Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/1/2023
There are a number of morning problems that we don’t want. Morning breath, bedhead and drowsiness are all categorically not fun. But morning erections? They’re both totally normal and potentially fun. These healthy bodily functions are an important sign that you have good sexual health — a helpful indicator that your heart, blood vessels and nervous system are functioning properly.
As a man, it’s easy to get used to waking up with an erection. In fact, most of us take morning wood for granted, which makes it a bit of a shock to one day wake up without one. Waking up without one might also be concerning because the absence of morning wood can potentially be a sign that you’re starting to develop a sexual health issue, such as erectile dysfunction (ED).
You probably have some important questions about why morning erections happen and what they mean for your sexual function and overall health. We’ve got that info covered below — as well as some words of medical advice on what to do if a lack of morning wood becomes a pattern.
Morning wood is an easy-to-remember, colloquial phrase for a medical term that just rolls off the tongue: nocturnal penile tumescence. If you get nocturnal erections (erections that happen while you’re asleep), there’s a good chance that you’ll wake up from time to time with morning wood.
Despite its popularity, the term “morning wood” isn’t entirely accurate. While most guys notice their erections when they wake up in the morning, it’s common to get several erections during the night, often for a variety of reasons.
In fact, according to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, most men will get between three and five erections during sleep on a typical night.
Regardless, morning wood is a normal occurrence and isn’t a sign of sexual or health problems. In fact, it’s a good sign that you have normal sexual function and healthy blood flow to your penis.
At a basic level, erections occur when your nervous system increases the blood supply to your penis, allowing blood to flow into your erectile tissue. As blood pressure increases, your penis becomes firmer, creating an erection.
This can occur when you’re awake, such as during sex or masturbation, or in certain stages of your nightly sleep cycle.
Experts haven’t yet identified exactly why nocturnal erections occur. However, current theories suggest that several different factors could play a role in morning erections, including:
Changes in hormones
Needing to urinate
Most of the time, nighttime erections develop as a result of mental stimulation, such as imagery from your dreams. Human sleep involves several distinct and unique stages, including rapid eye movement sleep, or REM sleep.
During REM sleep, your parasympathetic nervous system remains highly active, meaning many of your involuntary bodily functions continue to occur while you’re sleeping, including erectile function. A sexually stimulating dream may cause you to develop an erection (and potentially a nocturnal emission or night ejaculation).
It’s common and normal to get and lose an erection a few times throughout the night, and not just before you wake up.
Your hormones aren’t always the problem when it comes to morning wood (or the absence of it), but more often than not, they’re on the shortlist. Research suggests that higher levels of testosterone are usually associated with higher scores on tests of nocturnal penile tumescence.
Your levels of testosterone — the primary male sex hormone — gradually increase as you sleep, often by quite a significant amount.
In a small study of just 7 participants, researchers found that men’s testosterone levels increased from 15.3 ± 2.1 to 25.3 ± 2.2 nmol/liter during night sleep. That could mean that low testosterone problems are reduced in your sleep, too, but this study is far from conclusive.
While many nighttime erections are triggered by sex-related dreams, others may be caused by something much simpler: needing to pee.
Erections are controlled by your sacral nerve — a collection of nerve pairs that exit your spinal column at the sacral vertebral region, an area at the bottom of your spine.
As your bladder fills up with fluid, it can press against the sacral nerve and stimulate it, causing an erection. This type of erection is often referred to as a “reflex erection,” as it isn’t directly caused by sexual stimulation.
If none of the other explanations on this list have helped parse out your morning wood wonderment, your answer might lay between the sheets. While you sleep, physical stimulation like contact with your partner (or even just pressure from your sheets, pillow, clothing, your stuffed animal collection…) may stimulate your penis and cause you to develop an erection.
Maybe this is a good time to consider buying new sheets, especially if you find that old set rubs you the wrong way.
Just like morning wood is normal, it’s also perfectly normal to sometimes wake up without an erection.
