Sexsomnia is an embarrassing sleep disorder that no one wants to talk about

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These are all clinically documented cases of sleep sex, or sexsomnia, part of a family of sleep disorders called parasomnias that include sleepwalking, sleep talking, sleep eating and sleep terrors.
“They most often occur during the slowest, deepest stage of sleep, called delta sleep.
“There certainly can be legal consequences from the sexual behaviors, particularly with minors, and also with aggressive behaviors during sleep,” Schenck said.
Then the more first- or second-degree relatives that have a parasomnia, the more likely the condition may persist into adulthood or reoccur.” Having obstructive sleep apnea may also be a trigger.
Also called OSA, obstructive sleep apnea is a serious sleep malady in which breathing stops for 10 seconds to two minutes many times per hour each night.
“It’s the breath holding or apnea from the obstructive sleep apnea that triggers the arousal, typically in men, which then triggers the sexual behaviors in sleep,” Schenck said.
“After you diagnose sleep apnea and you treat the patient, treatment not only controls the sleep apnea, it also controls the secondary sexsomnia.” There are medications such as clonazepam, a drug used for epilepsy, restless legs syndrome and panic disorder, that can successfully control unwanted sexsomnia for many but not all.
“It’s so interesting, because a lot of people with stress become hyposexual, not interested in sex,” Schenck said.


When he wakes up in the middle of the night, a 38-year-old man cannot remember forcing his wife to have sex with him.

Married in her mid-20s, she frequently rips off her clothes and indulges in excessive masturbation, but when her partner wakes her, she forgets everything.

A 31-year-old man has been sleeping while masturbating for 12 years, sometimes hurting his groin. Feeling ashamed of his careless actions, he stays away from relationships for a period of eight years.

A group of sleep disorders known as parasomnias that also includes sleepwalking, sleep talking, sleep eating, and sleep terrors, these are all clinically documented cases of sleep sex, or sexsomnia.

According to Dr. Carlos Schenck, a professor and senior staff psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota’s Hennepin County Medical Center, many parasomnias occur when the brain is not in a dream state, despite the appearance that people are acting out dreams.

Schenck, a researcher on parasomnias for many years, stated, “These are disorders of arousal.”. “They usually happen during delta sleep, which is the slowest and deepest stage of sleep. You can go from your basement to your roof in a matter of seconds, as if a central nervous system alarm or trigger goes off.

Your body is activated, but your mind is sound asleep and you’re not with the program, according to Schenck. That poses a risk because you would then begin to move and run and engage in other activities without thinking. “.

It’s challenging to research sexsomnia because, unless they hurt themselves, many people are unaware of their unconscious sexual behavior until a bed partner informs them of it.

In 2010, researchers in Norway polled one thousand randomly chosen adults, and discovered that roughly 7% had at least one episode of sexsomnia in their lifetime, and roughly 3% still suffered from the condition today.

Certain individuals will have sex with their significant other, and it doesn’t bother either of them. According to Jennifer Mundt, an assistant professor of sleep medicine, psychiatry, and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, “so it is possible that this could be consensual for some.”.

“When the partner and the one doing it realize what they’ve done, there are definitely situations where it’s concerning for them.”. “.

Sleep disorders can ruin people’s lives.

According to the spouse of one woman, the episodes started in 2005. He informed Schenck, who treated the woman and published her anonymous case in 2021, that his wife would moan sexually about twice a month and engage in “dirty talk,” words she never used while awake.

The woman occasionally fondled her husband in the middle of the night, and they had sex until she became conscious and accused him of forcing them to have sex.

She also called out the names of other men, including a male coworker, while masturbating, giving her husband the impression that she was unfaithful to him. But according to Schenck, partners shouldn’t assume that someone who has sexsomnia is letting a secret slip out of their subconscious.

He claimed that “the wiring of the sleeping brain is very different from that of the waking brain.”. You cannot draw any reasonable conclusions about alleged lying or truth-telling while you are asleep because you are not conscious during this time. “.

After hearing her 9-year-old son complain about hearing her sultry groans while she slept, the woman, who had long disregarded her husband’s accounts of her actions, decided to seek professional help in 2015.

