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Biology 202, Spring 2005
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Can Sex Cure Insomnia???

by Student Contributor

I am constantly reminded that I am no stranger to insomnia. There have been countless nights that I lay in bed staring at the ceiling while my mind is racing. Even if I am unable to hold my head up one more minute to finish reading that last paragraph or to find the answer to that one question I have difficulty with in my problem set, I cannot manage to fall asleep. A number of things run through my head--I think about what I have done earlier in the day, I think about what I am doing the next day, but most importantly, I think about ways to solve my sleeping problem. I have heard all the theories of reducing insomnia from limiting caffeine and food intake prior to the hours of sleep to using the bed only for what is meant to be used for...sleep and sex. This got me to thinking, how are sleep and sex related? Could it be that sex is a cure for insomnia?

Insomnia is quite a problem. Statistics show that 90% of people experience insomnia to some degree during their life, while 30% of the population are plagued with chronic insomnia (1). Many illnesses can potentially lead to insomnia such as; ulcers, diabetes, kidney disease, heart failure, Parkinson's disease, hyperthyroidism, and depression (1).

Depression is one of the main causes of chronic insomnia. This leads me to think more about the relationship between sex and sleep. If an individual is unable to sleep because they are unhappy or stressed, then what exists that can change their mood or feelings? Sex may be the solution as it has many benefits for the mind, body, and soul. I had never thought about it too closely, but the brain is the largest sex organ because of the vital role it plays in sexual arousal (2).

The hypothalamus sends a signal to the brain to release certain sexual hormones such as oxytocin, dopamine, norepinephrine, endorphins, estrogen and testosterone into the blood stream (2). If the transmission of neural signals from neuron to neuron has an effect on how we feel, then it seems increasingly obvious that sex can decrease depression which in turn can decrease problems falling asleep.

Endorphins are natural pain relievers. They make us feel content, relaxed, perhaps in a state of bliss. If a woman is able to orgasm, then she is privileged to experience a release of endorphins which remain active in the body for several hours after climax. In addition, the male sex hormone prostaglandin which is found in sperm serves as a regulator for female hormones by maintaining a balance and decreasing mood swings and depression. The processes therefore involved with sex are healing. If the problem with insomnia is that an individual is unable to relax or stop the thoughts running through their head, then perhaps sex is the needed solution. There is an experience to be had in a woman's orgasm and a man's ejaculation. This is one of the few times that people allow themselves to let go, surrender, and relax (3).

I was therefore intrigued to learn other ways in which to "let go, surrender, and relax." I have been told by my parents since I was a little kid to just clear my head and count sheep until I could not count anymore. This sort of behavioral technique used to improve sleep is often referred to as relaxation therapy. Relaxation therapy is meant to eliminate anxiety and body tension by allowing the muscles to relax, which can be done by a repeating of words, sounds, or muscular activities such as tensing and releasing muscles (4). As I have allowed myself to become more educated on the subject, I can see how 'relaxation therapy' is similarly related to sex. A repeating of breaths, sounds, and muscle contractions all add to the pleasure of sex. The pleasure and emotional passion of sex occurs once a sensorial impulse travels up the spinal cord to the sensory cortex and the limbic system (2).

There is an intimate connection between sexuality and the limbic system (5). Sexual smells are associated with the cooling of the limbic system. If it is therefore the case that when the limbic system cools we are put in the 'mood' for love, whereas when there is limbic over-activity, we are put in a depressed mood (5). It now seems clearer to me that limbic over-activity has a positive relationship with insomnia because of its connection with depression. If the limbic system is receiving sensorial impulses that aid in its cooling, then the body is getting prepared for sex, which essentially prepares the body for sleep by way of making the body relaxed and the mind content.

I am now convinced of the potentiality of sex to cure insomnia, but I worry if this is possible even if an individual has not been able to orgasm. The orgasm greatly adds to the pleasure of sex. Speaking on behalf of a woman, I tend to think that if a woman has been unable to orgasm that she may not be able to fully relax and let go. Is it possible for a woman's limbic system to cool and then warm if she is unable to climax? A female orgasm occurs when all tension is released in the form of involuntary and pleasurable muscular contractions (6).. If this does not occur, I am less convinced of the power of sex to decrease problems with falling asleep. It seems that if a woman is experiencing a mounting of sexual tension that she is unable to release, then her mind will be left in a state of discontent. I do however think that the actual emotions and feelings evoked with a sexual experience are very personal and differ amongst couples, which makes it seemingly possible that even if a woman is unable to orgasm that maybe she has still experienced enough pleasure to compensate for the lack of release.

In conclusion, I think that further research is needed to fully understand what correlation does or does not exist between the orgasm and insomnia. In addition, I think that it would also be interesting to learn what role gender might play. Are males better inclined to deal with tension? Perhaps it is unfair to simply say that 'sex' can cure insomnia, as there are many facets to sex.


WWW Sources

1.),12339.asp; a website devoted to the development of health, diet, fitness and wellness-related content.
2.); a website devoted to the discussion of issues that matter most, such as health and love,
3.); a website containing writings about sex, tantra, and relationships.
4.); a website containing information on sleep disorders.
5.); a website devoted to information and resources on the brain.
6.); a website created to help today's teens and young adults achieve and maintain a high level of health, fitness and well-being.

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