Like bored fans in a baseball stadium, an infinite wave of morning wood has swept around the Earth since the dawn of man. Somewhere on the opposite side of the planet, the tide of rising and falling penises follows the sun as it crests upon the horizon of humanity.
But what about the man who can’t rise with the rest? What if he can’t even remember the last time he woke up with a blaring tentpole and had to awkwardly pace around the apartment before peeing, or risk soaking his entire bathroom?
According to experts, morning wood — or scientifically speaking, nocturnal penile tumescence — can actually be a pretty big indicator of one’s overall sexual health.
To better understand why, it’s good to know why they occur in the first place. In short, erections happen throughout the night during the REM cycle of sleep, the period when you dream and your body basically runs an engine check — checking your immune system, repairing and regrowing tissues, solidifying memories and making sure your dick works. The last REM cycle often occurs right before you wake up, hence the reason for morning wood. (Scientists haven’t quite determined exactly why the body feels the need to inflate your penis several times a night, but it might be to perform maintenance — i.e., increased blood flow may keep the muscle tissues within the penis healthy.)
Now, erections don’t always occur during REM cycles, as you might simply fall into a light sleep right before waking up, losing your raging REM erection in the process. So before jumping to any conclusions, there’s only one way to truly know your body is no longer producing nocturnal erections: the “stamp test.”
Developed by researchers in 1980, the stamp test entails taping some paper around the circumference of your shaft. If it breaks overnight, you’re still in business. If not, says Alex Shteynshlyuger, M.D., director of urology at New York Urology Specialists, it might be time to see a doctor. Here’s a DIY dick stamp test:
As to the causes of your missing morning wood, it could be a sign of overall erectile dysfunction or impotence — especially if you’re having trouble getting or maintaining erections at other times. But more than likely, it’s a problem with blood flow, which is what most ED medicines aim to correct in the first place (and why ED typically happens in the first place). That said, there are a number of other physiological/medical causes that can lead to erectile dysfunction, too — from heart disease, to diabetes, to certain medications. (On the flip side, if you’re unable to achieve erections outside of sleep, but do wake up with morning wood, that probably means your ED is a psychological issue.)
If you consult NoFap forums — generally not a good idea — you might hear that morning wood comes back with a vengeance after abstaining from masturbation for a while. Can you really regain your early rise by just not jerking off so much? That idea is generally false. Abstaining from masturbation “normally should not have any effect on morning erections,” Dr. Shteynshlyuger tells MEL. Actually, he postulates, “occasional masturbation may actually be beneficial in the maintenance of blood vessels in the penis.”
A better solution? More shuteye. Not achieving morning wood might mean you’re just not sleeping well. One study of men with obstructive sleep apnea found getting better sleep led to them popping more nocturnal erections. There’s the possibility of a hormone imbalance as well, most notably a testosterone deficiency. According to one 2016 study, men who received testosterone therapy reported more frequent nighttime erections. (Admittedly, though, the science around testosterone is shaky at best.)
Which brings me to the final reason you might not be getting morning wood anymore — you have too many rings on your, um, trunk (or better put, you’re merely getting older). As you enter your 40s and later, your naturally occurring levels of hormones decrease and take your night boners right with them.
The silver lining: An elderly lack of night boners doesn’t correlate to an inability to achieve a waking erection, and so, your mid-day wood should be as firm as ever.