Are you too tired for sex? By Ian Kerner, Special to CNN

August 23rd, 2012

According to a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation, about one in every four married or cohabitating Americans claim they’re so sleep-deprived that they’re often too tired to have sex.

It’s not surprising why sleep trumps sex: Between work, family and social obligations, our need for shuteye often suffers.

Add in problems such as financial stress, health issues and relationship woes, and you can see why sex tends to drop to the bottom of our “to do” list — if it’s on there at all.

And when we do finally hit the sheets, many of us are more apt to hold onto our smart phone, tablet or other gadget than our partner’s hand.

“Many of us are multitasking throughout the day for extended periods of time — constant stimulation that can allow for enriching experiences,” says Amy Levine, sex coach and founder of Ignite Your Pleasure. “However, that can also take its toll on our sex lives.”

In some cases, though, simple exhaustion isn’t the only reason why sex takes a backseat to sleep.

Unless you’ve been diagnosed with a health condition that saps energy, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, it’s possible that factors other than a busy lifestyle are at play.
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“Boredom could be to blame,” Levine says. “If you think or feel sex is going to be status quo, it will feel like a chore rather than something that’s satisfying.”

Also likely: a low sex drive. According to a 2008 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, between one-third and one-half of all women will find themselves coping with low sexual desire at some point in their lives. And while we’re lacking such strong statistics for men, I and many other experts believe that low libido is increasingly becoming a problem for guys, too.

Although any number of factors could be to blame for these dips in desire, many of the same triggers that make us exhausted — like stress, anxiety, worry — are also linked to decreased desire in both men and women. Some people may confuse a low libido with being too tired for sex; for others, exhaustion itself seems to trigger a lower sex drive.

“A lot of women are satisfied with their relationships and enjoy sex once it’s under way but are just too tired and stressed to feel sexual desire,” explains Laurie Mintz, a University of Florida professor of psychology and the author of “A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex.”

The book was shown in a published study of 45 women to significantly increase sexual desire, arousal, satisfaction and overall sexual functioning in those who followed the book’s program.

Fortunately, there’s much you can do to create both the time and energy to make sex a regular part of your routine again. Try these steps to get back on track:

Get on a regular sleep schedule

It’s the end of a long day, the kids are finally in bed, and all you and your partner want to do is — well, veg out in front of the TV, or putter around on the Internet, or play a few rounds of Words with Friends.

Says Patty Brisben, educator and founder of, “The average American spends 2.7 hours a day watching TV, according to the American Time Use Survey. So you have to ask yourself which is more important to you: your relationship or American Idol?”

Try to stick to a regular bedtime, and devote the last hour or so of your waking time to your partner. Even if you do nothing more than cuddle, you’re setting a schedule that allows time for more when you’re ready. Eventually, your mood will follow.

Stay-at-home dads are sexy

Think outside the box

It’s easy to say, “Let’s have sex tonight,” early in the day when your energy is still high. Yet most of us wait until nighttime to get intimate, and by then we’re often too tired to make a move.

“Some people are more aroused during the day than at night,” Levine says. “Make your arousal pattern work with your schedule and that of your partner so you can enjoy physical intimacy.” That might mean indulging in morning sex before work or a lunchtime quickie — whatever works for you.

Make a date

Think scheduled sex is boring? Not necessarily. There’s a common assumption that spontaneous sex is best, but “planned encounters help build anticipation and relieve tension within your relationship,” Mintz says.

Get a sitter and head out for date night, play hooky from work, or make time for sex when the kids are at a friend’s house, for example.

Adds Brisben, “Scheduling sex is great for someone who loves to make a ‘to-do’ list. You know you’re not going to sleep until that box is checked off. Plus, it’ll establish a pattern of healthy sexual behavior. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Once that habit is formed, you won’t want to go to sleep unless you’ve had sex.”

Just do it

It can be tough to feel aroused when all you want to do it sleep. But stick with it.

Like other forms of exercise, “sex can give you an energetic buzz,” Levine says. “You just have to be willing to push past the feeling of tiredness to experience the pleasure that will ultimately recharge you.

