couple-sleeping-together-close-up-SSF 27-10-2023
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The Influence of Sexual Activity on Sleep: A Diary Study

Carlotta Oesterling

Carlotta Oesterling

PhD Student in Clinical and Experimental Psychopathology, University of Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands.

Carlotta Oesterling studied Clinical Psychology at the University of Groningen. During her studies she begun to work with Charmaine Borg and Marike Lancel on investigating the Influence of Sexual Activity on Sleep, and after a year of working in Research at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin following her studies, she moved back to Groningen to begin her PhD. Besides sex and sleep, she also studies the influence of psychological and social factors on vulvar pain in women.

The Impact of Sexual Activity on Sleep Quality

In this week’s SSF we cover a very underrepresented field: the impact of sexual activity on sleep quality. We hear from Carlotta Oesterling from the University of Groningen, who’s work aims to identify how sexual activity can naturally improve sleep and hence overall quality of life.

Study Overview and Objectives

In their latest study, “The influence of sexual activity on sleep: A diary study” (vide  Oesterling et al., 2023), Carlotta, Dr. Charmaine Borg, and Prof. Dr. Marike Lancel, investigated whether sexual activity alone or with a partner can improve sleep onset latency (time needed to fall asleep) and subjective sleep quality. Although it is a widely held belief that men fall asleep first following sexual activity, there is not a lot of previous research on this subject. 

Therefore, the present study examined whether partnered sexual activity and masturbation with and without orgasm subjectively influence sleep latency and sleep quality, whether there is a difference between men and women, and whether sexual activity must result in orgasm to influence sleep. This was examined using a questionnaire, in which individuals indicated whether they normally perceive partnered sexual activity and masturbation to influence sleep latency and sleep quality. Next, the participants filled out a diary every morning for 14 days, in which they indicated which type of sexual activity they had engaged in the day before, and how they had slept.

The Findings

When analyzing the data, men and women were found to both perceive partnered sex and masturbation with orgasm to be effective in improving sleep latency and subjective sleep quality, while sexual activity without orgasm was perceived to have no or negative effects. However, the diary data showed that only sexual activity that involved a partner and resulted in orgasm had an impact on sleep latency and sleep quality.

As in the diary study masturbation with orgasm did not have a significant effect on sleep quality or sleep latency, orgasm alone therefore cannot be the only factor to explain the influence of sexual activity on sleep. Further, no differences in gender were found – the belief that men fall asleep first possibly stems from a higher orgasm frequency in men, compared to women, which was also shown in the present sample. Carlotta and colleagues are now, together with Prof. Dr. Peter de Jong, investigating which aspects that accompany sexual activity with a partner but not masturbation, for example intimacy and feeling secure with one’s partner or increased physical activity, can play a role in improving sleep.

For more details, you can watch and listen to Carlotta Oesterling presenting her very interesting research in the video below. You can also access her publication here.

New Sexual Activity and Sleep Study

Build up on this study, the research team is conducting a new diary study, and are currently searching for participants. This new study is looking at the effect of intimacy and physical activity to derive inferences on why partnered sex with orgasm was more effective than masturbation with orgasm

If you identify as male or female, are above 18 year old and sexually active, you could help Oesterling and her colleagues and contribute to new research in the field. Would you be interested in participating?

Building up on this study, the research team is conducting a new study on the underlying mechanisms of the effect between sexual activity and sleep. If you would like to participate and thereby contribute to science and gain insights into your own sleep and sexual activity, you are invited to participate in the diary study. You will be able to track your sleep and daily activities, while also engaging in activities that may improve the connection to your body and, if applicable, your partner. 

If you identify as male or female, are above 18 years old and sexually active, you could help Oesterling and her colleagues and contribute to new research in the field. Would you be interested in participating?

This study is voluntary and anonymous.

Recent publications from ESRS members

  1. Verrillo et al. (2023). Sleep architecture and Nusinersen therapy in children with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type 1. Sleep Med.
  2. Khayat et al. (2023). Clinicaland financial impact of sleep disordered breathing on heart failure admissions. Sleep Breath.
  3. Barateau et al. (2023). Narcolepsies, update in 2023. Rev Neurol (Paris).
  4. Aubertin et al. (2023). Management of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome type 1 in children and adolescents – A French consensus. Arch Pediatr.
  5. Martinot et al. (2023). Respiratory effort during sleep and the rate of prevalent type 2 diabetes in obstructive sleep apnoea. Diabetes Obes Metab.
  6. Schulz and Dirlich (2023). Sleep in a 1-year diary from the mid-18th century. J Sleep Res.
  7. Skarpsno et al. (2023). App-Delivered Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia Among Patients with Comorbid Musculoskeletal Complaints and Insomnia Referred to 4-Week Inpatient Multimodal Rehabilitation: Protocol for a Randomized Clinical Trial. Nat Sci Sleep.
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