Sleep and sex are so closely linked in our minds that it’s somehow acceptable to say that you “slept with someone” even when referring to a brief and unnatural act that went down in a Burger King bathroom. Other links between sleep and sex: a sufficient quantity and quality of each has been demonstrated to be a boon for mind, body, and spirit; we all have preferred positions when engaging in either; both acts are often performed in a bedroom, on a bed.
That last fact means that for the 76 percent of employed Americans who work outside of the home and can’t squeeze in a nooner, sex is often the last thing they do before falling asleep or the first thing they do when they wake up in the morning. Combine this with the practicalities of your partner being naked and within easy reach and having sex at either end of your slumber seems to make a lot of sense. The thing is, one of these time slots is far more conducive to optimal sex and it’s not the one that a majority of people tend to choose.
“Around 70 percent of people have sex between 10:30 and 11:30 at night,” says Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and author of The Power of When. Breus, who goes by the epithet “the Sleep Doctor," explains that for an optimal sexual encounter, hormones like testosterone and adrenaline, as well as estrogen and progesterone (in women) all have to be elevated while melatonin—the hormone that controls sleep and wake cycles—needs to be low.
“I'll give you one guess what your hormone profile looks like at 10:30 at night,” he says, implying that it’s the exact opposite of what he just described. “Before bed is the worst time to have sex. Period.”
I’ve long harbored the same thought myself and not because of the ebbing, flowing hormone levels of my partners and me. I simply find that cocktails, dinner, a bottle of wine and an episode of whatever we’ve been societally bullied into watching tends to sap enthusiasm for sex while diminishing performance and dulling sensation.
Despite running counter to how dates traditionally procede, “Fuck first, eat, drink, and watch Netflix later” has always been my preference—and, as luck would have it, the first choice of virtually every partner I’ve ever been with. I mean really; who wants to work around food babies and whiskey dicks when trying to live up to the “good, giving, and game” subtext of your dating profile?
Getting it on in the morning is optimal in part because at this time of day melatonin is down while all the other hormones are up, Breus contends. But there’s a secondary reason why he recommends having sex at cockcrow: It’ll put you in good stead to tackle the rest of your day.
“One of the things that we see is that people are calmer after orgasm,” Breus says, suggesting that road rage, or getting into an argument with a coworker or boss would be a less likely occurrence if you work things out in bed first thing. Put simply, an early fuck will improve the likelihood of you having a great day.
This idea is supported by a 2010 study in PNAS which found that sex reduces stress by inhibiting anxiety responses in the brain, thereby improving mood. That has a lot to do with the fact that an orgasm, whether self-induced or partner-enabled, releases oxytocin. The feel-good chemical often described as “the cuddle drug” has many other effects; it promotes attachment; reduces drug and alcohol cravings; improves social skills; and fosters feelings of generosity. One study even found that a jolt of oxytocin amplified men’s memories of their mothers. How mothers would feel about the impetus behind breakfastime phone calls from their sons is an intriguing thought.
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But oxytocin along with serotonin and norepinephrine—which are also released during orgasm— have another effect that seems at odds with sex’s positionment as the perfect morning activity. Simply put, orgasm makes you sleepy. I can attest to this because since researching good sleep hygiene a few weeks ago, I’ve made an 11:30 candlelit orgasm a non-negotiable part of my lifestyle and I’m sleeping like a baby.
“That’s really only true for men,” Breus says, when I mention how I’ve been dutifully tapping into Mother Nature’s naughty NyQuil supply. “The data for women actually suggests the opposite— that women become more aroused and alert after orgasm, especially in the evening. You would think this would mean more women would prefer an early morning romp, but a study from the University of Warsaw actually suggests the opposite: Most women still have a stronger preference for sex that takes place after 6 pm.
And given its sedative effects on males, I wondered if morning sex would risk making me more tempted to keep hitting the snooze button. However, Breus explains that while a before-breakfast bang may make a man temporarily sleepy, a cup of coffee and some sunlight is more than enough to put the lead back in his pencil.
“It's actually very easy to overcome any level of sleepiness, post-orgasm, for men. On the other hand, it's very difficult for women to overcome post-orgasm alertness and then go to sleep,” he says, further strengthening his argument for sex at dawn.
Personally, I’ve always been a big fan of morning sex, not least because I’m often in a state of extreme readiness for the act—below the belt if not between the ears. The woman I’ve been dating for the last few months, however, has a child and a job and often takes her leave before sunrise, meaning that morning sex is more of a treat than a regular occurrence.
She’s made no secret of her feeling that morning sex improves her mood all day—and for this reason, among others, she has always had my enthusiastic consent to take advantage of my unwitting tumescence before running out into the dawn. But in light of my conversation with Breus, I’ve permitted her to make sure I’m fully conscious for sex, so I too can reap the myriad benefits. I frame it as a week-long experiment.
Sex is one of the few reasons I’d entertain being woken up at 6:30 am, but after a fugue-like first go on day one, I set an alarm for 30 minutes earlier, allowing myself time to drink two cups of coffee and brush my teeth before we set about the task of fucking the mean out of each other.
The sex itself was like morning sex has always been in my experience; intimate, sensual, soulful, cuddly, and lacking the athleticism, theatricality and occasional nastiness that are mainstays of our nighttime efforts. My girlfriend only sleeps over a few nights per week but I had an orgasm within 45 minutes of waking for the next week regardless. I also noticed that my days were markedly more harmonious and peaceful—particularly on the days when my girlfriend slept over, and I wasn’t left to take matters into my own hands.
Despite the findings of the Polish study, my girlfriend also happened to find that an orgasm before bed helped her drift off to sleep quicker, especially when made it part of a nightly, hygge-inspired wind-down ritual. “Days that start with sex are happier days for me,” she says. “Sex when I get home from work is good too because you’ve got more energy and it makes our conversation over dinner deeper.”
“But which one would you choose?” I ask.
“Before bed,” she replied, pausing a beat. “But why do I have to choose?”
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.