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The Science of Jerking Yourself to Sleep… And Back Awake Again

How can the same action both put you to sleep, AND wake you up?

There’s nothing quite like staging the solo six-inch Olympics to make you sleepy, relaxed and ready for bed. Whatever was running through your mind before you began liquidating the inventory is suddenly small potatoes, and all you care to do is clear your browser history, close your laptop and roll over to sleep.

Equally, there’s nothing like not wanting to wake up, but one thoroughly invigorating handshake with the one-eyed milkman later, feeling bright-eyed, alert, and ready to take on the day.

So what the hell is happening in your brain that means jerking off can both put you to sleep and help wake you up? We asked Dr. Nicole Prause, creator of Liberos, a sexual biotechnology company that studies the brain on orgasms, for answers.

To Jerk, Perchance to Dream

Prause is quick to point out that currently, there’s no scientific evidence published (yet) that proves masturbating before bed leads to a better quality sleep. “In fact,” she says, “the only study that looked at sleep quality and orgasming didn’t find any difference for those who had masturbated or not. That study was so old it really isn’t up to modern analytic techniques, but it’s the only one there.”

Despite the findings of the 33-year old study, Prause recently ran her own survey, which concluded that more than 200 of the 300 participants found orgasms to help in sleep latency (that is, how quickly they fell asleep). In short, reaching orgasm might not give you a better overall sleep, but it can help you fall asleep, thanks to some powerful, mood-altering chemicals released upon ejaculation.

Melinda Wenner broke down the chemicals in a report for NYU’s ScienceLine: “Research shows that during ejaculation men release a cocktail of brain chemicals, including norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, nitric oxide and the hormone prolactin.”

Serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin are all “feel good” chemicals, meant to release stress and make you feel safe, relaxed and euphoric. Mostly they’re there to help you fall in love and start a healthy long-term relationship, but that’s not what we’re here for right now. “Their release also frequently accompanies that of melatonin,” adds Wenner, “the primary hormone that regulates our body clocks.”

If what keeps you from falling asleep at night is a running mind, back pain or a wacky sleep schedule, such a chemical dump solves all three at once. It disables your fight-or-flight mechanism, meaning you’re able to let down your defenses and slip into sleep. Plus, Prause concludes, “It might also just be part of good sleep hygiene, where you get used to going to bed soon after orgasm, so orgasm becomes a simple, strong cue to your body to go to sleep.”

Masturbatorial Morning Meditation

Surely, though, all that information goes totally counter to why putting one in the sink in the morning wakes you up? Not necessarily.

Again, let’s look at the chemicals: Norepinephrine, which you might know as a literal adrenaline shot, spikes during orgasm, which leads to a blast of nitric oxide and a serotonin dump. Assuming your body is coming off a solid eight hours, you’re (probably) not going to fall back to sleep. To reiterate Prause’s findings, masturbating isn’t NyQuil — it doesn’t make you sleep, it just puts you in a pretty good situation to fall asleep if you want to.

When you masturbate in the morning, then, you not only get your blood pumping, but you start your day with the same relaxing, anxiety-clearing blast of chemicals. If the day that lays ahead of you keeps you from getting out of bed, jerk off real quick: With a cleared head, you’ll be relaxed and ready to get moving (or at least get up and make coffee).

“High sexual arousal states look very much like mindfulness meditation,” Prause says. “We haven’t tested this directly, but there’s every reason to think whatever is improved by such brain states in meditation also could be improved by the very similar brain states seen during high sexual arousal.” In other words, you’ll find momentary peace — be it from a long day or a particularly shitty hangover — in popping up to the 15th floor to use the color photocopier.

It’s for this reason that Prause wants to get to the point of prescribing masturbation for sleep, depression and whatever else orgasming could solve. After all, a 2004 study found that cumming also activates part of our immune system, meaning it could factor into curing the common cold.

So maybe it’s time to add “An apple a day…” to the list of euphemisms for male masturbation.