Jan 8, 2009

Science - From bed to worse

Sexsomnia is a sleep disorder, similar to sleepwalking.

When you have someone almost grabbing you and trying to pull your clothing off, you think it’s someone else. But the person is sufferring from an unusual disease. Tim attempts to have sex with his wife, Amanda, when they are both fast asleep.

Sleep sex or sexsomnia is a form of non-rapid eye movement parasomnia (similar to sleepwalking) that causes people to commit sexual acts while they are asleep.

Dr David Saul Rosenfeld, a neurologist from Los Angeles, was the first doctor to coin the term ‘sleep sex’. In some cases, the

sufferers are aware of their deviant behaviour for long before they seek help, often because they lack information about the medical disorder or fear that others will judge it as willful behavior rather than a medical condition.


Sexsomnia has been confirmed by sleep disorder researchers who have made video recordings of patients with the condition while they are asleep. They have observed unusual brain wave activity during the episodes, similar to that experienced in other non-rapid eye movement arousal parasomnias.

A doctor explains, “It is a mind and body disconnect that occurs during sleep. The treatment has quite a bit in common with other non-rapid eye movement parasomnias, and involves specific interventions.

He continues, “By avoiding precipitating factors and ensuring a safe environment, the condition can be brought to a high level of control with minimal effort.”

Not a problem

However, sexsomnia is not always problematic or extreme for those who experience it or for their partners. There’s a great variety in both the frequency and levels to which people are affected by this disorder.

Natalie Pona, a reporter, broke the story of the first case of sexsomnia in 2005. In November 2005, a Toronto court acquitted a man of sexual assault after he was diagnosed with sleep sex disorder. In Australia, a woman was reported as leaving her house at night and having sex with strangers while sleepwalking.

The first use of the term,

sexsomnia, for this condition was by Dr Shapiro and his colleagues from the Sleep Alertness Clinic of the University of Toronto. Sexsomnia is also described as a mix of sleepwalking and adolescent wet dreams.

According to the researchers, amazingly, not all partners of sexsomniacs are distressed or irritated by the novel experience of having an unconscious person make love to them. In fact, some actually prefer it.

Dr Raj Brahmbhatt, an Indian sexologist, hasn’t come across any cases of sexsomnia here.

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