Ask Greg: Why Do I Get Morning Wood?

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We know our readers have some burning sexual health questions. That’s why we asked Greg Sauers, a physician assistant in San Francisco, to serve as our regular sexpert blogger, answering some of the most common questions he hears in the field.

Q: Why do I get morning wood?

A:Those morning erections most men wake up with several days a week are called morning wood in the real world. However, in the medical world, we have a slightly more formal name for that:  “nocturnal penile tumescence.” Honestly,  most of my male patients think nothing of it. They’ve been getting these a.m. erections since junior high, so few of them ever question why they happen.

They do however get concerned when these erections mysteriously go M.I.A. — but even that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

First, a little morning wood 101: It’s a perfectly normal, healthy phenomenon, and contrary to popular belief, these erections have nothing to do with the content of your dreams. So you can feel free to reassure your partner that you are not engaged in a subconscious affair with another lover (or even if you are, that’s not why you’re waking up erect). They’re also not a side effect of a full bladder or an indication you have to pee. They actually happen for a couple of reasons:

During deep Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, certain parts of your brain actually shut down, including the part that inhibits erections. So your  penis is free to do whatever it wants, and if it wants to fill up with blood and become engorged…it will. Also, your testosterone (the male sex hormone) takes a nosedive at night and then peaks in the early hours. That rush of hormones could explain the penis’s behavior in the morning.

Now, my patients only ever bring up morning wood if they’re wondering where it’s gone. A lot of them are worried that there’s something physiologically wrong with their penis or the blood supply to the genitals. Typically, these erections start in puberty and happen frequently until your 40s or 50s. That’s about when your body’s natural production of testosterone begins to slow down. So usually, when a patient asks me why he’s no longer getting morning wood, I have to start my reply with “well, as you get older…” This is usually met with, “Ughhh, you mean I’m ‘older‘?!” They don’t love to hear this.

The bottom line is, morning wood is a healthy, normal male thing that should be happening several times a week, especially in your 20s and 30s. If you’re in that age range and you’re not getting morning wood (or you’re a guy reading this headline and wondering, “what’s morning wood?”), make an appointment with your provider to talk about why. .

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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