Sex While Sleeping
In March of 2002 I received a press release from Stanford University. It read, in part:
"In a new study, Stanford researchers describe a treatable medical condition which causes people to commit violent sexual acts in their sleep.
Referred to as “sleep sex,” the nocturnal activities cited in the study range from disruptive moaning to rape-like behavior toward bed partners."
Although this may sound like a psychological problem, researchers believe it’s actually a medical disorder caused by glitches in brain waves during sleep. As such, it is treatable.
The disorder runs the gamut from loud and disturbing moaning to violent, bruising masturbation to rape-like attacks and other violent acts upon the bed partner. One man actually tried to strangle his wife while on the throes of one of these disturbances. Another victim tried to stop the behavior by using restraints. He broke two fingers while attempting, in his sleep, to escape.
It Is Treatable
Some people with this disorder (and it can attack both men and women) have been putting themselves and others at risk for years. The disturbances have gone unreported for several reasons: some people are afraid, embarrassed or ashamed to discuss the problem with their doctors. Many believe it is of no use because there’s nothing that can be done. And that’s where they’re wrong.
The disorder is caused by unusual brain wave patterns during sleep similar to those seen in sleepwalkers. It can be treated with drugs such as Valium, or, even in some cases, with treatment used for sleep breathing problems.
Christian Guilleminault, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford School of Medicine says:
“The aggressor and the victim are often both in difficult situations and don’t know how to express the problem. They feel that there is nowhere to turn.”
More research is being done in the field of sleepsex, or, as it’s now being labeled, sexsomnia. Sexsomnia can occur in people with several different sleep disorders, including insomnia and restless legs syndrome.
Another disorder that sometimes exhibits aberrant sexual behavior is Kleine-Levin syndrome. Sometimes the abnormal sex behavior is not sexomnia, and occurs during waking hours. However, Kleine-Levin Syndrome is still classed as a sleep disorder.
Kleine-Levin Syndrome is a rare disorder that causes excessive sleep or hypersomolance. It also causes compulsive eating, and an abnormal sex drive. It seems to be most prevalent among teenagers. However, once someone contracts the disorder, it doesn’t necessarily end with the end of the teens. The malady may occur off and on throughout adult life.
Like sleep paralysis, sexsomnia is a parasomnia and an arousal disorder. Many sleep disorders fall under this category, including sleepwalking, sleepeating, sleep sex, teeth grinding, night terrors, rhythmic movement disorder, REM behaviour disorder, restless legs syndrome, and talking in one’s sleep.
If you or your partner suffers from sexsomnia, talk to your doctor. Help is available. The drug clonazepam (Klonopin) has brought some relief to people suffering from a variety of parasomnias.
If you are a victim of any of the disturbances mentioned in this article, talk to your doctor. Help and support are available. An excellent place to look for help or information is the Sleepsex.org site. After two years of collecting reports and conducting interviews with those who were willing, Michael Mandan wrote the first (and only) book about sleepsex: “Sleepsex: Uncovered.” It was published December 2001.
Florence wrote for HealthCentral as patient expert for Sleep Disorders.