We receive a lot (and I mean a lot) of questions regarding libido. Specifically, how to raise it. In my ten years of experience with RAW Forest Foods, I have become steadily more convinced that in thinking about libido, the question to ask is about sleep. Before anything else, sleep is the number one—the main—focus. There is no point in going further with strategies and interventions until sleep is sorted.
Unfortunately, there is really no straight cause and effect—or solution—for either. In my experience here, both are going to require a primary focus on lifestyle interventions over anything else (herbs). That’s the bad news. The good news is that both are solvable and that in addressing them, many areas of life (and wellness) will improve.
Sleep and Testosterone
Men are not going to produce adequate testosterone without adequate sleep. This is just a physiological fact and there is no way around it. Many, many studies have been done on this and the reality is that sleep is an absolute requirement. It is fundamentally the backbone of health, including testosterone and libido. Testosterone is a main driver of libido in both men and women, so in this way, we can see how disturbed sleep will disturb libido.
Furthermore, and again there are many studies to support this, inadequate sleep can lead to increased stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression. All of which have a very—VERY—deleterious effect on libido. Additionally, poor and/or inadequate sleep increases the stress hormone cortisol which can also decrease testosterone production.
There is an easy litmus test you can employ in deciding whether or not you're receiving adequate sleep: Do you feel rested upon waking?
Whenever I ask this question I receive "no" as an answer, even for people that tell me they sleep great. If you're not waking rested, you're not sleeping great.
Because it forms the backbone of so many processes in the body, in addressing libido the goal here needs to be in regards sleep. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer for sleep, neither for the insomniac nor for the person that "sleeps great" but wakes up feeling awful (and neither for everyone else who resides in the middle of the spectrum). In the following you will read some of the most common, researched backed strategies I share with those looking to improve sleep (or, more commonly, for those looking to improve libido.
Strategies for Improving Sleep Quality and Duration
Before any other strategies or lifestyle modifications for improving or increasing libido and testosterone, sleep needs to be addressed and sorted. There is ample research to back each of these, so if you are interested in learning more or skeptical, take a look. The science is solid.
Timing and Regularity
Sleep isn't just about duration, it's also about regularity. Is it better to receive six hours of sleep per night, going to bed and waking at the same each time day in and day out than to receive eight hours with no schedule and no regularity. Pick a time to go to bed and pick a time to wake up and then stick to the schedule. iPhones have this functionality built into them.
Even more so than light, research is discovering a very real linkage between temperature and sleep. It needs to be cool (low 60s) to both get to sleep and to stay asleep. This is very interesting and compelling research into this, looking at the Maasai people (a nomadic group) in Africa. In short, it is not when it gets dark that predicts when people will go to bed and go to sleep, but the change in temperature.
I've employed this in my own life, even having a window open in subzero degree temperatures, and my sleep quality has skyrocketed.
Light, Camera, and...Blue light
There’s a ton of information coming about—from seemingly all directions—in regards to blue light. Honestly, I am less concerned with the blue light coming from screens (although it does block melatonin production) than I am with the stimulatory and addictive nature of what we are looking at on those screens. If possible, for the most extreme cases of insomnia, I advice absolutely NO screen usage after sundown. Some people will say that the only way they can fall asleep is by watching TV. This is two parted: One, it is a learned behavior and, as such, it can be unlearned. And, two, it is because watching TV is distracting—you’re able to fall asleep simply because you’re not worried about falling asleep (which is why the moment you turn off the TV that you're instantly wide awake).
They mimic the sun in the sky. It’s hard to go to bed when the sun is at high noon. Lose the overhead lamps and use table lamps after sundown. Light is stimulation, stimulation is not conducive to sleep. This is self explanatory.
Get Out of Bed (Don’t stay in bed if you’re not sleeping)
Right now the research shows that if you’re not sleeping for more than 20 minutes, you should get out of bed and do something quiet and relaxing, like reading a book with only a small lamp to illuminate the pages. That is because we learn very quickly what the bed means: Does it mean sleep or does it mean insomnia? Don’t associate the bed with sleeplessness.
Take a "Light Fast"
No one has taken me up on this, but I always recommend to people suffering from insomnia to take a light fast. Turn off any and everything that emits (electronic) light after sundown. Use a candle if you like, that's fine. But no lights and no screens. Sleep will return and it will regulate. It may take a few days, but it will.
When I’m talking about sleep with people, I always like to point out that no one has a problem sleeping when they’re camping. It can take a few days to reset, but usually by night three, people are sleeping just fine. Many times they’ll wake up in the middle of the night for a bit, but that is part of the normal sleep cycle for humans—having two distinct sleep cycles per night.
I mention this here because it reinforces some of the ideas above, about screen time, overhead lights, temperature, et cetera.