However, if you often wake up without an erection, or if you notice a sudden drop in nighttime or morning erections, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue that might be causing erectile dysfunction (ED).
Erectile dysfunction has a range of potential causes. Common physical health issues that cause or contribute to ED include:
Atherosclerosis (clogged arteries)
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Injuries to your penis and surrounding area
Complications from surgery
Chronic kidney disease
Some prescription drugs, such as antiandrogens, antidepressants, blood pressure medications, tranquilizers, ulcer medications and appetite suppressants, may also contribute to ED and stop you from getting nighttime erections.
Erectile dysfunction can also develop as a result of psychological issues, such as anxiety about sex, depression, chronic stress and low self-esteem.
Morning wood isn’t like breakfast — it’s not an essential start to your day. If you wake up without a morning erection regularly, though, and are having trouble with waking wood as well, it’s a good idea to talk to a health professional for solutions to the problem at hand (or sheet). Those might include medications or lifestyle changes.
Erectile dysfunction is almost always treatable. Most of the time, medications like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®) and avanafil (Stendra®) can restore your sexual function and make it easier for you to get an erection before and during sex.
These drugs are called PDE5 inhibitors, and they work by increasing the flow of blood to your penis. Increased blood flow means more potential for erections when you’re aroused, so the work is still up to you to some degree. But consider yourself well prepared for erectile liftoff when taking these medications.
Sometimes, simple changes to your habits and lifestyle can also improve your sexual health and make getting morning wood easier. Try to:
Keep yourself physically active. Even a small amount of daily exercise can have a noticeable impact on your cardiovascular health and ability to maintain an erection. Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
Maintain a healthy body weight. Obesity is a risk factor for erectile dysfunction, with men in the obese BMI range around three times more likely to develop ED than men in the normal range.
Limit your alcohol consumption. Research shows that drinking alcohol often and in large quantities is associated with ED and other sexual performance problems. Try to limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day.
Avoid illicit drugs. Some recreational drugs can affect your sexual function, including your ability to get an erection. If you have a substance use disorder, talk to a healthcare provider about receiving professional care.
Quit smoking. If you smoke, consider quitting. Research shows that smokers have an elevated risk of developing erectile dysfunction due to the negative effects of smoking on cardiovascular health.
Our guide to naturally protecting your erection shares other techniques that you can use to treat ED and improve your sexual performance naturally.
If you’re waking up with morning wood but struggling to get hard when you’re with a partner, you might actually have some strong evidence that your ED is psychological.
Think about it for a second: the sleeping, unconscious version of you clearly has no problem with getting it up. What’s the difference with the waking version of you?
Turns out, it’s your thoughts. And that’s not uncommon. Research shows that performance anxiety, low self-esteem and other psychological blocks can prevent men from getting aroused.
Here’s why this is great news: now you know what could be causing your ED. Now, more importantly, you can reach out to a healthcare provider for targeted treatment, like therapy or medication for your mental health (you can start right now with us, if you’re ready).
There are a number of morning problems that we don’t want. Morning breath, bedhead and drowsiness are all categorically not fun. But morning erections? They’re both fun and normal. To keep the party going, here’s what you need to know:
Morning wood is a good sign. Morning erections are a normal part of life and a helpful signal that you’re physically capable of getting an erection.
Disappearing morning erections can be a wake-up call. If you’ve recently stopped getting morning wood, it could be a sign that you have an underlying physical or psychological issue that’s causing ED.
Treatment is out there — and right here. The good news is that ED is almost always treatable, typically with medication and some minor changes to your habits and lifestyle We offer a range of ED treatments online, including evidence-based medicine available after an online consultation with a healthcare provider.
Interested in learning more about erectile dysfunction and men’s health? Our guide to the most common treatments and drugs for ED goes into more detail about how you can maintain healthy erections and optimal sexual performance at any age.
Treat ED and get back to starting your morning with something besides your back feeling stiff.