Study finds link between poor sleep quality and increased sexual arousal in women

Research in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy has found a link between sleep disturbances in women and sexual arousal.

The study of 70 Portuguese students found that women who reported poorer sleep during the past month tended to report higher levels of sexual arousal after imagining a sexual fantasy. The study also found that fantasy-induced arousal was associated with the women’s testosterone response.

PsyPost interviewed Rui Miguel Costa of the William James Center for Research. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Costa: Sleep deprivation can enhance sexual arousal in the short term (e. g., the next day), but it was unclear if this could happen in people with complaints of protracted sleep problems (only some cases studies suggested it could be so).

What should the average person take away from your study?

We found evidence that women with more sleep problems are more likely to be aroused by sexual fantasy. Although sometimes anxiety can enhance sexual arousal, self-reported anxiety did not explain this effect. Testosterone rises in response to the fantasy might partially explain the effect.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

In addition to increasing sexual arousal, sleep problems are associated with sexual dysfunctions. It is unclear if these are independent effects, and which processes could lead to a particular outcome. The correlational studies do not allow causal inferences; it is possible that sexual dysfunctions precede sleep problems in some cases.

Studies in animals and humans suggest that, although lack of sleep can increase arousal, sometimes it causes difficulties in interactions. We still need to understand what may lead to different outcomes in this regard too.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Sleep deprivation can improve mood in depressive disorders, and one study suggests it can be helpful in erectile dysfunction. It remains to be tested if sleep deprivation can ameliorate some sexual dysfunctions. Also, given that many recreational drugs (that reduce sleep needs) seem to enhance sexual arousal in REM-sleep deprived rats (cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA), future research might examine this possibility in humans.

In addition to Costa, the study “Poorer Subjective Sleep Quality Is Related to Higher Fantasy-Induced Sexual Arousal in Women of Reproductive Age” was co-authored by Tânia F. Oliveira.