Sleep and Caffeine
Sleep is very curiously affected by caffeine, and it is so even for those that claim that caffeine doesn't impair their ability to sleep. It does. Even if you're not registering that it is, and that's is because what caffeine is ultimately interfering with is the amount of deep (restorative) sleep you're getting, not whether or not you can fall asleep.
Caffeine stays active in the body for a relatively long time (caffeine has a long half-life). If you are consuming much—or any—caffeine, there is a good chance it is impairing the amount of restorative sleep you're getting. To learn more about this, please see our blog post titled " Coffee as a Medicinal Herb."
Additional Sleep Strategies
Other lifestyle interventions, such as mindfulness meditation and exercise, are great for further dialing in and improving sleep. If major life stresses are causing insomnia (staying up at night worrying), well, obviously those are real issues and no amount of keeping the lights turned off will solve them—the issues themselves. They need to be addressed in the waking hours as much as possible, and then practices like meditation and exercise can help to manage the stress around them and to bring perspective in. I’ve found with major life stresses that just getting out of bed and writing a to-do list of how I’m going to solve them is a great way of managing stress. Laying in bed, unable to sleep and worrying is not going to provide any answers to the problems and issues at hand. Get out of bed and do something constructive towards remedying them.
Supplementation and Sleep
For supplementation for sleep, I would focus primarily on those herbs which are not-stimulatory in nature, primarily our TapRoot Deep Jing Formula. You could add to this our Pine Pollen Alchemy Capsules: The Endocrine Formula. Both are very restorative and not stimulating. For quitting coffee, which I highly recommend if you are having disturbed sleep, I recommend transitioning with our Lan Gui Ren Oolong Tea.
The "L" Word: Libido
The goal here, of course, is to have sleep either solve any libido "issues" that you are experiencing or to better position you to be able to so.
Libido and Desire
I see libido as a type of desire, as a type of zeal for life, not as a type of desire that is separate.
I know that for me, if I’m not feeling particularly excited about life, I’m also not going to be excited about sex. That is, I'll experience poor, or low, libido. And this makes perfect sense: When we’re feeling stuck, when we’re not feeling the possibility of growth, it only makes sense that libido is going to be diminished, too. When there is something out there we want, that we want to have and to get, that is, when we have a desire, then libido returns. This—desire—can be cultivated. Nurse and coax it.
The way that I see it is that desire is this singular thing, and then we have a bunch of subsets of it. Libido is one of them. When the desire bank account is full, we have desire to spend. When it is empty, we don’t have any desire to spend. In that same way, we also need to manage how we spend our desire. Maybe this wasn’t an issue in youth, because by the very nature of youth, the bank account was always full. As we age, we need to be careful about how we spend, how we manage, our desire bank account.
Supplementation and Libido
For supplements, all of the testosterone building supplements are going to be beneficial for libido, but as we all know, libido is much more complicated than that. That’s why we formulated our Eros’ Arrow Elixir as we did, so that it’s not just addressing the question of testosterone, but is addressing all of the other parts of the libido equation.
Check our best-yet Homemade Chai Recipe (With Aphrodisiac Additions) blog post page (technically it is a variation on the traditional massala chai drank throughout the more northern areas of India). We have included the recipe for adding the Eros' Arrow Aphrodisiac Elixir Tincture to the tea to restore and increase sexual energy.
ESF Capsules are very good for over the long haul building the reserves which will feed desire, including libido. RAW Pine Pollen Powder can be added here to restore at a foundational level. My preferred approach here with libido is to focus on restoring first and then focus on the specifics second. So we use the restorative herbs (RAW Pine Pollen is great for this, so is ESF) first so that the body has the fuel it needs, and then if libido is still sluggish, adding in something like the Eros’ Arrow formula to really ignite things.
For the most part, libido will naturally follow as testosterone increases. But, there still has to be something there to spark libido. There is no return to youth here.
For testosterone, there are a few different approaches to take using herbs. These are best outlined in our blog post The Three Classes of Androgenic Herbs. While the article is little dated, the overall still is the best explanation. As we age, I would put more of a focus on the supplementors, like Pine Pollen, as our natural testosterone production wanes.
The Take Home
The main take home here is two parted: That to "solve" the libido equation, we need to first address sleep. No amount of supplementation can take the place of this. Think of this like the staves of a barrel. If you're missing one stave, even if it is one of 100 staves, you cannot fill the barrel up AT ALL. You can't fill it up 99% of the way. All the water just pours out.
The second take home is that libido is a subcategory of desire. If we are lacking desire in life, we will be lacking libido. Similarly, if we're overspending from our desire bank account, then there is a good chance that libido will be diminished (especially as we age). As stated above, we need to nurse and coax desire and libido in our lives.