Can Lack Of Sleep Cause Erectile Dysfunction And Libido Problems?
By Johnathan P Cumberwell
Why Do We Sleep?
Why do we need sleep? Why – towards the end of the day, do our bodies start craving sleep?
And why do we spend as much as one third of the day (and our lives) sleeping?
These are questions that have left scientists pondering for centuries.
And you know what? Even today, our smartest scientists and researchers still don’t fully understand sleep. We still don’t have an exact and concise answer for why we need sleep.
Hei – wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to sleep?
Instead of spending all this time sleeping, we could have fun, be with friends or be productive. Or we could travel the world. All this instead of lying still under a blanket.
But we need sleep. There is no way around it. You have probably learned this the hard way – if you have tried to not sleep for a night or two. It simply doesn’t turn out well.
Let’s understand four of the key reasons why we need sleep:
Sleep Is Necessary To Restore And Repair Your Brain And Body
In order to be ready for a new day of intense use, your brain and body need to be maintained. They need to be repaired and restored.
Some of the neural pathways and receptors in your brain are likely to be slightly damaged and torn. Sleep is their chance to get fixed.
Your muscles may also be worn out after a lot of walking, or perhaps a long hike. Some of your muscle fibers and ligaments have probably suffered small tears.
To fix these, and to get your muscles ready for tomorrow, your body gets it repair while you sleep.
In addition, if you twisted your ankle on the hike, most of the job to get your ankle back in shape happens at night. In other words, you need sleep to recover from injuries.
Muscle repair, tissue regeneration, and many other forms of restoration, occur mostly during sleep.
This is because cells are repaired and restored better during sleep, than when you are awake.
Sleep Is Necessary To Refill Stockpiles
This also happens for other hormones, such as ghrelin and leptin. These hormones play an important function in regulating appetite.
Protein synthesis also happens mostly at night. This means that while you sleep, your body takes amino acids that you have available, and put them together to form various proteins.
Your immune system is also maintained when you sleep. For instance, while you sleep your body makes a protein that targets infection and inflammation, called cytokines.
Sleep also restores your hydration balance. Your skin recovers moisture and excess water is processed and removed. That’s how lack of sleep can cause bag under your eyes and wrinkles.
Therefore, after a night of good sleep, you should refill stockpiles and be ready for another day.
Sleep Is Necessary To Clean Toxins From Your Brain
While you are awake, thinking, processing, evaluating, making decisions, etc. your brain works hard.
And it creates waste products and toxins in the process.
These waste products are left wayside in the brain.
When you sleep, the space between your brain cells increases, allowing your brain to flush out toxins and waste products that were generated while you were awake.
Hence, sleep is when the waste crew gets to work to clean up your brain and gets it ready for a new day of intense use.
If you don’t get enough sleep, these toxins and waste products will normally accumulate in your brain.
A similar process also happens in your muscles. Waste products are cleared from your muscles so that your muscles are ready tomorrow with a clean slate.
Sleep Is Necessary To Learn Skills And Form Memories
In fact, sleep is necessary for learning. Because as you sleep, your brain is organizing and consolidating the experiences you had during the day.
Certain experiences will be discarded. Other experiences will be kept in short-term memory, and others will be stored in your long-term memory.
And since you spent a lot of time on your golf swing, this skill is likely to be strengthened during sleep.
During sleep, your brain forms, reinforces, moves, consolidates, links and discards memories and experiences.
Sleep does this both with cognitive tasks (such as learning algebra), and also with muscle and motor memory (such as learning a golf swing).
What happens, is that you form new neural connections to reflect your learning and experiences.
So that next time you try the same skill, you are better at it.
In other words, in order to learn, grow and progress – sleep is a must.
As you may understand by now:
Although our bodies might relax and be in a state of rest while we sleep, this is not the case for our brains. Sleep for the brain is a highly active time.
In fact, your brain goes through 4 distinct sleep cycles while you sleep.
