Though it's liable to turn your morning trip to the toilet into a contortionist act, morning wood – also known as nocturnal penile tumescence, or the boner you roll out of bed with – is very much a good thing. In fact, if you aren’t occasionally waking up with an erection, it could mean you need to head to a doctor’s office to get your plumbing checked out. Waking up with morning wood, believe it or not, is one of the clearest signs of a healthy penis.
So vital is morning wood that urologists once diagnosed erectile problems by asking men to put a roll of stamps over their flaccid penises before they went to bed. If the roll was broken in the morning, it meant the man in question was getting erections overnight, and thus had a healthy penis. Urologists no longer use the stamp test, but the presence of nighttime erections remains an important indicator of how your body is functioning, particularly downstairs.
What causes morning wood?
Erections are cause by the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. When you see, feel, hear – and maybe even smell or taste – something that is sexually attractive, it triggers the release of neurotransmitters. This leads to the dilation of arteries in the penis, which means more blood flows into the penis, which means the penis becomes erect. The parasympathetic system is more active when you’re sleeping, which in addition to producing erections also causes your muscles to relax and your heart rate to slow.
Another reason you may wake up with morning wood is testosterone, which is likely to be at its highest level in the morning.
Is morning wood healthy?
According to Adam Ramin, M.D., urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles, California, a healthy man should expect to get hard three to five times per night. If this isn’t happening, it could be a sign of nerve malfunction, arterial disease, hypertension, diabetes, low testosterone, or depression and anxiety.
Morning wood is also a sign that the pesky erectile dysfunction you may be experiencing is psychological, not physiological. If you can’t get it up in the bedroom but find yourself waking up with morning wood, you may want to see a therapist. If you’re not getting erections in either instance, it could be a sign of some of the aforementioned health conditions.
So yes, morning wood is healthy.
What purpose does morning wood serve?
“There is no true purpose to the development of nocturnal erections,” says Ramin. “They are merely a byproduct of a natural stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system at night.”
Though morning wood serves no specific function, it might be the best indication that your penis is functioning properly. The erection reps you’re getting at night also act as a kind of unconscious exercise regimen for your penis, helping keep its tissue soft, stretchy and ready to go whenever your social agenda requires a little increased blood flow.
According to Tobias Köhler, M.D., M.P.H., the absence of morning wood could even cause the muscles in your penis to become too contracted, which over time could cause the length of your penis to shorten.
What should I do if I’m not getting morning wood?
According to Ramin, if you’re not waking up with morning wood at least occasionally, you may need to go see a doctor. It’s possible you're still getting erections during the night, but if a month or two goes by without anything happening in the AM, it could be time to get checked out. Treating the underlying issues – with, say, statins to clear out cholesterol-clogged veins, or testosterone replacement therapy if your levels are low – can improve your erections and your overall health, says Köhler.
How can I make sure I’m getting enough morning wood?
If you’re worried about your morning wood, it doesn’t hurt to keep tabs on how often you’re waking up with an erection. As is the case with just about everything these days, there’s an app for that. Morning Glory was designed by men’s health and wellness startup Roman to help guys track their erections. Just open up the app, record when you do and do not wake up with morning wood, and the app will tell you when you may need to go see a physician.
“We hope that this app will help guys form the habit of paying more attention to their bodies and talking to a doctor at the earliest sign that something could be wrong,” a company representative told Men’s Health.
Yes, the app is pretty gimmicky, but it underscores the importance of morning wood. “It’s very important for a man to understand the basis for their erection, Roman’s medical advisor, NYU’s Dr. Steven Lamm, says in a video promoting the app. “When a man is having erections they’re generally in very good healthy. When they’re not having erections, it’s time to visit your doctor.”
Reporting by Michelle Malia, Elizabeth Millard, and Reegen Von Wildenradt
This article originally appeared on Men's Health