Schenck exclaimed, “That was awful, horrible.”. These patients are extremely uneasy because they are completely forgetful. Upon hearing “You did this, why did you do that?” from their bed partner or family member, the patient responds, “I don’t remember anything.”. They are therefore incredibly ashamed, apologetic, embarrassed, and miserable. “.

Some have even occasionally been arrested for their actions. Sexual behaviors, especially when they involve minors, as well as aggressive actions while you’re sleeping, can have legal repercussions, according to Schenck.

To address these problems, he stated, “a whole field of sleep forensics exists.”. To determine if something is genuine or just an excuse, they conduct in-depth assessments, case studies, and interviews with family members and other relevant parties. “.

How does sexsomnia come on?

It is impossible to forecast if you will experience parasomnia. Many do not experience sexsomnia or another parasomnia as adults, according to Schenck, but some people who experienced sleep talking or walking as children do.

“There is a genetic component, but we don’t know the exact cause,” he stated. You are more likely to experience parasomnia if you have at least one first-degree relative who does. Subsequently, the likelihood that the ailment will continue into adulthood or recur increases with the number of first- or second-degree relatives with insomnia. “.

Another potential trigger is having obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is a dangerous sleep disorder that causes breathing to stop for ten to two minutes several times an hour on a daily basis. Though it now affects more women, the condition primarily affects men.

“Typically in men, the arousal that results in sexual behaviors during sleep is caused by breath holding or apnea from obstructive sleep apnea,” explained Schenck. “Treatment not only manages the aforementioned condition—sleep apnea—but also the secondary insomnia that the patient experiences after its diagnosis. “.

Many people, though not all, can effectively manage unwanted sexsomnia with medications like clonazepam, which is used to treat epilepsy, panic disorder, and restless legs syndrome.

The 41-year-old woman that Schenck saw after her son overheard her was helped by quitting her high-stress job but not by medication. With no recurrence of her sexsomnia, she started to sleep soundly for six to seven hours.

It’s fascinating since many people who experience stress turn hyposexual and lose interest in having sex, according to Schenck. And it goes the other way for some people. Therefore, no rule is unbreakable. “.

Additionally, behavioral therapies are offered.

The side effects of sexsomnia medication can lead to addiction. In September 2023, Mundt of Northwestern University published a review of behavioral approaches to condition management, advising those who prefer not to use drugs to manage their condition.

She stated, “It’s true that we can significantly reduce symptoms or even completely eliminate them for some people based on the literature and my personal experience.”. In some cases, medication may be required because the patient may only show a partial improvement or not at all. “.

First and foremost, education is necessary, according to Mundt, as many people are unaware of the different stages of sleep and how sexsomnia differs from nightmares or acting out vivid dreams.

Your body begins to slow down its rhythms when you go into the first and second stages. The body is essentially repairing itself on a cellular level during the third stage of sleep, which is characterized by deep, slow waves. Dreaming happens during REM sleep, also known as rapid eye movement sleep, when the body paralyzes, preventing you from acting out your dreams and hurting yourself.

Based on an average adult’s 90-minute sleep cycle, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends seven to eight hours of relatively uninterrupted sleep for restorative sleep.

“Education is a treatment strategy in and of itself because it often helps to reduce the person’s anxiety, and any reduction in stress and anxiety is beneficial,” said Mundt.

Next, she said, “I’ll focus on sleep hygiene, which includes cutting back on alcohol and caffeine, maintaining a more regular sleep schedule, keeping the bedroom cool, and removing noise from the surrounding area.”. I may proceed to hypnosis if more strategies are required after we’ve worked on relaxation techniques. “.

Clinical hypnosis differs greatly from a magician performing for an audience, according to Mundt. Rather, it is assisting someone to willingly enter a trancelike or daydreaming state.

“You can almost see what’s in front of you through the window of a bus, lost in thought, and you don’t even realize it,” she remarked.

According to her, a trance state is beneficial in therapy because it makes people more receptive to novel concepts, ideas, and visualizations, such as seeing themselves nodding off peacefully through the night.

It resembles a parasomnia episode in certain ways, according to Mundt. Although the ease of entering that trance state varies from person to person, it can be incredibly powerful. “.

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