Then there is the biochemistry of the orgasm itself. Research shows that during ejaculation, men release a cocktail of brain chemicals, including norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, nitric oxide (NO), and the hormone prolactin. The release of prolactin is linked to the feeling of sexual satisfaction, and it also mediates the “recovery time” that men are well aware of—the time a guy must wait before “giving it another go.” Studies have also shown that men deficient in prolactin have faster recovery times.
Prolactin levels are naturally higher during sleep, and animals injected with the chemical become tired immediately. This suggests a strong link between prolactin and sleep, so it’s likely that the hormone’s release during orgasm causes men to feel sleepy.
(Side note: prolactin also explains why men are sleepier after intercourse than after masturbation. For unknown reasons, intercourse orgasms release four times more prolactin than masturbatory orgasms, according to a recent study.)
Oxytocin and vasopressin, two other chemicals released during orgasm, are also associated with sleep. Their release frequently accompanies that of melatonin, the primary hormone that regulates our body clocks. Oxytocin is also thought to reduce stress levels, which again could lead to relaxation and sleepiness.
What about the evolutionary reasons for post-sex sleepiness? This is trickier to explain. Evolutionarily speaking, a man’s primary goal is to produce as many offspring as possible, and sleeping doesn’t exactly help in his quest. But perhaps since he cannot immediately run off with another woman anyway—damn that recovery time!—re-energizing himself via sleep may be the best use of his time.
And although there is conflicting information as to whether women feel sleepy after sex, a woman often falls asleep with the man anyway (or uses it for some key cuddling time), which is good news for him: it means she is not off finding another mate. When the man wakes up and she’s still there, he just might be ready to go again.
It’s also possible that sleepiness is just a “side effect” associated with a more evolutionarily important reason for the release of oxytocin and vasopressin. In addition to being associated with sleep, both chemicals are also intimately involved in what is called “pair bonding,” the social attachment human mates commonly share. The release of these brain chemicals during orgasm heightens feelings of bonding and trust between sexual partners, which may partially explain the link between sex and emotional attachment. This bond is favorable should the couple have a baby, as cooperative child rearing maximizes the young one’s chances for survival.
The bottom line is this: there are many potential biochemical and evolutionary reasons for post-sex sleepiness, some direct and some indirect—but no one has yet pinpointed the exact causes. One thing, however, is certain: we females better get used to it, because it doesn’t look likely to change anytime soon.
I will leave frustrated American women with one final thought: if you are upset at the ubiquity of the post-sex snoring phenomenon, remember that things could be a lot worse. A recent survey of 10,000 English men revealed that 48 percent actually fall asleep during sex.
Talk about coitus interruptus!