“If you shift your schedule so you get enough sleep and reprioritize your day to the essentials,” Levine says, “being tired doesn’t have to be a factor that influences your sex life.”

And remember, sex begets sex. Once you get back into the swing of things, you’re likely to start wanting to get — and stay — intimate more often. When you wake up and smell the coffee, it will smell all the better for having had sex the night before.

Going public with depression

August 23rd, 2012

Editor’s note: Politicians Jesse Jackson Jr. and Patrick Kennedy have each recently revealed struggles with depression and mental illness. After the death this week of “Top Gun” director Tony Scott in an apparent suicide (it’s unclear whether Scott suffered from mental health issues), CNN’s Kat Kinsman writes that talking freely about personal mental health issues and suicidal thoughts, whether you’re a public figure or a private person, can help those who share the struggle.

(CNN) — I am 14 years old, it’s the middle of the afternoon, and I’m curled into a ball at the bottom of the stairs. I’ve intended to drag my uncooperative limbs upstairs to my dark disaster of a bedroom and sleep until everything hurts a little less, but my body and brain have simply drained down. I crumple into a bony, frizzy-haired heap on the gold shag rug, convinced that the only thing I have left to offer the world is the removal of my ugly presence from it, but at that moment, I’m too exhausted to do anything about it.

I sink into unconsciousness, mumbling over and over again, “I need help… I need help… I need help.” I’m too quiet. No one hears.

Several months, countless medical tests and many slept-through school days later, a diagnosis is dispensed, along with a bottle of thick, chalky pills. There is palpable relief from my physician and parents; nothing is physically wrong with me (thank God, not the cancer they’ve quietly feared) — likely just a bout of depression. While it helps a little to have a name for the sensation, I’m less enthralled with the diagnosis, because I know it will return. While this is the first time it’s manifested heavily enough for anyone else to see it, I’ve been slipping in and out of this dull gray sweater for as long as I can remember.

What doesn’t help at the time are the pills: clunky mid-1980s tricyclic antidepressants that seize up my bowels, cause my tongue to click from lack of moisture, and upon my return to school cause me to nearly pitch over a third-story railing from dizziness. I flush the rest and, mercifully, no one bothers me about it.

If they do, I probably don’t even notice; my brain is too occupied, thrumming with guilt, stupidity and embarrassment. Nothing is physically wrong. It’s all in your head. This ache, this low, this sickness, this sadness — they are of your making and there is no cure.

Now, 25 years later, I’ve lost too much time and too many people to feel any shame about the way my psyche is built. How from time to time, for no good reason, it drops a thick, dark jar over me to block out air and love and light, and keeps me at arm’s length from the people I love most.

The pain and ferocity of the bouts have never eased, but I’ve lived in my body long enough to know that while I’ll never “snap out of it,” at some point the glass will crack and I’ll be free to walk about in the world again. It happens every time, and I have developed a few tricks to remind myself of that as best I can when I’m buried deepest.

The thing that’s always saved me has been regular sessions with an excellent therapist and solidarity with other people battling the same gray monster (medication worked for me for a little while — I take nothing now, but it’s a lifesaver and a necessity for some). When I was diagnosed, it was not in an era of Depression Pride parades on the main street of my small Kentucky town. In 1987, less than one person in 100 was being treated for depression. That had doubled in 1997, and by 2007, the number had increased to slightly less than three.

My friend Dave was part of that tally. We met in our freshman year of college, and he was one of the loudest, funniest, most exuberant humans I’d ever met — and the most deeply depressed. Not that anyone outside our intimate circle knew; like many of us who live with the condition, he wore a brighter self in public to distract from the darkness that settled over him behind closed doors. Most people don’t see depression in others, and that’s by design. We depressives simply spirit ourselves away when we’ve dimmed so as not to stain those who live in the sun.

