What is Morning Wood?

While it’s possible that overnight erections come from a particularly exciting dream, morning erections are more commonly caused by hormonal changes during the sleep cycle.
Morning wood (“nocturnal penile tumescence” in medical terminology) refers to when a boy or man gets an erection during their sleep or when waking up. While it’s possible that overnight erections come from a particularly exciting dream, morning erections are more commonly caused by hormonal changes during the sleep cycle. Here’s what you need to know about morning wood and its connection to your hormones and sleep cycle:


What is Morning Wood?


Morning wood is a slang term referring to erections that occur overnight or when waking up. While it is common for morning erections to occur during puberty (when the hormones are on a chemical rampage), morning wood can occur at any age. Male sexual maturity occurs from the late teens to the end of the thirty’s, which is when testosterone levels are at their highest. It is very common for men in this age range to experience morning erections frequently, but men can still experience morning wood into their 70’s and 80’s.


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The Physiology of an Erection


When the penis is physically stimulated, the nerves send signals to increase blood flow. The tissue within the penis is spongy, so when blood begins to fill the penis, pressure builds. The pressure of the new blood in the penile tissue causes the penis to become erect and firm – et voilà, an erection! This process is caused by sexual touch while awake, but can also occur overnight without any stimulation.


Morning Wood and Your Sleep Cycle


Humans have two stages to our sleep cycle – rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep (nREM). When we fall asleep, we start in nREM sleep and then enter REM sleep during deeper relaxation. This cycle occurs multiple times throughout the night, cycling about every 90 minutes.

During deep REM sleep, the brain produces less norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter that reduces blood flow to the penis). With less norepinephrine available, more blood can flow into the penis to cause an erection. 

Additionally, the male body produces the highest amount of testosterone (that male hormone responsible for puberty) during REM sleep. So, with low levels of erection-preventing norepinephrine and high levels of testosterone, men often get erections during REM sleep. Man can get 3-5 erections overnight throughout this cycle, and can get morning wood when they wake up at the end of a REM cycle.


Testosterone Levels and Morning Wood


Male testosterone levels decrease with age. This is a natural and normal part of aging, resulting in a reduced sex drive, possible erectile dysfunction, and fewer instances of morning erections. Younger males with lower testosterone levels may also experience these symptoms and should seek professional medical help to restore proper hormonal balance.


When to Seek Medical Attention


Men rarely need to seek medical attention for concerns with morning wood. That being said, men should talk to their primary care provider if they are experiencing:

  • A sudden decrease in the occurrence of morning wood
    • This can indicate hormonal imbalances, physical blockages in the reproductive tract, or another underlying health condition.


  • Prolonged episodes of morning erections
    • Morning wood usually subsides within 30 minutes or less upon waking up. A morning erection lasting an hour or longer is not normal.


  • Painful erections (while awake or asleep)
    • Painful erections symptoms including sharp pains while becoming erect and pulsing pains while hard require immediate medical attention.


  • Difficulty getting an erection while awake
    • Changes to your ability to get an erection (especially in younger men) may signify hormonal imbalances or other underlying medical conditions.


Is Morning Wood Normal?


Yes, morning wood is normal! Waking up with an erection is a natural and normal part of male sexual health and indicates that your reproductive is working correctly. While morning erections may be a source of embarrassment and discomfort, there is absolutely nothing wrong or abnormal with experiencing morning wood.


Putting It All Together


Morning wood can be confusing and embarrassing – but it’s healthy and normal! Men in their sexual prime (teenage through forty) can experience morning erections frequently, and this is a good indicator that your reproductive system and hormones are playing nicely together. As men age, the number of morning wood occurrences will decrease as testosterone levels naturally decrease over time. If you notice any sudden changes to your morning erections, experience pain, or are unable to get an erection, you should book an appointment with your medical provider.