Sex Advice

Everything You Need To Know About Sleep Orgasms, Because Pleasure Doesn’t Need To Stop at Bedtime

Bec Oakes

Photo: JGIJamie Grill
On more than one occasion in my life, I’ve woken up from an erotic dream in a state of tingling ecstasy. My legs are jittery, and there’s a great warmth rushing through my body—just like an orgasm. I’ve often wondered if what I’m feeling in those brief moments after awaking is the aftermath of an actual orgasm or if I simply dreamt it. After all, the concept of climaxing while you’re fast asleep—when no one is touching you down there, and you're not otherwise receiving stimulation—seems pretty far-fetched. But, according to experts, it's absolutely possible to have sleep orgasms, no matter your genital makeup.

Furthermore, according to Britney Blair, PsyD, clinical psychologist, sleep medicine specialist, and founder of the sexual wellness app, Lover, sleep orgasms are something to celebrate. "A lot of times, when people experience sleep orgasms, they freak out or may be distressed because they don't understand what has happened," she says. "We should really work to normalize these sorts of things to reduce stigma and shame. If it's happening and it's working for you, consider yourself lucky."

So, I set out to find out more about the elusive sleep orgasm, how it happens, and if there’s anything we can do to improve our chances of having one.

How do sleep orgasms work, and how common are they?

While research into sleep orgasms is limited, they’re commonly understood to happen during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. Dr. Blair says that during REM sleep, a neurological switch gets flipped that causes the muscles in our bodies to become atonic, or paralyzed, but the brain remains active. Furthermore, increased blood flow to the genitals during REM sleep causes them to be hypersensitive. The brain recognizes this, which can lead to sexual arousal and orgasm.

Increased blood flow to the genitals during REM sleep causes them to be hypersensitive. The brain recognizes this, which can lead to sexual arousal and orgasm.

To be sure, sleep orgasms are more commonly associated with those who have a penis (and are often called "wet dreams"), but it's entirely possible for any person to climax while during sleep. According to resident sexologist for Astroglide Jess O’Reilly, PhD, this disparity may have to do with the lack of tactile evidence (as in, ejaculate in bed) that folks with vaginas wake up to. While most people remember their erotic dreams after waking up, only folks who have a penis have physical evidence of their orgasm; those with a vagina just have vague memories and a jittery feeling.

What causes sleep orgasms?

Like sex orgasms, sleep orgasms are brought on by sexual arousal. As such, it makes sense that they most commonly occur with a sex dream: Sexual feelings increase the blood flow to the genitals, and in combination with the complete relaxation we experience during REM sleep, this arousal allows an orgasm to occur without the need for external stimulation. However, sleep orgasms aren’t exclusive to sex dreams, and sex dreams don’t always result in sleep orgasms.

Sleeping on your stomach also makes a sleep orgasm more likely. This is because there is more contact between your bed and your genitals, offering the most clitoral stimulation. A 2012 study of 670 published in Dreaming found that sleeping on your stomach is also associated with having more vivid and sexual dreams.

Can you make yourself have a sleep orgasm?

As wonderful as the idea may be, unfortunately it's not possible guarantee a sleep orgasm. However, there are a number of strategies that may help increase the likelihood of one happening. For instance, sleeping on your stomach or being aroused before you fall asleep may also help, according to the experts.

“For some individuals, sleep orgasms may actually be more likely than sex orgasms, as you relinquish inhibitions, pressure, and other expectations in your sleep.” —Jess O’Reilly, PhD

It's also worth noting that though it may not be possible to force a sleep orgasm, you may be able to experience them even if you experience difficulty reaching climax while conscious. This may be due to the fact that the common psychological hang-ups associated with sexual difficulties are less inhibiting to the unconscious brain. “For some individuals, sleep orgasms may actually be more likely than sex orgasms, as you relinquish inhibitions, pressure, and other expectations in your sleep,” says Dr. O'Reilly.

This tension and pressure some people feel when they’re engaging in sexual activity with a partner lessens the likelihood of climaxing, Dr. Blair adds: “During REM sleep, your body is in a state of deep relaxation, a key factor in reaching orgasm.”

And while it’s not necessarily common to have sleep orgasms every single night, there's not really any health concern surrounding the frequency of it happening, one way or the other. Ultimately, they're something to celebrate, not cloud with shame. They’re like a gift to your brain, and there’s nothing wrong with having one…or two or three or four.

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