Nocturnal penile tumescence, more commonly known as ‘morning wood’, is when a man wakes up with an erection in the morning. It’s a common physical reaction. So common in fact that it can happen three to five times in a single night with each erection lasting up to 30 minutes. But why do men get morning wood?
Many ‘morning erections’ actually occur during the night during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep. They could be related to dreaming, but there is no clear evidence to suggest as much.
Morning wood has little to do with arousal. In fact, one survey found that most men felt the erection was more of an annoying wake-up call than a pleasurable experience. In some cases, a morning erection may even cause pain and disrupt sleep. This condition is known as sleep-related painful erections.
Although the ‘morning boner’ is poorly understood, research suggests that it could be related to the absence of neurotransmitter functioning. During REM sleep, neurons releasing noradrenaline may be turned off. Noradrenaline actively suppresses erections by restricting the blood vessels. Consequently, testosterone levels rise and cause more blood to flow to the penis. An erection follows. Another theory is that nitric oxide is released during REM sleep which causes the smooth muscles of the penis to relax, stimulating blood flow to the sex organ.
There’s another type of erection that has little to do with arousal – the reflex erection. This happens when a man is experiencing anxiety or stress. Reflex erections are also a side effect of certain medications and can happen when men need to urinate.
Even though they can be annoying (especially when bunking with a stranger), morning erections are a good thing. They’re an indicator of healthy sexual functioning. By monitoring the frequency of your morning wood, you can detect early signs of erectile dysfunction. Healthy men should expect to ‘pitch a tent’ around three to five times per night. This indicates healthy blood flow to the penis. In men over the age of 50, the frequency of morning erections may be lower.
If you notice changes or don’t experience frequent morning erections, it could be a sign of erectile dysfunction and related conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or hormonal issues. The absence of morning wood suggests that there may be an issue with healthy blood flow.
If you notice a decline in the frequency of your morning erections, it may be time to visit a doctor. Medical issues such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure or high cholesterol are associated with erectile disorders. It’s a good idea to assess other reasons too. One study, for example, found that in patients with a lack of sleep, nocturnal penile tumescence decreased. Similarly, research suggests that the prevalence of getting hard in the morning is decreased in men with depression.
Erectile dysfunction is treatable, but it’s important to discuss any changes to your morning erections with a doctor.
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