Dave saw it in me, though, and I in him; and for the first time in my life, I felt somewhat normal. Like I didn’t have to tap dance, sparkle and shine to distract from the fact that I was broken. I could just be me, and that wasn’t a half-bad thing in his eyes. I began to tell more people as plainly as I did other facts of my being — I was born in New Jersey, my real hair color under all this pink dye is very dark brown, and I’ve suffered from depression as long as I can remember. I’m Kat — nice to know you.

Dave never made it that far. His cracks were too deep and dark, and he poured so much vodka down into them to dilute the pain. A year after graduation, in the late summer of 1995, I was unsurprised but thoroughly gutted when I got the call — Dave had tidied his apartment, neatly laid out a note, his accounts and bills, next to checks from his balanced checkbook, and stepped into a closet with a belt.

I see Dave in little flashes all the time, still — hear his braying OHMYGAAWWWDD laugh around a corner and see his handsome gap-toothed smile in a crowd. I want to smack him full across the face for giving up and leaving us all, and I want to drag him to a computer and sit him down: Look — we’re not alone.

Dave was the first person I ever knew with Internet access. Among a million other things I wish he’d lived to see is the community of souls online, generously baring and sharing their depression struggles with strangers. There’s no substitute for quality therapy (in whatever flavor you take it) or medication (if that’s your cup of homeopathic tea), but by God, it’s hard to get there.

To see your feelings echoed and normalized in essays like comedian Rob Delaney’s much-forwarded “On Depression and Getting Help”; author Stephen Fry’s legendary letter to a fan, “It will be sunny one day”; the ongoing, public struggles of widely read bloggers and authors Dooce and The Bloggess; and guests of the no-edges-blunted WTF Podcast from comedian Marc Maron — all highly successful and public people — is to dare to let a crack of blue sky into the basement where you’ve been tucked away. I can barely imagine what it would have meant to my 14-year-old self to read Delaney’s words:

“The sole reason I’ve written this is so that someone who is depressed or knows someone who is depressed might see it. … But after having been through depression and having had the wonderful good fortune to help a couple of people who’ve been through it, I will say that as hard as it is, IT CAN BE SURVIVED. And after the stabilization process, which can be and often is f**king terrifying, a HAPPY PRODUCTIVE LIFE is possible and statistically likely. Get help. Don’t think. Get help.”

Or Fry’s:

“Here are some obvious things about the weather:
It’s real.
You can’t change it by wishing it away.
If it’s dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy and you can’t alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.
It will be sunny one day.
It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will.
One day.

It really is the same with one’s moods, I think. The wrong approach is to believe that they are illusions. They are real. Depression, anxiety, listlessness — these are as real as the weather — AND EQUALLY NOT UNDER ONE’S CONTROL. Not one’s fault.


They will pass: they really will.”

Dave will never see those words, or these, but someone will — including the 14-year-old me who still sometimes rides shotgun as I’m driving through a storm. I show her these words, these essays, these poems, these podcasts beamed out by the other souls who glitter out in the darkness. And I take her hand and lead her up the stairs.

Stressed-out men find heavier women attractive

August 15th, 2012

Feel free to indulge in that brownie, ladies – especially if the man you’ve got your eye on is worried about a work project. A study published this week in the journal PLOS ONE shows men who are psychologically stressed find heavier women attractive.

The study

Eighty-one heterosexual, white men, aged 18 to 42, were put into two groups. The first group took the Trier Social Stress Test, which increased stress levels by asking participants to take on the role of a job applicant in front of a hiring committee. The second group was sent to a room to wait quietly.

Both groups were then shown images of women with various body mass indexes. Study participants evaluated the women’s attractiveness on a scale of 1 (very unattractive) to 9 (very attractive). They were then asked to select the woman they found most attractive, the largest woman they found attractive and the smallest woman they found attractive.

The results

While both groups rated underweight women the same, the men with more stress gave significantly higher ratings to women in the normal and high BMI categories than their calmer counterparts. The stressed group’s picks for the largest woman they found attractive was also much heavier, on average, than the control group’s picks.

