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Morning wood, or as your doctor is more likely to call it, nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT), is more common, and important, than you think. First of all, it doesn’t just happen in the morning. Most men get erections three - five times during the night, it’s just that you’re more likely to notice it when you wake up.
NPT also starts far earlier than you expect - not just before teenage years, but as early as in the womb (in utero, as it’s medically known).
Against urban legend, NPT isn’t caused by needing to pee.
Despite it being an essential indicator of a man’s well-being, the specific reason men get morning wood isn’t known, and the purpose isn’t really understood either. It’s believed to be down to a combination of three factors, but against urban legend, NPT isn’t caused by needing to pee. Scientists haven’t found any correlation between your bladder being full and waking up hard - except that morning wood makes it way harder to pee. So what does cause it?
Whilst you’re awake, your brain naturally releases chemicals which stop you from getting an erection, such as higher levels of cortisol and norepinephrine. At night, when your brain changes to sleep mode and these chemicals are less prominent, getting hard gets a lot easier.
You’ve probably heard of the fight or flight response, also known as the sympathetic nervous system. It keeps you alert and on your toes, so you can fight a bear or tackle a job interview. The opposite of this is the parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes known as the rest and repair state. Your parasympathetic nervous system is in action whilst you’re asleep.
One theory is that your penis gets erect during REM sleep (rapid eye movement - the stage of your sleep cycle where you dream) just to make sure everything is functioning, so you can rise to the occasion when needed.
Your testosterone levels are highest when you wake up, especially if you wake up from REM sleep. Testosterone levels usually peak when you’re around 20 years old and gradually reduce as you get older. If you’re starting to notice less morning wood as you reach your 40s and 50s, it could be down to your testosterone levels dropping.
With boner-prevention chemicals low and testosterone levels high, it will take a lot less physical stimulation to cause an erection. If your penis brushes against your partner, or even just your duvet, it’s more likely than usual to cause an erection.
Although the exact cause of morning wood isn’t clear, if you’re experiencing it less than usual, it might be indicative of a wider problem. Waking up with an erection is a sign that all your plumbing is working efficiently. Illnesses such as high cholesterol or heart disease may first show up as a lack of morning wood. If you’ve not woken up hard in a month or more, consider speaking to your doctor for a health check.
If you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction (ED) but still wake up hard every so often, it may be that the cause of your ED is psychological, rather than physical.
It might be an inconvenience, but morning wood shows everything is in good working order.
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