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Here's Why You Get Erections During Sleep

Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Reviewed by Kelly Brown, MD

Written by Geoffrey C. Whittaker

Published 05/27/2023

Updated 03/05/2024

The sleep erection: our unconscious’ best attempt at getting laid. 

Nocturnal erections can feel like a real head-scratcher. Whether you’ve awakened to morning wood in the past or were informed by a partner that your erectile systems were on autopilot while the captain was sleeping, most men have had some experience with a penile erection associated with sleep time in their lives.

These sleep erections are totally normal, but they can also tell us  vital information about our health — sexual or otherwise. In fact, in certain circumstances, they may even help you better understand your symptoms of sexual dysfunction.

Regardless of whether you’re here out of curiosity or concern, we’re happy to help answer your questions about bedtime boners. 

Before we get into the useful information that sleep-related erections might provide about your health, though, the best place for us to start this conversation is actually at the beginning — why do they happen in the first place?

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Sleep time erections — specifically, those which occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of your sleep cycles — are fairly common. They’re considered normal and totally involuntary (you can’t really control what stimulates you while you’re unconscious, after all). 

There are several explanations for morning wood and sleep erections. Some of them are physiological, like inadvertent stimulation from turning on your sheets or a full bladder pressing on your sacral nerve (which is one of the parasympathetic nerves that can cause sexual stimulation).

Others are psychological, like the occasional erotic dream, which can give you an erection and possibly even lead to ejaculation.

But the broadest and most sweeping explanation is that it has to do with your parasympathetic nervous system. 

See, unlike your sympathetic nervous system (which controls your survival autopilot) your parasympathetic nervous system controls your pleasure and recharge autopilot. This one is responsible for systems like digestion, waste disposal and the system that tells you to be aroused. 

Yes, the parasympathetic nervous system could also activate your sacral nerve. Though, it would do so just because it’s already active in other processes — similar to how a single light switch may control several lights.

That last part may have sounded scary to the non-electricians among us, but there are no wires getting crossed here and sleep erections (also sometimes called nocturnal penile tumescence) are not a sign of danger.

Nighttime erections and morning erections are signs that everything is working normally, actually. So, if they’re happening to you, congrats! Erections of all kinds and at all times are totally normal for boys and men of any age.

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Put simply, there’s no connection between sleep erections and erectile dysfunction — erections at night are neither a symptom nor cause of erectile dysfunction. 

They do, however, offer two key pieces of information for understanding erectile dysfunction based on whether or not they’re present alongside ED.

If a person with ED is having sleep erections or morning wood despite their performance issues, then it’s a strong signal that the cause of erectile dysfunction in that person’s case is more likely attributable to a psychological cause than a physiological, hormonal or other biological factor.

A person with ED who can get erect in their sleep doesn’t have total dysfunction. The thing that disrupts awake erectile function — which may be low sex drive, self-esteem, body issues or fear of intimacy — is the hurdle between opportunity and achievement. 

In other words, guys, if it’s working while your brain is in rest mode or frolicking in dreamland, then your problem is something in your waking world. 

A lack of morning erections and spontaneous erections, however, may confirm that something’s going wrong on both sides of the pillow.

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Finding out what might be causing ED is a complicated process. Erectile dysfunction has a number of potential causes, including problems with your testosterone levels and blood pressure

And among its risk factors are things like cardiovascular disease and obesity, diabetes, smoking, alcohol consumption and depression (which would cover some of the potential psychological causes). 

If you’re at a healthy weight, have good heart health and get regular erections when you’re sleeping, it could be a sign that mental factors are the cause. But that’s not something you can determine alone.

Determining your cause is best done with the support of a mental health professional who can help you explore those mental blocks and construct a way to manage them.

The same is true of biological causes, although any treatment for erectile dysfunction — like sildenafil (generic Viagra) or tadalafil (generic Cialis) — is behind the barrier of professional support

Studies have shown that erectile function when sleeping would indicate a higher chance of a psychological cause (like depression), and if you do know that your unconscious penis is functioning just fine, that’s at least one piece of evidence that can help a healthcare professional determine the best way to treat you.

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Getting a sleep erection is perfectly normal and healthy. We hope you have many more of them for many more years to come. 

If, however, you’re getting more erections while asleep than while waking, it may offer good news and bad news about your sexual health

If your unconscious is always ready but your conscious mind seems to have trouble getting started, that’s something you’ll want to discuss with a healthcare professional. At that point, it’s most likely a sign that there’s an issue — one you can actually address and clear up.

We know talking to a healthcare provider about your sexual function can feel embarrassing. 

We also know how embarrassing it can be to have to call it quits in the intimate hours of the night, only to wake up and find out that your sleeping self had all the fun. That’s not what any guy — or their partner/s — wants. 

If you’re ready to give your waking self priority on erectile performance and pleasure, talk to someone about treatment options for ED today. It’s a problem that doesn’t go away without treatment, so the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll have a solution. 

Treat ED differently than your erection — don’t sleep on it.

3 Sources

  1. Team, U. and K. (2021, August 26). Why do men get morning erections? Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved January 16, 2023, from
  2. Schmidt, M. H., & Schmidt, H. S. (2004). Sleep-related erections: neural mechanisms and clinical significance. Current neurology and neuroscience reports, 4(2), 170–178.
  3. Sooriyamoorthy T, Leslie SW. Erectile Dysfunction. [Updated 2022 Nov 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:
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Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kelly Brown MD, MBA
Kelly Brown, MD

Dr. Kelly Brown is a board certified Urologist and fellowship trained in Andrology. She is an accomplished men’s health expert with a robust background in healthcare innovation, clinical medicine, and academic research. Dr. Brown is a founding member of Posterity Health where she is Medical Director and leads strategy and design of their Digital Health Platform, an innovative education and telehealth model for delivering expert male fertility care.

She completed her undergraduate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (go Heels!) with a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Science and a Minor in Chemistry. She took a position at University of California Los Angeles as a radiologic technologist in the department of Interventional Cardiology, further solidifying her passion for medicine. She also pursued the unique opportunity to lead departmental design and operational development at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, sparking her passion for the business of healthcare.

Dr. Brown then went on to obtain her doctorate in medicine from the prestigious Northwestern University - Feinberg School of Medicine and Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management, with a concentration in Healthcare Management. During her surgical residency in Urology at University of California San Francisco, she utilized her research year to focus on innovations in telemedicine and then served as chief resident with significant contributions to clinical quality improvement. Dr. Brown then completed her Andrology Fellowship at Medical College of Wisconsin, furthering her expertise in male fertility, microsurgery, and sexual function.

Her dedication to caring for patients with compassion, understanding, as well as a unique ability to make guys instantly comfortable discussing anything from sex to sperm makes her a renowned clinician. In addition, her passion for innovation in healthcare combined with her business acumen makes her a formidable leader in the field of men’s health.

Dr. Brown is an avid adventurer; summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (twice!) and hiking the incredible Torres del Paine Trek in Patagonia, Chile. She deeply appreciates new challenges and diverse cultures on her travels. She lives in Denver with her husband, two children, and beloved Bernese Mountain Dog. You can find Dr. Brown on LinkedIn for more information.

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