The take-away

Not much, if we’re being honest. Scientists have long known that a society’s ideal body size is shaped by their access to resources. Larger women are preferred when there is a threat, like limited food, because their bodies signify the ability to survive in hostile environments. In today’s world, that threat can be as simple as the possibility of unemployment.

Even hunger has an impact on the male mind – previous studies have shown that hungry men find heavier women attractive, according to the study. (Yet another reason to keep the chocolate in your hands!)

iReporters: What beauty means to me
Post by: Jacque Wilson — Health writer/producer

How a Squirt of Oxytocin Could Ease Marital Spats and Boost Social Sensitivity

August 15th, 2012

Oxytocin focuses our eyes — and our brains — on love. It could help troubled couples as well as autistic people
By Maia Szalavitz | @maiasz | August 14, 2012

Want to make those inevitable fights with your partner less troublesome? A spritz of the “love hormone” oxytocin could help, by encouraging cooperation in men and making women behave more approachably, a new study suggests.

The hormone may also help people read social cues more accurately, according to a second study in the same journal, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. That suggests oxytocin may not only ease social interaction, but that the hormone could also someday help people with socially impairing conditions like autism interact with others.

Oxytocin is a complicated character. It’s commonly called the “cuddle chemical” — the brain chemical is involved in orgasm, social bonding, pregnancy and breast-feeding — but in other circumstances, it has the opposite effect, increasing aggression against outsiders or spurring distrust and rejection rather than affection in some people who have had difficult childhoods.

(MORE: Could the ‘Cuddle Chemical’ Oxytocin Improve Male Sexual Function?)

The two new studies illuminate the nuanced effects of the hormone: in the first study, researchers found that oxytocin had opposing, but complementary effects on men and women in romantic relationships, who were given a dose of the drug before discussing a contentious point in their relationship. When both people got oxytocin, their conflict resolution improved.

The research involved 47 healthy heterosexual couples who were either married or had been living together for at least a year; they were happy in their relationships and not seeking therapy. Before being given either oxytocin or placebo, they were told to pick two areas of disagreement in their relationship; after the oxytocin took effect, the couples discussed those issues with each other while being videotaped.

Men who received oxytocin rather than placebo responded more positively to their partners during their dispute, paying more attention to them and responding more cooperatively. Physically, their levels of emotional arousal increased, which researchers gauged by tracking levels in the saliva of a chemical linked with autonomic nervous system activity. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for generating emotional and physical states, such as fear, anger, happiness and the fight-or-flight response — and the men’s behavioral changes occurred in tandem with changes in their autonomic activity.

(MORE: Telltale Signs You’ve Got the Love Hormone Gene?)

In women, oxytocin had the opposite effect: it reduced their autonomic response, making the women more friendly and approachable. The different results by gender may be linked to the fact that the autonomic nervous system has two primary functions that counteract each other: the sympathetic nervous system boosts arousal and triggers the fight-or-flight response, while the parasympathetic nervous system promotes a calming response, returning to the body to a neutral state. Perhaps boosting one function while suppressing the other could produce complementary effects depending on gender.

The authors suggest that the variation corresponds to the different ways men and women tend to respond to stress. Men are more likely to go into fight-or-flight mode, which raises arousal and makes them prone to approach, while women typically engage in a tend-or-befriend” strategy with calmer physiology, which makes them more approachable. In its role in facilitating bonding between couples, therefore, oxytocin may tune the stress system to generate the best response from each gender in order to reduce conflict. The authors write that oxytocin “may have driven quiescence in women and…‘approach’ behavior in men.”

The second study, published in the same journal, reveals a possible mechanism for how oxytocin actually works its magic on social behavior, by examining the hormone’s effect on people’s ability to read emotional expressions in faces.

(MORE: Should the Love Hormone Oxytocin Be Used in Couples’ Therapy?)

Forty healthy volunteers had their pupil dilation monitored as they tried to detect either hidden or explicit emotional expressions in images of faces. Pupil dilation is often used in research to indicate a person’s interest, attention or “cognitive load.” The authors note that “oxytocin significantly enhanced the pupil dilation response for all facial expressions presented.”

