Sexsomnia, or “sleep sex”, is estimated to affect one in 12 people and usually occurs in men. While other areas of sleep disorders, including sleepwalking, talking in your sleep, and wet dreams, can be embarrassing and annoying, sexsomnia can be much more serious
What is sexsomnia?
Sexsomnia is one of a range of sleep conditions that fall under the umbrella term “parasomnia”. Sufferers of parasomnia engage in involuntary behaviours in their sleep. Of these, bedwetting and sleep terrors are perhaps the most upsetting for the sufferer, but when the sufferer has sexsomnia it is the person they sleep with who bears the brunt.
Parasomnia occurs when part of the brain is asleep and part is awake, creating a situation where the person is asleep while still being able to act out activities as if they are awake. If a person has sexsomnia they are likely to have other parasomnias as well, which could include sleepwalking, sleep eating and, most alarmingly, sleep-driving!
"Sexual assault and rape cases have been brought against men who claim to have sexsomnia"
Sleep sex means engaging in sexual activities while asleep. This can range from masturbation and vocalisations, to fondling and, in some cases, intercourse. Sexsomnia occurs in non-rapid eye movement sleep and the sufferer usually won’t remember anything about it the next morning.
For some, the acts appear like a hazy dream, but for most, what they did in their sleep is lost in the night. Sexsomniacs will grope their partners, go down on them and even have sex with them. Unsurprisingly this can lead to issues, and sometimes these are serious issues. Sexual assault and rape cases have been brought against men who claim to have sexsomnia.
It’s impossible to prove or disprove whether this was the case at the time of the assault, but monitoring of brain waves in a sleep clinic can bring about a diagnosis of sexsomnia in general. If you have this condition, you won’t know about it until a partner tells you. If you’re the partner of someone who has it, it can be shocking and confusing when it first happens. It might sound like an amusing quirk, but sexsomnia can be disruptive and sometimes devastating.
How to deal with sexsomnia
There are some known triggers for parasomnia and sleep sex, although there isn’t a cure. Sleep deprivation, stress and alcohol all play a part in the condition, and people who work night shifts for any extended period of time are more likely to suffer parasomnia and sexsomnia than those who never have. Night shifts disrupt your natural body clock and the effects can last for years. Anxiety and depression can also be a trigger for parasomnias, as well as insomnia.
"Some women have actually had enjoyable sex with their partners while they’ve been asleep"
If you are the partner of someone with this condition, remember, they aren’t purposefully waking you in the night for a good grope! It can be annoying, though some women have actually had enjoyable sex with their partners while they’ve been asleep. Some partners find it hard to believe their bed fellows were asleep and didn’t know what they were doing, but this really is the case.
Your partner is likely to have no knowledge of what they did whatsoever, so try not to be too put out by it. Some women find it amusing when their partner starts fumbling around trying to navigate their genitals in their sleep, and more often than not it fizzles out pretty quickly and you’re both back in the land of nod. If it’s really becoming a problem and it’s disturbing your sleep too much, you could take separate beds for a night or two to catch up on your sleep.
If you are the one with sexsomnia, there are some things you can do to help keep the night-time sex monster at bay. Cut down on your triggers. Reduce your alcohol intake and try to set yourself a good sleep routine. Good sleep is important for all areas of your life, so ditch the night-time tech and do what you can to make your bedroom and your bed calm and peaceful.
We all know screens are bad for us in the bedroom and a cut off point for phones and tablets is good for all of us. Address any other issues you may have in your life. Stress is a major cause of sexsomnia, but other mental health issues could also be contributing to your nocturnal activities.
If all you’re experiencing is a little heavy petting, you and your partner can probably deal with it and even get used to it. But if you’re being aggressive in your sleep or it’s causing sleepless nights for your partner, you should see your GP about your problem, for yourself as much as for your partner. There are treatments for sleep sex, including some medications, and the more we learn about the condition the better we are at handling it.
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter