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The Sleepy Erection

Serotonin, as you may know, is a natural neurotransmitter that our body produces and that often leads to sleepiness, hunger and sexual arousal.

It is primarily produced in and secreted by the gut (literally the gastrointestinal tract).

When and if I get 5 or 6 sound hours of sleep, I can pass through the day fairly cognizant, aptly coherent—most of the time.

However, when I get less than 5 good hours of slumber, I’ll spend large chunks of minutes at a time feeling listless and lackadaisical.

Moreover, and somewhat more exciting, is the strange phenomena that occurs during these periods of feeling like the walking-dead, moments when I have to painfully-pleasantly endure the inherent hardships of—the sleepy erection.

What I believe happens is that my body automatically starts pumping out Serotonin, telling me that I should really be sleeping instead of pretending to work. When this occurs—Woop!—I get this extraordinarily firm hard-on, one that I have little control over and one that can be kind of hard to manage when I’ve got to go to a meeting or need to go somewhere, up and away from the safety of my desk.

Typically, according to a number of scientific studies, an overdose of Serotonin actually leads to erectile dysfunction. However, because it is during these times that I am forcing myself awake or have stimulated myself into a waking state with caffeine, the usual reception of this chemical is inhibited, and in turn I am extraordinarily (seemingly) turned-on.

At the molecular level what is happening is that at the end of our nerve and brain cells (neurons) are these branches (axons) with cups (terminals) on them. These cups receive packets of chemicals (vesicles) that once accepted by the cups, lead to the various reactions in our body.

Thus, when the body starts to produce the chemical that makes us sleepy it will spit it out into a space called the synapse (the synaptic gap) via one cup, and after traveling across the gap will be received by another cup—a chain reaction that usually leads to sleep, hunger or sexual arousal.

However, chemicals like caffeine and adrenaline actually block the holes in the second cup and break down the chain (reaction). As a result, there is extra Serotonin floating around in the body that leads to strange occurrences like phantom erections.

This could be why men often wake up with erections. For, as we are entering (or exiting) a REM stage of sleep the body probably starts prepping with doses of Serotonin. Thus, if suddenly we are roused by the alarm, the inadvertent nudge of a bedmate or a healthy dose of good morning sunshine, we are also likely to seemingly be aroused. Naturally, many a man will take it as a sign to exorcise some make-shift lust, erroneously concluding that his libido was trying to tell him something.

In reality though, that gut-feeling was a trigger for somnolence and not salacious expulsion. And by forcing oneself to wake up, you interfere with the natural chemical processes that your body is going through, so that instead of sleep—you get a stiffy.

Moreover, it is also likely that the reason why this force of nature is inherently uncontrollable (not maneuvered by the mind) is that the stream of Serotonin bypasses the usual course through the brainstem and automatically veers down south, as do subsequent thoughts when inspired by the surprise and the inadvertent stimulation. As a result, the process gives us little time to think about the wherefores of what is happening, and many of us will presume instead.

Thus, in these cases it is not thought that leads to action, but action (physiological responses) that leads to thought (and ironically, back to action).

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