The Sleep Cycle And Its Four Stages
But sleep is much more complicated than this. In fact, when you sleep you go through 4 stages of different kinds of sleep.
Each stage has its defining characteristics and serves unique purposes. That said, we still don’t fully understand everything about the sleep stages. We still don’t understand all mechanics and purposes.
One complete sleep cycle consists of going through and completing all four stages.
A complete sleep cycle typically lasts for about 90 minutes, and you normally go through 4 to 5 full sleep cycles during one night (assuming you get about 7 hours of sleep).
The first three stages make up your non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and the fourth stage is when rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurs.
Let’s understand the four different sleep cycles:
Sleep Cycle Stage One
Stage one is the very mild sleep you experience right after falling asleep.
It’s gentle and if you are woken up from this stage, you often believe you weren’t even sleeping.
The moment you fall into stage one sleep, it is common to experience sudden bodily jerks.
During this sleep stage, your breathing typically slows down and your heartbeat becomes regular. Also, your blood pressure and body temperature decrease. Your muscles are still active during this sleep.
Normally you don’t have any dreams in stage one.
You typically spend 5-10% of your sleep in this stage.
Sleep Cycle Stage Two
Stage two is a deeper kind of sleep, and it is harder to wake you up in this stage.
Your muscle activity decreases, you are generally not able to understand sounds, and your conscious awareness of the external environment disappears.
In this stage, your brain produces sudden increases in brain wave frequency known as sleep spindles. These spikes come and go in this sleep stage.
Your muscles are still active during this sleep.
Dreaming is still quite rare during sleep stage two, but they can occur.
You typically spend 45-55% of your sleep in this stage.
Sleep Cycle Stage Three
This stage was formerly divided into stages 3 and 4, but is now classified as stage 3.
Stage three is also called slow-wave sleep, or deep sleep.
In this deep sleep stage, you are even less aware of the outside world, and very few outside events will produce any activity in you.
This sleep is thought to be the most restful form of sleep. It is where you restore the most, and best recover from sleepiness.
Brain temperature, breathing, heart rate and blood pressure are all at their lowest levels of your sleep during this stage. But your muscles are still active during this sleep.
This is the stage where dreaming normally starts.
This is also the stage during which sleep-walking, sleep-talking and bed-wetting normally occur.
You typically spend 15-25% of your sleep in this stage.
Sleep Cycle Stage Four – REM Sleep
This sleep is associated with unregular, rapid side-to-side movements of the eyes. Scientists still don’t agree about the reason for this movement.
The brain’s oxygen consumption is very high during REM sleep, and it is in fact often higher than when you are awake trying to solve a complex problem.
Breathing, heart rate and blood pressure all increase during this stage, and are close to what they are at awake levels.
Sexual arousal often also occurs during REM sleep, and the male penis (as well as the female clitoris) is normally erect for long periods during this stage.
During REM sleep, muscles are normally paralyzed and unresponsive, perhaps to protect us from acting out vivid dreams.
Because it is during REM sleep that you normally have vivid and memorable dreams.
What Happens When We Don’t Sleep Enough?
And you know how you feel after a night of little or no sleep. Terrible!
We all recognize the difference in energy level and sharpness.
And a good way to better understand why sleep is necessary, is to look at what happens to us when we don’t sleep enough.
Here are some of the common consequences of not sleeping enough:
- It’s often harder to learn new skills
- You may get moody
- Your immune system gets weaker
- Muscle pains
- Hormonal imbalances
- Brain damage
- Death (when taken to the extreme)
Lack Of Sleep Can Make It Harder To Learn New Skills
When you don’t sleep enough, it becomes harder to concentrate. Your mind is less focused.
This sleep deficit can negatively impact both short-term and long-term memory, attention, alertness, reaction time, concentration, reasoning, creative thinking, decision making, problem solving, ability to speak and ability to carry out normal functions.
