Painful Erections: Could be a Sleep Disorder (SRPE)

Posted by Tyler Britton on Feb 2, 2021 8:00:00 AM


Sleep-Related Painful Erection (SRPE) – A Sleeping Disorder

A sleep-related painful erection is exactly what it sounds like: a painful erection that appears during REM sleep (ouch!). Getting an erection during REM sleep is completely normal, and will be experienced by most men anywhere from three to five times per night. You probably hardly need to be told this, but these erections should not be painful. This is contrasted with SRPE, where the erections are painful enough to rouse you from sleep. Generally, these erections subside soon after waking.

Perhaps surprisingly, it is not produced by sexual activity: sexual activity will not produce it, and there are no lesions or physical damage from this condition. It only occurs during sleep. This sleep disorder is considered a parasomnia, which is a collection of sleep disorders - it is considered a sleep disorder because the erections can cause sleep deprivation.

Causes of SRPE

The causes of SRPE are unknown. However there has been some research into causes, such as this 2005 study published as to the causes of SRPE being from [link to study]:

  • Disturbances in the nervous system that lead to hyperactivity and the release of beta-adrenergic substances such as adrenaline
  • Neurotransmission disturbances
  • Damage or stimulation to the hypothalamus

Another research study worth looking at is this 2017 study that suggested abnormal tightening of pelvic floor muscles during REM sleep as a potential cause [link to study]:

Regardless of the reason, there are some good ways to try and treat/avoid this irritating condition.

Other Facts About SRPE

  • Women are NOT affected by SRPE (obviously)
  • A 2012 study found that 45 years of age was the average age of SRPE onset and diagnoses [link to study]
  • There is a delay between of about 5 years from actual onset to diagnoses
  • Studies have also found that some  SRPE is linked to sleep apnea

SRPE Treatments

SRPE has no primary treatment. Some essential points for SRPE treatment are:

  • Urinating and a cold towel/water will make the erection subside quickly, though this doesn’t prevent the erection from initially happening
  • One study [link to study] found that applying an ice (I know, cringe!) pack to the penis during sleep prevented the painful erection, but unsurprisingly also made it difficult to sleep
  • Another study [link to study] found that the drug clomipramine prevented the erectile pain at night
  • Pelvic floor physiotherapy may treat the symptoms of SRPE, such as Kegeling and other exercises

If you are experiencing SRPE, it’s probably nice to know that there is a name for your pain/condition, and that there are way we can help. Please take this free online sleep test to get started.

Take a Free Online Sleep Test

Topics: SRPE

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