Morning wood, known in medical circles as nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT), is the state of waking up in the morning with an erect penis. Affecting many boys and men, it is not associated with sexual arousal, despite popular belief. Rather it is the body’s natural response to hormonal, physical and psychological changes that occur while sleeping.
Both expected, and normal, morning wood indicates that the nerves in the male reproductive organs are healthy and operational. Hormonal imbalances (such as a drop in testosterone caused by interrupted sleep) and aging (older men experience morning wood less often), can affect how often a person experiences morning wood. Health issues like erectile dysfunction - the inability to achieve or maintain an erection - can also affect the frequency of morning wood.
Morning wood is thought to happen during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep phase. The hormone testosterone tends to be at its highest at the end of a REM sleep phase, and at the same time, people typically wake up when they exit REM sleep. The combination results in erections that have nothing to do with sexual arousal. People enter REM sleep several times throughout the night, so it is expected that they experience nocturnal erections without even realizing.
While awake, the brain releases hormones that deter erections. The levels of these hormones decrease while sleeping. In conjunction with the other hormonal and physiological causes, this leads to erections.
On the physical level, simple physical stimulation from bedding or a partner sharing the bed can also cause morning wood.
Males, from young children, all the way to older adults, experience morning wood; from as young as six to as old as seventy. Men’s testosterone levels are highest between their late teens and early thirties, so men in this age range tend to experience morning wood most frequently and often daily.
A gradual decline in the frequency of morning wood after age 40, coincides with the natural decline in testosterone levels, and is both normal and expected. However, a sharp decline or sudden stop in morning wood can occur due to an underlying helath issue.
Healthy males are expected to experience morning wood throughout their lives at different frequencies. Several factors could make a man more susceptible to infrequent or irregular morning wood, including:
Interrupted sleep can cause a reduction in morning wood because the body is unable to enter REM sleep sufficiently. Sleep conditions like apnea which affect sleep quality can have an adverse effect on morning wood.
A hormonal imbalance, particularly one affecting testosteone levels, may affect morning wood. Less commonly, a lack of morning wood is an early inicator of a health problem, like erectile dysfunction.
Morning wood naturally subsides within half an hour of waking up. If the erection persists for an hour or longer, or if the erection is painful, you should talk to your doctor.
If you are young, and have no underlying health issues, loss of morning wood can indicate onset of a medical problem. A sudden drop in the frequency of morning wood rather than a gradual change with age, can also be a cause for concern. Loss of morning wood can indicate erectile dysfunction, which, in younger men, may be associated with high blood pressure and heart disease. It is therefore important to talk to your doctor if this issue occurs.
Some men have morning wood every day, others just once a week, so it is hard to point to what is too much or too little. A total lack of morning wood however, especially in teenagers and men in their 20s or 30s, should be cause for concern.
Morning wood is both natural and healthy, and males of all ages are expected to experience it. It indicates a healthy nervous system, healthy reproductive organs, and healthy sleep cycles. A sudden change in morning wood can indicate a health issue and should not be ignored.
Reviewed by Dr Roy Kedem, MD
Information last reviewed 12/06/21
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