In fact, research has documented that you may remember very little of what you intend to learn, when you are significantly sleep deficient.
Lack of sleep may also cause you to fall into short episodes of sleep, known as ‘microsleeps’.
By the way, these ‘microsleeps’ are probably responsible for a number of fatal traffic accidents.
Lack Of Sleep Can Make You Moody
Sleep and your way of behaving are closely connected. And when you don’t get enough sleep, you tend to become more reactionary. Meaning, you often lose your sound judgement, and you instead react (or snap) almost instinctively.
A sleep deficit is also likely to make you more stressed, angry, sad, irritable, mentally exhausted, and you will often experience large mood swings.
It generally makes you a less kind person to be around.
Which can in turn make life more difficult for people around you.
Stress, anger and rapid mood changes may in the long-term also contribute to a number of negative health effects, such as cardiovascular diseases, cognitive disorders, cancers, etc.
Inadequate Sleep Weakens Your Immune System
When you sleep, your immune system produces infection-fighting antibodies and defense cells, such as T cells.
During sleep, your brain also maintains the immune system and ensures that it is ready for the next battle.
Sleep sharpens your internal knives.
When you don’t get enough sleep, what happens?
This maintenance and preparation of your immune system is halted or interrupted.
As a result, your defense is likely to be weaker, and hence it will be easier for intruders to invade you.
Lack Of Sleep Can Cause Muscle Pain
When you sleep, you clear out toxins and lactic acid from your muscles. You restore your muscles, and you get them ready for another day of intense use.
Hence, sleep is essential for proper muscle recovery.
If your muscles don’t get a chance to recover properly due to lack of sleep, this can cause chronic muscle fatigue and muscle pains.
This can end up restricting your movement, which in turn can have a number of health impacts.
By the way, do you have any muscle knots? Maybe in your back?
One theory is that these muscle knots may partially be a result of inadequate sleep.
Inadequate Sleep Can Cause Hormonal Imbalances
Your hormones are incredibly important. If you don’t have your hormones in balance, all kinds of damage and dysfunctions may appear.
This is particularly true if you have hormones out of balance for long periods.
Common consequences are: High blood pressure, over-eating, stress, insulin resistance, depression, cancers, and sexual dysfunctions.
Production and re-balancing of many hormones take place while you sleep.
So if you don’t sleep as much as you should, this is likely to disturb the proper manufacturing of hormones such as cortisol, testosterone, insulin, thyroid-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, leptin, ghrelin, etc.
Lack Of Sleep Can Cause Brain Damage
I mentioned earlier that you need sleep to clear toxins and waste out of your brain, and that you organize your experiences while you sleep.
What happens to your brain if you don’t sleep enough?
Well, there will probably be leftover toxins and waste in your brain, and your experiences may not be recorded properly.
But even worse, sleep deprivation is also likely to lead to loss of brain tissue.
Yeah, your brain may shrink. Sleep may cause brain atrophy.
Sleep Deprivation Will Eventually Kill You
Yup, if you stay awake for long enough, you will die.
This has been confirmed by research on animals. In one research study, all rats died of sleep deprivation within 11-32 days.
Therefore, sleep is required to stay alive. Virtually every complex living organism sleeps.
In addition, lack of sleep can cause a number of problems, such as more wrinkled skin, genetic mutations, weight gain, headaches, poor vision, increase in risk taking, increased sensitivity to pain, etc.
Now that we know what can happen when you don’t sleep enough, let’s understand how lack of sleep can cause erectile dysfunction and a loss of sex drive.
How Can Lack Of Sleep Cause Erectile Dysfunction And A Weak Libido?
If you don’t sleep enough, or the quality of your sleep is poor, you are very likely to start struggling with erectile dysfunction and a low libido.
Your sexual functions are very delicate, and therefore they very often start to suffer when your body and mind are out of balance.
And poor sleep very quickly kicks your body and mind out of balance.
