Does No Morning Erection Mean Erectile Dysfunction?

What the lack of "morning wood" may or may not mean

Waking with an erection in the morning is something that every person with a penis has experienced. But, what if you suddenly think back and realize you haven't had "morning wood" in recent memory? Is this normal, or is it a sign of a problem like erectile dysfunction?

This article explains the causes of morning erections, what the lack of one means, and when you should be concerned .

What Causes Morning Erections
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Causes of Morning Erections

An erection—the enlarged, rigid state of the penis—can occur throughout the span of a male's life. Infants, toddlers, and pre-adolescent boys have erections, although they are caused by the physical stimulation of the penis rather than by sexual arousal seen in adolescents, teens, and adults.

Morning erections, also known as nocturnal penile tumescence, are erections that occur during sleep or when waking up. Popularly referred to as "morning wood" or a "morning glory," they tend to start as a boy enters puberty and increase in frequency as they get older. Morning erections are common in adulthood.

The cause of a morning erection is not well understood, but there are two bodies of thought as to why they occur:

  • Hormone theory: During deep sleep, levels of a hormone called norepinephrine drop. This is the hormone that prevents erections and counters the nitrergic hormones that promote erections. A steep drop in norepinephrine can cause nitrergic hormones to spike, leading to an erection while you sleep.
  • Bladder theory: A full bladder at night can provoke a reflex to prevent urination. Referred to as a "reflex erection," it is caused when sacral nerves responsible for an erection are compressed by an enlarged bladder. It is thought by some that this is a fail-safe system designed to prevent bed-wetting.

Recap

Morning erections are thought to be caused by a nighttime drop in a hormone called norepinephrine that suppresses erections. It may also be caused by a full bladder that presses on nerves responsible for an erection.

Lack of Morning Erections

There are a few reasons why a healthy male may not have morning erections. One of the more common is that he may simply not remember.

Nocturnal penile tumescence occurs while you are in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep occurs in cycles throughout the night and, as such, you may have had an erection without even knowing it. Wakefulness is also preceded by lighter stages of sleep during which an erection will begin to fall.

Another possible cause is erectile dysfunction (ED), defined as the inability to get and keep an erection firm enough for sex. If there are physiological causes for ED—meaning problems with the nerves, hormones, blood vessels, and smooth muscles that enable an erection—you may not be able to get morning erections as well.

The same is not true if you have psychogenic ED. This is a form of ED caused by psychological issues such as relationship problems, performance anxiety, low self-esteem, or depression. If ED is purely psychogenic, you can still get nighttime erections and can undergo tests to confirm this.

Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

If you suspect that your lack of "morning wood" is due to ED, you will likely be having problems with erections during sex as well; it would be odd to have one without the other. Even so, the lack of a morning erection may be the first sign of ED, partially if you are not sexually active.

There are a number of risk factors that may support your suspicions, some of which include:

It is also important to note that ED may have physiological and psychogenic causes, both of which require different forms of treatment.

If you believe that what you are experiencing ED, speak with a doctor. Tests can be performed to diagnose a condition that affects around 40% of males over 40 and 70% of males over 70.

Summary

Morning erections, also known as nocturnal penile tumescence, are thought to be caused by changes in hormones during sleep or by a full bladder that presses on the nerves that trigger an erection.

The lack of "morning wood" may mean nothing. But, if you are experiencing other signs of ED, you may want to see a doctor to have it checked out.

1:32

6 Lifestyle Changes to Treat Erectile Dysfunction

A Word From Verywell

If you have problems achieving or maintaining an erection, speak with your primary care doctor or ask for a referral to a urologist who specializes in the urinary tract and male fertility.

This is especially if you are young and don't have any of the common risk factors of ED. The same applies if there are any other unusual symptoms, irrespective of your age. ED may end up being a sign of a more serious condition, like prostate cancer, that requires immediate attention.

Was this page helpful?
6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Panchatsharam PK, Durland J, Zito PM. Physiology, erection. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Updated May 9, 2021.

  2. Youn G. Why do healthy men experience morning erections? Open Psychol J. 2017;10:49-54. doi:10.2174/1874350101710010049

  3. Elhanbly SM, Abdel-Gawad NM, Elkholy AA, State AF. Nocturnal penile erections: a retrospective study of the role of RigiScan in predicting the response to sildenafil in erectile dysfunction patients. J Adv Res. 2018 Nov;14:93–96. doi:10.1016/j.jare.2018.06.002

  4. Scranton RE, Goldstein I, Stecher VJ. Erectile dysfunction diagnosis and treatment as a means to improve medication adherence and optimize comorbidity management. J Sex Med. 2013;10(2):551-61. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2012.02998.x

  5. Pakpahan C, Agustinus A, Darmadi D. Comprehensive intersystemic assessment approach to relieve psychogenic erectile dysfunction: a reviewOpen Access Maced J Med Sci. 2021;9(F):189-96. doi:10.3889/oamjms.2021.6116

  6. Cleveland Clinic Center for Continuing Education. Erectile dysfunction. Updated June 2018.