contribute to pre-existing psychological disorders such as depression.
So strong is the link between sleep and mental health that 15-20% of insomniacs are likely to have or develop severe depression. Similarly, insomniacs are a whopping twenty times more likely to develop a panic-related stress disorder than those who sleep well.
Unfortunately for those with pre-existing mental health conditions, mood also impacts our sleep. Meaning those who feel down are less likely to sleep and those who can’t sleep are more likely to feel down. A cruel cycle indeed.
Benefits of Sex
Sex is great. That almost feels like a redundant sentence to type but considering the young are shunning a good roll in the bed to spend time on their phones instead, it actually seems like something that bears repeating. Here goes – sex is great!
What’s more, sex helps you get to sleep and as we discussed above more sleep makes you happier, healthier, more confident and as a result more likely to have sex. What a glorious circle that is.
How exactly does sex help us sleep? Well, to answer that I am going to have to get a little bit hormonal, sorry about that!
When we ‘make love’ or just plain ‘get it on’, our bodies release a cocktail of hormones that do wonders for our mood, self esteem and stress levels. One of the most powerful of these is oxytocin, known colloquially as ‘the love hormone’. A powerful neurotransmitter oxytocin creates a sense of warmth, security and closeness.
It’s also a highly effective antidepressant, relieving stress and creating feelings of positivity, which is why getting it on just before bed and flooding your system with oxytocin makes for such a good alternative to sleeping pills.
Two more hormones, serotonin and norepinephrine also flood the bloodstream as a result of getting jiggy and these two do wonders for our sleep cycle. Both ease the transitions between REM sleep and deep non-REM sleep meaning post-sex sleep is actually deeper and more refreshing than a non-coital snooze.
And finally, sex flushes the body of cortisol, the stress hormone. That’s why after a good roll in the hay you feel so relaxed. Your worries and cares seem so far away. In fact, such is the power sex can have on recalibrating our hormone levels for the better, that some have claimed it to be one of the best cures for insomnia around.
For a long time the bedroom was used for just two things, sleeping and sex. Yet today our bedrooms have been transformed into something else entirely.
The ubiquity of smartphones, laptops and cheap high speed data means that our beds have become an extension of the office, the cinema and basically every other area of our lives you can imagine.
It’s not unusual now for someone to start their day replying to work emails and end it watching episode after episode of the newest ‘unmissable’ tv drama while live tweeting their reactions.
Closing the bedroom door now no longer means the same as it did just twenty years ago. Back then you were in effect closing out the rest of the world. Now with that smartphone by your bed you have constant access to an infinite number of distractions.
The result is that we are overtired and overstimulated but getting less sleep and having less sex. Two things that as we have seen above are incredibly important for our physical and mental wellbeing.
Is it any wonder that despite being materially richer than ever before as a society we are less happy, more prone to depression and even suicide.
It’s time to wake up people! Your bed should be for two things only – sex and sleeping. Everything else can wait until the morning.
About Sarah Cummings
When Sarah is not at her desk researching and writing for The Sleep Advisor, she spends as much time in bed as possible. She is passionate about sleep and firmly believes that the world would be a happier, healthier and more stable place if we all got a little bit more rest. And had a little bit more sex too – of course!