These are six common reasons for how lack of sleep can cause erectile dysfunction and a weak libido:
Lack Of Sleep Can Reduce Testosterone Production
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone, and its job is to control and regulate anything sexual that goes on your body.
Therefore, in order to function optimally sexually, you simply need to have enough testosterone.
Should you on the other hand have inadequate testosterone in your blood, you will probably find it almost impossible to get erections. And your sex drive is likely to disappear.
The thing is: You make testosterone when you sleep.
In other words, in order to ensure you produce enough testosterone, you need to sleep enough. And you particularly need enough REM sleep (the last sleep stage).
Since you produce testosterone while you sleep, testosterone levels normally peak in the morning when you wake up, and are at the lowest point before you fall asleep at night.
How much sleep do you need in order to produce enough testosterone:
At least 7 hours. But if you can get 8, even better.
What do you think happens if you sleep 5 hours a night, instead of 7?
Yup, you are likely to have low testosterone.
This has been confirmed by several research studies.
For instance, one study demonstrated a very significant correlation between sleep apnea and testosterone levels, as well as between sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction.
Lack Of Sleep Weakens Your D2 Dopamine Receptors
In that case, your dopamine would simply be less effective.
And guess what?
Research shows that sleep is in fact paramount for keeping your D2 dopamine receptors healthy and fully functioning.
Lack of sleep not only makes you tired, it also makes these receptors tired. And when they get tired, they become less responsive to dopamine. Less good at processing messages from dopamine.
So when your dopamine receptors become exhausted, the messages from dopamine may be communicated slower or weaker, or may not even be received.
Therefore, even if there is enough dopamine floating around in your brain, it may be ineffective.
Lack Of Sleep Decreases Nitric Oxide Production
Research shows that when rats don’t get enough REM sleep for 5 days, they produce less nitric oxide. It is likely that this also applies to you and me.
And if you happen to be constantly sleep deprived, it is fair to assume that you will also be constantly nitric oxide deficient.
The reason this nitric oxide reduction happens, is because sleep deprivation causes impaired endothelial function. And it is your endothelium that produces nitric oxide.
But lack of sleep didn’t just cause the rat’s nitric oxide production to fall. It also caused increased blood pressure and decreased body weight
Lack Of Sleep Causes Imbalance Of Hormone Levels
Such as cortisol, insulin, thyroid-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, leptin, ghrelin and others.
And when these hormones get out of balance, all kinds of problems can happen. Including erectile dysfunction and a lower sex drive. Let’s take a look at some of these hormones.
When you don’t sleep enough you are likely to become insulin resistant.
Why is this an issue?
The cells in your body need insulin in order to absorb glucose and use it as energy.
Without this energy, your cells cannot operate.
When you become insulin resistant, the cells in your body become resistant to the effect of insulin. Therefore, your cells can no longer absorb glucose like they should.
You will have excess glucose in your blood.
Excess glucose is no good.
This will often be stored as fat, which means you are likely to gain weight. When you gain weight, your testosterone levels are likely to decrease.
This excess glucose can also get stuck to the inner lining of your blood vessels, causing atherosclerosis.
Excess glucose will also normally make your blood thicker. Which will slow your bloodflow. And it can also cause high blood blood pressure
Also, excess glucose will often cause your body to produce a free radical called superoxide. This superoxide eliminates nitric oxide, and therefore your nitric oxide level is likely to be depressed.
Any of the above factors can cause erectile dysfunction and a lower sex drive.
Lack of sleep will also normally reduce your production of thyroid-stimulating hormone.
Which in turn will normally cause you to produce less of the hormone thyroid.
Research has found that men with thyroid problems, either hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), are significantly more likely to struggle with erectile dysfunction than other men.
It is not yet understood why this is so, but thyroid problems are often associated with low testosterone, high cortisol levels, weight gain, depression and insomnia.
All of which can contribute to or cause erectile dysfunction, as well as a reduced libido.