What Is Sexsomnia?
Who doesn't love a good tumble in the middle of the night? But what if you wake up during a sexual encounter, only to then realize what you're doing?
For someone with sexsomnia, also know as sexual behavior during sleep (SBS), this is exactly what happens.
It's well known that sexual arousal and sleep are no strangers to one another. It's not uncommon that men get an erection during sleep, or that women's vaginal area becomes engorged. Further, some sexual activity is normal - such as men having nocturnal emissions (wet dreams), or sexual dreams that may lead to orgasm for women. However, for some, their behavior spills over in to disturbed sleep.
Sexsomnia is part of a more complex set of sexual behaviors that may include masturbation, fondling, sexual intercourse with climax, and sexual assault or rape. These behaviors happen when a person is in a deep state of sleep. They have no awareness of the behavior, and it often is lost to amnesia. Most often, someone suffering from sexsomnia does not gain consciousness during the sexual act. If they do wake up, they are often confused about what is occurring.
There have been numerous reports of two people having sexual intercourse while one person is away and consents to the behavior, or when both are asleep. Sexsomnia can also happen when the person is alone, and often involves masturbation.
Why Does Sexsomnia Occur?
Sleeping is something we all do just about every day. It is described as a lack of consciousness, suspended sensory activity, and inactivity of virtually all voluntary muscles.
Sleep is broken down in to several stages:
Stage 1 sleep is light sleep. Often you drift in and out of sleep and are easily awakened. Eye movement is minimal and muscle activity reduces. Some people experience sudden muscle spasms or a feeling of falling, as the body discharges stored adrenaline.
Stage 2 sleep is deeper. Eye movement stops completely and brain activity slows, save for some bursts of activity.
Stage 3 sleep is the deepest form of sleep. It is difficult to wake someone from stage 3 sleep. There is no eye movement or muscle activity. This stage of sleep is when disturbances such as bed-wetting, sleepwalking, and night terrors occur.
The body also enters periods of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. During this period, breathing increases to being rapid, shallow, and irregular. Eyes jerk around and muscles become paralyzed. Men develop erections in this stage, and dreaming occurs.
Sexsomnia appears to be related to other significant sleep disorders. When arousal happens but the person does not reach consciousness, they may engage in behaviors such as sexsomnia.
Other disturbed sleep disorders that are typically related include:
- Driving while sleeping
- Eating while sleeping
- Night terrors
- Bed wetting
Substance abuse or alcohol use may exacerbate this condition. This is also a reasonably rare condition, that is estimated as affecting approximately 1% of the population. It is not currently known what causes sexsomnia, but it may be triggered by stress, sleep deprivation, and excessive drug or alcohol use.
Symptoms Of Sexsomnia:
Often, sexsomnia is reported after the fact, or by the partner of the individual with sexsomnia. The person is described as "glassy-eyed" or having a vacant expression. They are typically non-responsive.
Behaviors engaged in typically include:
- Cunnilingus or fellatio
- Sexual vocalizations
This sleep disorder is set apart from others because it typically involves another person. Additionally, there is no pleasure gained by the person with sexsomnia.
Treatment For Sexsomnia:
Sexsomnia is a treatable condition. Various medications can be used to induce sleep, including benzodiazapams. For sexsomnia related to sleep apnea, a CPAP machine may be implemented, and for obstructive sleep apnea, anticonvulsant therapies are used.
Therapy may also be utilized to manage feelings associated with sexsomnia, or stress-related issues that result in sexsomniatic episodes.
Read more about Insomnia
Read more about Guilt
Read more about Shame
Read more about Intimate Partner Rape
Read more about Rape/Sexual Assault
Additional Resources About Sexsomnia:
Psychology Today - Psychology research website. This page contains an article about sexsomnia, including case study, behaviors, and treatment.
Sleep.com - Website dedicated to sleep and sleep disorders. This page contains information about sexsomnia including a description, causes, and treatment.
Science20.com - Webpage describing sexsomnia and research related to sexsomnia.