Sex Advice with Suzi Godson: She wakes me during the night for sex - I’m exhausted

My girlfriend keeps waking up in the middle of the night and wanting sex — it is great in theory, but it’s wearing me out. It used to be a rarity, but now it happens at least once a week. She seems able to get back to sleep quite easily, but I really struggle. I am exhausted.

Sex in general, and orgasm in particular, is very soporific, so it is unusual that you find it so difficult to get back to sleep afterwards. The tendency for men to fall asleep straight after sex has been joked about for aeons, although it has only recently been explained scientifically.

In 2012 research by the French neuroscientist Serge Stoleru revealed that male ejaculation switches off the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is associated with consciousness, alertness and mental activity.

This, combined with the release of neurochemicals and hormones — oxytocin, serotonin and prolactin — makes falling asleep after sex an inevitability for most men.

There are, of course, exceptions. It sounds to me as if you have become so worked up about not being able to sleep after sex... that you can’t sleep after sex. Anxiety causes insomnia and insomnia causes anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle where the more you worry about not being able to get to sleep after sex, the more you ensure that post-coital insomnia becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are lots of things you can do to make it easier to fall asleep after sex and maximise your chance of getting enough shuteye. Cutting down on alcohol, avoiding caffeine and other stimulants, eating lightly and taking exercise before 7pm will help you to sleep better. 

Environment is important too. Sleep experts recommend that you sleep in a dark room that is maintained at a temperature of about 18.5C. To flick the off switch, try progressive muscle relaxation. This technique is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation and involves slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle in your body.

It also recommends slow, controlled breathing and meditation as a way of reducing stress and arousal while you try to get to sleep.

These techniques will improve your sleep quality, but they won’t address your girlfriend’s idiosyncratic demands. It’s not unusual in itself to enjoy having sex in the middle of the night, but it is a bit unusual to do it as often as your girlfriend does it, or for it to become a routine. 

Quite aside from the issue of keeping you up all night, to avoid boredom it’s a good idea to keep your sex life as varied as possible in a long-term relationship, and it doesn’t sound like this is happening at the moment. It’s easy for us to slip into habits — as you say in your letter, it started off as an occasional treat, but has now become the norm.

It could be that your girlfriend prefers sex in the middle of the night for a number of reasons. Perhaps she tends to wake up naturally at 3am and thinks that sex is a good way to distract herself from not being able to sleep. Perhaps she feels less self-conscious when it is dark. Perhaps she prefers midnight sex as your bodies are warm, you may both already be naked, and there is less time pressure.

You could consider creating a comparably rewarding sexual experience earlier in the evening. Set the scene with candlelight in a darkened room and make sure you have oodles of time with no distractions. Your girlfriend is far less likely to initiate sex when you are sleeping if she has already had sex earlier in the evening.

You don’t say whether you have discussed this issue with her, but if you do explain that your midnight romps are wearing you out and if she professes to know nothing about them, there is a very slim possibility that she is suffering from a little-known sleep disorder called sexsomnia. 

It manifests as masturbation, fondling, or intercourse/ attempted intercourse during sleep, followed by complete amnesia the next morning. It affects more men than women and studies have also reported gender differences in the way the condition manifests.

The majority of women engage in masturbation, whereas the majority of men attempt to engage in intercourse. However, I simply mention this as a point of interest. 

People who have it often behave very differently when they are having sleep sex — they may be less inhibited, more extrovert and experimental. As this would have been immediately apparent, I think it very unlikely that your girlfriend has this condition.

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