What Are 'Morning Erections'?
What they have to say about your health
Last reviewed: 27 Feb 2019
Morning erections are still not completely understood
They aren't usually a health problem unless they last longer than 4 hours
Because they're different to normal erections, not all men find they can use them for sex
Morning erections can be used to determine certain types of erectile dysfunction
What are morning erections?
Morning erections – they are sometimes called ‘morning wood’ or ‘nocturnal penile tumescence’. During sleep, men can get a few erections throughout the night and as they wake up. This is completely normal and quite common. Men of all ages can experience morning erections, although this can happen less as you become older or if you develop erectile dysfunction (ED).
An erection happens when there is an increase in blood flow into the penis. The blood fills specialised chambers called erectile tissue and this causes the penis to become erect.
We don’t fully understand why morning erections happen – some theories link morning erections to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Whilst in this stage of sleep, it is thought that the systems in the body that prevent erections from happening are switched off temporarily. While these systems are switched off, an erection happens. Also, more testosterone is released in the body as you wake up from REM sleep, which can cause erections. Other studies suggest that these morning erections occur in a different way compared to erections in the day that result from erotic thoughts and stimulation.
They are distinct from normal erections – what we do know is that morning erections are quite different to the erections that happen as a result of being aroused. An arousal erection happens in a different way. A person can become aroused from erotic thoughts or stimulation to the penis. This results in the brain telling the rest of the body to send more blood into the penis.
Are morning erections a health problem?
No, they’re not – in fact, having morning erections is a sign that the blood and nerve supply around the penis is working normally. They are not linked to any kind of health problem such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or issues with the prostate.
Some people may find that having morning erections make it more difficult to urinate in the morning. This may be inconvenient, but it is not a sign of an underlying medical problem.
How often is normal? – the frequency of getting morning erections vary between men, so it is difficult to say whether there is such a thing as ‘too little’ or ‘too often’. Some men report experiencing morning erections every day, whereas other men report only experiencing it once a week. Whilst all of these can be normal, it’s important to know what’s the usual frequency for you. Getting fewer morning erections than is normal for you may be a sign of underlying problems such as erectile dysfunction (ED). If this occurs, you should consider making an appointment with your doctor.
Warning signs – whilst morning erections are completely normal, they should not:
- Cause pain – any erection that causes pain is a sign that there is an underlying problem with the penis, so you should make an appointment to see your doctor
- Last for more than 4 hours – a persistent erection lasting more than 4 hours is called priapism and could seriously damage your penis. If this happens to you, you should go to your nearest Accident & Emergency department
Does a morning erection mean you’re ready for sex?
Not necessarily – the mechanisms that cause a morning erections are actually different to the mechanisms that cause erections which are a result of erotic thoughts and stimulation. Because of this, some men actually find it quite difficult to have sex if they’ve had a morning erection. So, having a morning erection doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re aroused or interested in having sex.
It can be the case, though – every person is different and some men find that they are aroused when they have a morning erection. Some men even find that sex is better when they have a morning erection. Choosing to have sex with a morning erection is completely safe. As with erections that come from being aroused, you can ejaculate and release sperm so it is still important to use protection if you do not want a pregnancy.
Can you still get them if you have erectile dysfunction (ED)?
It depends on the type of erectile dysfunction (ED).
You can still get morning erections with 'psychogenic ED' – Some people have erection problems because of factors such as performance anxiety, relationship problems, being over-tired, or they’ve had too much alcohol. This type of ED is called psychogenic ED. In this case, there is nothing wrong in the blood and nerve supply of the penis so men with this type of erection problems will still have morning erections. Psychogenic ED is more common in younger men.
You may not get them with 'organic ED' – if the ED is caused by a problem in the blood or nerve supply to the penis, they will not be able to have morning erections. This type of ED is called organic ED and is more common in older men.
Morning erections and testosterone levels – there is also some evidence that having a decreased level of testosterone in your body can lead to less morning erections. There is no specific study that has looked into this, but it is possible that you may get fewer morning erections if you’re taking medications that alter testosterone levels in the body. These medications include:
- Beta-blockers – this medicine works on the heart and may be used for high blood pressure or anxiety
- Opioid painkillers – these are some of the most potent painkillers that can be used
- Antidepressant medication – these medicines are used in not only depression, but anxiety disorders
Can you control them?
Not easily – there is no recommended treatment to stop morning erections. If you are worried about them, it’s important to bear in mind that morning erections are normal and are a sign that the blood and nerves to your penis are working properly.
There's no need for treatment of morning erections. However, if you're very worried about morning erections, you may be able to speak to a counsellor for talking therapy. They will be able to work through any anxiety and other issues that you want to talk about.
Dr Nicholas Antonakopoulos graduated from the University of London in 2006. He did his postgraduate training in hospitals in the London area, and he trained for four years in Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery before completing his training in General practice in 2015.Meet our doctors
Last reviewed: 27 Feb 2019
Calvet, U. (1999). Painful nocturnal erection. Sleep Medicine review, Mar; 3(1): 47-57.
Fisher, C., Schiavi, R. C. and Edwards A. (1979). Evaluation of nocturnal penile tumescence in the differential diagnosis of sexual impotence. Arch Gen Psychiatry, Apr; 36(4): 431-437.
Mann, K. and Sohn, M. (2005). Spontaneous nocturnal erections - physiology and clinical applications. Somnoloie, Sep; 9(3): 119-126.
Montague, D. K. et al (2003). American Urological Association guideline on the management of priapism. The Journal of Urology, Oct; 170(4): 1318-1324.
Wincze, J. P., Bansal, S. and Malamud, M. (1986). Effects of medroxyprogesterone acetate on subjective arousal, arousal to erotic stimulation, and nocturnal penile tumescence in male sex offenders. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, Aug; 15(4): 293-305.
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