Medically reviewed by Michele Emery, DNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/17/2020
"Morning wood" is a not-so-medical term most every man is familiar with — a morning erection. The clinical term for the erections we wake up with in the morning is, "nocturnal penile tumescence."
As a man, it’s easy to get used to waking up with an erection. In fact, most of us take morning wood (or nocturnal penile tumescence, as it’s formally known) for granted, making it a bit of a shock to one day wake up without one.
Morning erections are completely normal and healthy. They occur in men of all ages and could be the result of one of several processes, from brain relaxation to changes in your sex hormone levels as you sleep.
They’re also an important, useful indicator of general sexual health. Morning wood is normally a good indicator that your vascular and nervous system is functioning properly. On the other hand, the absence of morning wood can also, in some cases, be an indicator of ED issues.
In this guide, we’ll look at how morning erections happen and what they mean for your general and sexual health. We’ll also look at what a lack of morning wood could mean for your erection and overall health as a man.
Morning erections are caused by several different processes. Right now, none of the theories about morning erections (or NPT, as it’s often referred to in scientific literature) are completely backed up by studies. However, experts believe there are three different key factors.
The first factor in morning wood is the hormonal change that occurs in your body while you sleep. During sleep, testosterone levels in your body reach their highest levels.
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone, responsible for everything from male sexual characteristics such as a deep voice and facial hair to sex drive. Since the average level of testosterone in your bloodstream is highest just after sleep, it may cause a morning erection.
This factor could also be why morning wood becomes less common with age. As people get older, the circulating levels of testosterone decrease, resulting in a lower sex drive and fewer morning erections.
There may also be a mental factor in morning erections. While you sleep, your body produces higher amounts of cortisol — a glucocorticoid hormone that can negatively affect everything from your immune system to your ability to maintain an erection.
Despite that relationship, your body also produces more testosterone as you sleep, which is a big factor in being able to achieve and maintain an erection.
After waking up from REM sleep, with testosterone levels high, there’s a higher-than-average chance you’ll have an erection.
Finally, there may also be a physical component to morning wood. During sleep, physical contact with your partner (or even just pressure from your sheets, pillow or clothing) may stimulate your penis and cause you to develop an erection.
All three of these factors may combine to make morning wood happen, meaning that a deficiency in one aspect (for example, low testosterone levels) can prevent you from getting morning wood even if the other factors are perfectly normal.
Morning wood is a good indicator of both erectile and general health. If you usually wake up with an erection, it’s a good sign that your body is physiologically capable of achieving an erection and that you likely aren’t affected by physical ED.
It’s also perfectly normal to occasionally not wake up with an erection. Most men get an erection anywhere from one to five times during sleep. Sometimes, you’ll snap out of sleep at the “wrong” moment and wake up without an erection. As long as it’s occasional, it’s usually not a problem.
However, if you frequently wake up without an erection, there’s a risk that it could be the sign of an underlying health issue such as physical ED.
If you’re concerned that you’re not getting nocturnal erections you can try the simple postage stamp test.
You take a length of connected postage stamps and secure them to your flaccid penis prior to going to sleep. If the perforated connections of the stamps are torn when you wake up it’s evidence that you’re experiencing nocturnal erections. It’s not a perfect test, but it’s something simple you can do by yourself.
Some causes of infrequent or no morning wood are hormonal issues, such as low testosterone, as well as health conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
There are also psychological causes of physical ED. For example, anxiety and depression can often lead to physical erection problems and may make it harder to wake up with a morning erection.
Another factor that affects the frequency of morning wood is age.
Older men — particularly men in their 60s and 70s — are less likely to experience frequent morning wood than younger men.
Finally, medication can often affect morning wood. If you take prescription antidepressants or painkillers, there’s a chance that these could interfere with your body’s ability to get an erection and cause both a loss of morning wood and ED.
Because erections are multifactorial (that is, they depend on numerous factors, both physical and psychological) it’s important to talk to a doctor if you’ve noticed the signs of ED or lack of morning wood.
Occasionally waking up without an erection is completely normal. However, when this happens often, it could potentially be the sign of an underlying physiological or psychological issue.
As always, the best approach is to talk to a doctor about the situation. Most of the time, lack of morning wood or more persistent ED can be solved by making some changes to your diet and lifestyle or using the right medical treatment.
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