How Insomnia Can Kill Your Sex Life

Man lying awake in bed next to sleeping wife

Getty ImagesPhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou

Before a big date, most guys worry about whether the other person is into them, or if they’ll be having sex that night. But many guys with insomnia are more worried about what comes after the date: specifically, whether or not they should sleep over.

“It’s hard enough to sleep in my own bed. When I’m staying over with somebody, it’s that much more difficult,” says Casey*, a 27-year-old insomniac man from Las Vegas.

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Insomnia is a fairly common problem. Studies suggest that 30% of the population has trouble sleeping, and 10% suffer from chronic insomnia, defined as disrupted sleep that occurs three times a week for at least three months.

Among other side effects, insomnia increases anxiety levels and affects the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotions. So if you’re not getting any sleep at your partner’s house, “you’re not a lot of fun to be around the next day,” says Michael Breus, PhD., a clinical psychologist who specializes in sleep disorders.

Many people with insomnia have an elaborate at-home set-up that helps them sleep, such as sound machines, an essential oil collection, night masks, ear plugs, and medication. So if they find themselves in an unfamiliar setting without any of these tools, they could experience extra difficulty falling asleep. That’s especially true in cases of one-night stands or unexpected hookups (you likely don’t hit the bars with an entire sleep kit in a duffel bag).

Some insomniacs don’t even sleep well at their own place if someone is next to them. “If someone is next to me, snoring and taking up space, I just cannot get into the right sleep mindset,” laments Michael*, a 25-year-old from Brooklyn. “Sometimes I even go and sleep on my couch in the middle of the night, which always offends dates.”

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Not being able to sleep doesn’t just affect you — it can affect your partner, too. “I have noticed that if I’m not sleeping well, they’re not sleeping well,” Casey says. “I’m thrashing about in bed and tossing and turning, and every time I do something to try and get more comfortable, it stirs them too.” To prevent this from happening, many insomniacs will avoid staying over at a partner’s place in the first place, which may send a confusing message.

To avoid offending your partner or being a cranky, sleep-deprived jerk to them the day after, Breus suggests being upfront about your insomnia from the get-go. That’s particularly true if you’re in a new relationship, and you don’t want your partner to think you’re hitting and splitting. “Say, ‘I’m glad that we’re having a good time, but at the same time, I just can’t sleep here, I have to sleep in my own bed,’” Breus advises. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying that. Or invite your partner back to your place, as opposed to staying at the other person’s place.”

Sex therapist Holly Richmond, PhD says that in addition to talking to your partner the night of, you should check in with them the morning. “Send a text in the morning so they have a good sense that you’re not bullshitting and that you’re into the relationship,” she suggests.

If you know you’ll be staying at your partner’s house in advance, it’s helpful to pack an overnight bag. Think of it as the grown-up version of taking your favorite toy with you to a sleepover. Breus suggests bringing items such as lavender essential oils, white noise apps, ear plugs, and even medication if you need it. When things start getting more serious, you can keep those things at your partner’s place along with your toothbrush.

There’s no reason why you can’t come up with a solution that works for both parties in the relationship. “It’s just about finding the gizmos and the gadgets that help. Everyone comes with baggage,” Breus says. “Trust me; there’s worse baggage to have [than a sleep disorder].”

*Last names have been withheld to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.

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