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Sexsomnia: Sex While Asleep

Posted On January 26, 2014
January 26, 2014

Doink, doink. The unmistakable sound effect that begins an episode of “Law and Order: SVU,” which is quickly followed by the following opening line: “In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories.” It is very easy to imagine a storyline that would follow someone who was charged with a crime because the individual engaged in sex while asleep but had no memory of making the overture. Unfortunately, this scenario can happen and has even been used as a plausible defense if the individual suffers from documented sexsomnia: sex while asleep.

There are quite a number of sleeping disorders that can cause a person to perform various activities while asleep and have no recall of what transpired, such as raiding the refrigerator or even getting behind the wheel of a car. Sexsomnia is actually considered a variant form of sleepwalking or confusional arousal, which means that complex behaviors happen when the person is in a state of deep sleep. For the most part during the sexual activity, a person with sexsomnia will not gain consciousness and if they are woken up, often will be appear ‘glassy eyed,’ and confused about what just transpired.

Someone who has sexsomnia is not acting out his or her dreams, instead, the activity is automatic. Therefore, it is not a far stretch to comprehend that sexual intercourse can occur when the sufferer is asleep. In fact, the sexual activity can range from sex talk to violent masturbation to oral sex to penetration. However, instances of sexsomnia can also happen if the individual has sleep-related epilepsy, but in this case, the person remembers the sexual activity.

Although rare, the incidence of sexsomnia can increase with alcohol and certain prescription sleep medication usage, as well as when the person suffers from sleep apnea and/or sleep deprivation. As one can imagine, the occurrence is a topic full of shame that one would be embarrassed to bring up to a physician. In 2010, statistical information about the disorder was presented during the annual SLEEP meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, which was as follows:

  • Eight percent of the patients had sexsomnia
  • At a ratio of 3 to 1, men more than women suffered from the sleeping disorder

The researchers stressed that due to the fact that only patients of the sleep disorder center in Toronto, Canada were included in the study they believed the incidence was higher than one would find in the general population.

Is Sexsomnia Treatable?

Sexsomnia, also dubbed “sleep sex,” is treatable but a cure may not be possible. If the person has sleep apnea and sought treatment, sexsomnia occurrences can decrease. Anti-seizure medications have also been found to prevent unwanted sexual episodes while asleep. At any rate, it is a good idea to try to get a consistent amount of sleep at night in the neighborhood of at least 7 hours and practice healthy sleep hygiene to keep the sexsomnia occurrences to a minimum.

If you would like to find out more or believe that you might have a serious health issue like sleep apnea, please contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 or schedule a free consultation.


About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Communications for Sleep Apnea Treatment Centers of America, manages all content and communications for the company.
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