The Importance of Morning Wood
Written by Fritz Nugent
There is a special kind of lumber that can act as a canary in a coal mine AND a beam of great stability to keep the mine from collapsing. This special type of wood can be found in your underwear…in the morning. You guessed it! Morning wood (or for our friends across the pond: morning glory)!
That’s right, your morning erections (or lack thereof) are a sign of what is working well (or not so well) in your cardiovascular, nervous, and endocrine (hormone) systems! Morning wood can even shed light on sexual function (or dysfunction). So don’t hit that snooze button! It’s time to wake up and take a look under the sheet.
What are the functions of morning hard-ons?
The scientific name for sleepytime erections: nocturnal penile tumescence. The first thing you should know about these special boners is that they are normal and a great sign that many of your body systems are functioning nominally.
If you read our blog with any frequency, you are aware that your autonomic nervous system has two branches: sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest). Morning erections are caused by the latter. When our adrenaline is very low while we are in REM sleep (dreaming), our parasympathetic system is dominant and generates these nocturnal erections.
Apparently scientists don’t know the complete reason behind why we get erections while we sleep. When I say “we”, I mean everyone! Women get morning erections, too. They aren’t as noticeable as the male situation, though. Hormonal changes throughout the night stimulate blood flow to the penis. Perhaps this acts as a “system check” to ensure that the blood vessels in the penis are getting SOME stimulation even on days where we’re not having some form of sex. The old adage, “If you don’t use it you lose it,” seems fitting here, and your body knows this, and pumps those erections daily to ensure we can get it up to keep the species alive.
You may have several separate erections each night while you sleep, but may only notice the one(s) in the early morning when you’re in and out of REM sleep. If you wake from a dream in the morning and notice an erection, it may have been caused by the dream, but much of the time, our dreams and erections are not connected.
Now you can see that nocturnal erections aren’t just occurring in the morning. They are occurring all night long (as long as your nervous, endocrine, and vascular systems are functioning well)!
Now, this paragraph is me extrapolating. There is no research supporting my hypothesis here. It’s simply my own logic. Think about how the parasympathetic nervous system functions. We call it the “rest and digest” system because these specific neural connections facilitate our processes of digestion and recovery. If this system is functioning well, it suggests that we are recovering optimally from exercise and life. And when we’re parasympathetic-dominant in the middle of the night, boners. If no nighttime erections, perhaps we are sympathetic-dominant from a stressful day and our body is having trouble downregulating. So stress seems to play a role here. Balancing your stress equation may prove positively influential to improving this vital daily function.
Rock Hard Johnsons and Hormones
As mentioned, morning wood acts as a systems check for many body systems. Our endocrine system is supported here. Research suggests higher levels of testosterone lead to greater frequency of nocturnal erections. And of course, higher testosterone levels support greater recovery and gains in strength and improvement in other physical qualities, too.
Boners and Heart Health
To really put the stamp of importance on this daily occurrence, nocturnal erections are a sign of healthy endothelial cell function, which is very important for heart health and, in my opinion, the most important factor to consider in this article! Endothelial cells line our blood vessels in our entire body, including the walls of the blood vessels in the heart and penis. Fully functioning endothelial cells allow for development and maintenance of strong erections AND resists the build-up of plaque in the heart while preventing clots and constriction of arteries.
In fact, there is a massive erection…sorry…connection between erections and heart attacks! Dr. Joel Kahn, a cardiologist from Minnesota, suggests that, “Erectile dysfunction (ED) is an amazing predictor of future coronary artery disease events. For example, if you live in Olmsted County, Minnesota…and are a man between the ages of 40 and 49 without known heart disease but with ED, you have up to a 50-fold higher incidence of eventually having new heart events compared to men the same age without ED. Rarely in medicine is there ever a risk factor this powerful. To compare, smoking…may raise the risk of similar events 3-fold.”
To put that in perspective, an inability to get it up is 17 times more potent a predictor of heart attack compared to having a smoking habit. That’s seriously nuts (ha!). And if you think this phenomenon only exists in Minnesota, think again.
What do you do if you have weak or nonexistent nighttime erections?
I could write an entire article on any one of these topics (and I have!). In fact, there are a plethora of scientific research and books written on each of the topics below. So I know that you know what to do. Here are some simple guidelines:
Nutrition. Eat lots of vegetables and fruit, lean meats, some starches, and healthy fats. Minimize sugar, excess caloric intake, fried and/or highly processed foods.
Sleep. Spend 7+ hours of uninterrupted time sleeping in each 24-hour cycle, and get off your screens 60 minutes before bed. No matter what your sleep schedule, get some morning sunlight and minimize light exposure before bed. This will help set and maintain your circadian rhythm.
Stress. Manage your life in a way that your stressors are balanced with stress releasors. We each approach this uniquely. One of the main factors to support a long and healthy life is time with friends, family, and/or a community of people who you respect and enjoy spending time with.
Movement and Training. Walk as much as you can fit in each day, and train enough for where your current abilities are. Too much causes problems. Not enough causes other problems.
Of course there are other things, but these are the big ones. Once again, health comes down to doing many small things consistently well, just like training. May you have rock-hard morning erections for the rest of your days.