What does that mean in terms of the ability to interpret facial expressions appropriately? “[O]xytocin consistently enhances the perception of others’ facial expressions, ‘sharpening’ the impression such that happy faces appear more happy and less angry, whereas angry expressions appear more angry and less happy,” the authors write. “This type of evaluative ‘sharpening’ could represent one mechanism by which oxytocin enhances sensitivity to simple as well as more complex emotional expressions.”

In other words, the hormone may act on the brain by literally focusing visual attention on important social information and making it seem more distinct. But the effect was most pronounced in people who started out with difficulty reading social cues. People who were already sensitive to detecting emotion showed little change after receiving the oxytocin.

All of this suggests that oxytocin could be particularly useful for people with autism, a condition that is marked early in life by reduced interest in most social signals and experiences. “We think that oxytocin plays a critical role in social attachment and social cognition,” says Dr. Eric Hollander, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Montefiore/Albert Einstein School of Medicine, who studies the use of oxytocin in people with autism and was not associated with the current research. “One of the problems in autism is that social information is not being tagged as salient, so enhancing oxytocin should help in terms of salience, so that they can start to pay more attention to social information,” he says.

(MORE: A Blood Test to Predict Everlasting Love?)

Indeed, a case report published this week in BMC Psychiatry showed that a 16-year-old autistic girl who was given oxytocin daily for months experienced dramatic improvement. Prior to starting oxytocin, the Japanese teen had had few friends and frequent emotional outbursts. She had difficulty understanding others and obsessively played videogames alone. The authors write:

One month after starting nasal oxytocin spray administration, the girl’s social behaviors began to improve. The duration in which she closeted herself in her room became short. She greeted other people and made small talk with them, and she also showed empathy for others’ sickness and worries. She became able to express gratitude to her family for their support.

She became able to carefully listen to her family’s conversation, and showed attenuated expressions of rebellion to the family’s words of caution. Even when she lost her temper, she calmed down immediately. A teacher who taught her about culture and who did not know about her treatment noted decreases in the numbers of episodes of irritability and self-injury, and was surprised at the increases in the frequencies of daily conversations and happy facial expressions in the presence of other people.

If controlled trials and additional lines of research bear out, oxytocin may someday play an important role in the treatment of autism. It could also potentially help with other disorders like schizophrenia, which are marked by social withdrawal. In addition, researchers are studying oxytocin for the treatment of addiction, in which social difficulties often precede the development of substance misuse.

But given that research has shown that oxytocin can also have some negative emotional effects — notably in people with borderline personality disorder — it’s not yet ready for home use in autism or in couples’ counseling outside of experimental settings.

Maia Szalavitz is a health writer at Find her on Twitter at @maiasz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.

Can Two-Minute Sprints Burn as Many Calories as a 30-Minute Workout?

August 7th, 2012

There’s been no shortage of articles touting the benefits of quick, intense exercise. A new study in the International Journal Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism just dug a little deeper to compare oxygen consumption — an indication of metabolism speed — between athletes who performed sprint intervals versus longer bouts of endurance exercise.

The Study
The researchers asked eight male students to partake in either 30 minutes of endurance exercise or two-minutes of sprint intervals, three times a week for six weeks. Researchers measured their oxygen consumption (VO2) during and after 24 hours of exercise. Their VO2 was 150 percent higher during endurance exercise than sprinting intervals, yet after 24 hours the overall amount of oxygen consumed between athletes was nearly identical.

Can We Trust It?
The study suggests that when it comes to exercise and metabolism, intensity may be just as important as how long we’re hitting the roads. For those who don’t have 30 minutes to spare, two minutes of (now here’s the key!) intense sprinting will boost metabolism over the next day just as much as a longer aerobic jaunt.

On the flip side, the results are based on a super small sample and only included males subjects. The abstract also leaves us wondering what the two aerobic exercises were, exactly, and what shape the men were in to start with. Caveats aside, there is enough science to say that aerobic exercise will help people get healthy and happy, so make sure to squeeze in some heart-pumping cardio, no matter how many minutes long.

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