Saturday, June 19, 2010

When Sleepytime = Sexytime

Sometimes, I can't sleep.  It's kind of a drag, but I mostly don't mind.  It usually happens because I'm stressed out about something and can't wind down, but sometimes it's because there's too much noise outside (I live downtown and there's people and cars and frickin' garbage trucks going all night).  On more rare occasions it's because the Manfriend mounts a production of his momentous and rousing Sleepytime Symphony.

I want that teeth gnashing just pianissimo tonight, people...

It all pales in comparison, though, to Sexsomnia, or sleepsex. It's a variant on sleepwalking where sufferers perform all kinds of sexual actions, including talking dirty, masturbating, and having sexual intercourse with people, all while fast asleep.  Think x-rated sleepwalking - not something easily remedied by earplugs (which are a miracle of sleep science, by the way).

For a long time, nobody believed sleepsex was actually a thing.  To this day, it's not in either of the major diagnostic manuals sleep specialists use to determine what's wrong with people, although most of them now acknowledge it is for real.  A 2007 literature review determined that "a broad range of sleep related disorders associated with abnormal sexual behaviors and experiences exists, with major clinical and forensic consequences."

So really, sleepsex is not one thing, but a type of behavior brought about by lots of different causes, ranging from seizures to parasomnias to Kleine-Levin Syndrome.  What they all have in common is that sufferers don't have conscious control over their actions, and generally have absolutely no memory of anything going down.  Unfortunately, the syndrome can lead to some very nasty, very non-romantic things - things like failed marriages and sexual assault and rape.


These are some stories posted at
"Me and my wife have been having a very difficult time since our marriage began four years ago. At night I become a very aggressive person in bed only to awake to a horrified wife that knows all to well what I have on my mind. . .Our marriage is on the brink of divorce because of this obsession. She brought in an article that explains sleep sex! I read this and to my surprise I am astonished at what I was reading. I am looking a mirror image of what is happening to me. . ."
"We are in a very awful dilemma. My husband has sleep sex. He had done this for years with his previous girlfriend. Anyway, his stepdaughter from the other woman claims that when she spent the night my husband was touching her inappropriately. When the police questioned him yesterday he had to admit to that problem that he has done all his life and he said he did not know if he had done anything to the girl. He hoped to god not. My husband is the greatest man and this thing doesn’t bother me when it is between us. We will be seeing an attorney. I know my husband and he would not do this. But he is scared if he did."
LAME.  I mean, I find being woken up in the middle of the night for sexy time fun and everything, but only so long as it's a once-in-a-while thing, as sleep is kind of a commodity for me (and also considering how good just-before-bed and/or just-woken-up sex is).  I also like having the ability to say, "not tonight, babe," and have said babe be, you know, conscious enough to hear me, and comprehend what I meant by it.

true everywhere, even in Dreamland

I'm making it sound like men are the only people that have sleepsex, but that's not the case - women get it too.  There are fewer reports of sexual assault and rape from female sufferers, but I'm guessing that's only because women tend to be smaller than their partners and more easily subdued, as opposed them being less inclined toward aggressive sleepsex.  The relationship problems are every bit as real, though, when women won't quit it with the somnambulatory sexcapades.

There is some evidence that sleepsex can be treated with certain anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications, depending on the root cause of the behavior, which is good news.  They can be rough drugs to take, but unconsciously molesting people you love can be pretty frickin' rough, too.  There also seems to be some connection with alcohol consumption, and people suffering from sleepsex are urged to abstain.

A recently released study says that as many as 1 in 12 people seeking care in sleep clinics report having some experience with sleepsex, so it's not as rare as people once thought.  I've gotta say. . .since reading up on this, my occasional bouts of sleeplessness seem pretty tame.  I mean, who doesn't need more time for leisure reading, right?  Sweet dreams, everyone!


  1. I was with a guy for about 5 years who would do this about every other month. I just thought he was full of it at the time. I awake to being aggressively handled and when I'd say no and shove him off he'd be all startled and wonder what was going on. hmmmm he did have an excuse...sleep sex. :)

  2. Wow, Anonymous, thanks so much for sharing! It's incredible how many people are affected by this and how little it's talked about - I hadn't even heard of it until last week, and I keep track of these things!