Morning Wood: What it means and why you get it

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Morning wood is one of several terms used to describe a morning erection that occurs when you wake up. Officially known as Nocturnal Penile Tumescence (NPT), morning wood is also referred to as a “morning glory” or a “morning hard-on”.

But what does morning wood mean and why do you get it? It seems like a normal part of everyday life, however, what happens when you wake up without an erection? Undoubtedly, this may cause concern. This article looks to address some of the common questions surrounding morning erections, including what causes them, what it means if you don’t wake up with an erection, and when to see a doctor.

 

What is morning wood?

Morning wood is an erection that men have as they wake up. But erections are not just a morning thing. Morning wood is the last in a series of erections that happen throughout the night. A healthy man has 3 to 5 erections during the night whilst sleeping (if you wake up to go to the toilet during the night, you may well find that you have an erection, making it uncomfortable to pass urine).

Erections when sleeping usually occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep. The REM phase of sleep happens several times during a sleep cycle, and an erection will go away as you enter deeper sleep. So, you are likely to have many erections during the night and not know.

We usually wake up towards the end of an REM sleep cycle, which is why it is common to wake up with an erection. Testosterone is a male sex hormone, and levels are usually raised in the morning, which can also be a contributing factor to morning wood.  

 

What does morning wood mean?

Morning erections are a good sign, indicating a healthy blood and nerve supply to your penis. Whilst there is no real purpose for erections that happen during sleep, it is an indicator of good penile health. This means that your body is physiologically capable of achieving an erection and that you probably aren’t affected by physical ED (caused by high blood pressure, diabetes, or low testosterone).

Waking up without an erection can happen from time to time. This is not usually anything to worry about. Waking up when you are not in the REM phase of sleep (for example if your alarm goes off), is a cause of this.

 

What causes morning wood?

There are different theories which explain why morning wood happens. Most likely, the cause may be a combination of them all.

Hormones

We’ve already established that night-time and morning erections are most likely to occur during the REM phase of sleep. During this phase of sleep, the production of a hormone called norepinephrine is reduced. Norepinephrine plays a part in keeping the penis flaccid, so lower levels when sleeping are likely to encourage erections.

Whist sleeping, a man’s body produces many hormones, including the male sex hormone testosterone. Testosterone levels are at their peak in the morning, especially immediately after REM sleep. The increase in testosterone is also likely to be a contributing factor to morning wood. This theory could also tie in with why morning wood becomes less common with age. As men get older, their natural testosterone levels start to decrease. This can cause a reduction in sex drive and fewer morning erections.

Physical stimulation

Even when asleep, the body is aware of its surroundings to a certain extent. An accidental (or intentional touch) by your partner, or pressure from your bed or pillows is enough to cause physical stimulation, causing an erection.

Dreams

An erotic dream may play a role in a man getting a morning erection. This is an erection caused by mental stimulation. Although you are dreaming, your brain is sending signals to your penis, causing it to respond in the form of an erection.

 

No morning wood - what does this mean?

You’re not always going to wake up to a rock hard erection. However, you should be getting them every so often. There are no set guidelines or indicators which state how many days a week you should be waking up with an erection. But if you’re not waking up with the morning glory you once knew, it can be a sign that you have an underlying health condition. Erections are dependent on many factors, so it’s best to take a holistic view of your body and other influencing issues.
 

You may have an underlying medical condition

There are several processes involved in getting an erection. These include your cardiovascular and circulatory systems (which deliver blood to your penis to get hard); your nervous system (which carries signals from your brain to the nerves in your penis); and the right level of hormones (particularly testosterone which contributes to sexual function). Health conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes can all negatively affect blood flow to the penis. Diabetes also damages nerves which are involved in transporting signals from the brain to the penis. Erections rely on testosterone, so low levels are likely to reduce the number of erections you get. Medical conditions that are associated with low levels of testosterone include diabetes, depression, hypothyroidism, and kidney failure.

Poor lifestyle

Many lifestyle factors can impact your body's ability to produce an erection. These include stress, sleep quality and alcohol consumption. If you stop getting morning erections during a period of time when you’re physically drained, mentally stressed, or you’ve not been getting good quality sleep, you’re less likely to get erections during the night. Remember, nocturnal and morning erections are most likely to happen during the REM phase of sleep. Poor sleep and high stress levels can reduce REM sleep, so you’re less likely to wake up with a morning erection.  Reducing stress levels and getting a good amount of quality sleep will likely see a return of morning wood.     

Psychological issues

Psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression can make it harder to wake up with a morning erection. These conditions are associated with erectile dysfunction, and an overall loss of interest in sex. Depression in particular can disrupt the balance in the brain of neurotransmitters which are responsible for sexual function. Depression can also cause a drop in testosterone, which can affect the number of erections you get.

Age

As you get older, the number of erections you get are likely to decrease. This is most likely to do with a drop in testosterone levels as you get older. As you age, you are also more likely to develop medical conditions that affect blood flow and nerves, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. Weight gain associated with ageing is also a contributing factor to a reduction in the number of erections you get. So, morning wood may not be as common in older age as it once was.

Medication

Certain medication can reduce the body’s ability to produce an erection. Medication such as blood pressure treatment, antidepressants, opioid painkillers, Parkinson’s disease drugs, muscle relaxants, anti-cancer drugs and certain heart medications are thought to disrupt the natural process involved in causing an erection. However, this is not always the case.
 

If you stop getting morning wood all of a sudden, a trip to see your doctor or pharmacist may be useful. Because erections rely on several factors (both psychological and physical), you should speak to a healthcare professional if you’ve noticed such a change. Although it may seem embarrassing, this issue is probably a lot more common than you think. Your doctor or pharmacist may be able to recommend lifestyle changes and help to identify the root cause of the issue. If your erection problems are an indicator of an underlying health condition, appropriate treatment can help you to restore your ability to get an erection.

 

My morning wood is weak - what does this mean?

If your morning wood is weak, it could mean that your blood vessels aren’t working as well as they should. This makes it harder for blood to flow into the penis and allow for a strong erection. Conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity can contribute to this.

A weak morning erection could also indicate low testosterone levels. This can be indicative of a health condition which affects testosterone levels such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, or depression.  

Again, occasionally waking up to an erection that isn’t rock hard isn’t such a big deal most of the time. However, if you consistently experience weak erections in the morning, followed by weak or a reduced number of erections throughout the day (especially if it is interfering with your sex life), you should speak to your GP or pharmacist.

 

I have morning wood but still have ED – what does this mean?

If you have morning wood but suffer from ED, this suggests that your ED is likely to be caused by psychological rather than physiological factors. A strong erection in the morning indicates that your body is physically capable of achieving and maintaining an erection. So, if you are experiencing ED, it is likely that psychological factors such as performance anxiety, relationship problems or being over-tired are contributing to erectile dysfunction.

To treat psychological ED, you will need to address the underlying issue. A counsellor or sex therapist can help you overcome mental barriers that are causing ED. Couple’s therapy may also help address relationship issues.

 

I have ED and no morning wood – what treatment will help?

If you are not getting an erection in the morning and you have ED, this suggests that your ED is caused by a physical factor.

Lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, sleep, stress, and weight loss can improve ED and help you get a morning hard-on again.

Your doctor or pharmacist may prescribe ED medication to help get an erection that is firm enough for sex. ED medications work by allowing the blood vessels in your penis to relax and blood to enter upon sexual stimulation. This helps to achieve and maintain an erection.

ED Medications include:

Sildenafil (Viagra)

Viagra is one of the most widely recognised drugs to treat ED. Also known as the “blue pill”, it contains the active ingredient sildenafil, and is also available as a non-branded version, simply known as sildenafil tablets. It takes around 30 to 60 minutes to work, with the effects lasting up to 4 hours.

Tadalafil (Cialis)

Cialis takes around 30 minutes to work and can last for up to 36 hours (this is why it is also known as the “weekend pill”). It contains the active ingredient, tadalafil, and is also available as a non-branded version, simply known as tadalafil tablets. Tadalafil is also available as a tablet that is taken every day, known as “tadalafil daily”. This reduces the need for scheduling doses and allows for sexual spontaneity.

Vardenafil (Levitra)

Levitra takes around 25 minutes to work, can last for up to 5 hours and is recommended if you have diabetes. It contains the active ingredient vardenafil, also available as a non-branded version.

 

So, what does morning wood mean and why do you get it?

  • Morning wood means that you have a healthy blood and nerve supply to the penis, good testosterone levels, and will generally indicate good penile health.
  • The purpose and reason why men wake up hard isn’t fully quite understood. We know that erections happen throughout the night and in the morning when you are in the REM phase of sleep, but the purpose of this physiological mechanism is not known.
  • Occasionally waking up without an erection isn’t usually anything to worry about, but constantly waking up without an erection or a weak erection upon waking can indicate that you have an underlying health condition.

Whilst all of our content is written and reviewed by healthcare professionals, it is not intended to be substituted for or used as medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please speak to your doctor.