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What is 'sleep sex'?

Medical researchers are trying to learn more about sexsomnia — a condition that causes suffers to engage in sex acts while fast asleep

A new study has focused renewed attention on a little-understood sleep disorder known as 'sexsomnia':

What is 'sexsomnia'?Also known as "sleep sex," it's a condition that causes people to engage in sexual activity during the deepest stages of non-REM sleep. 

How common is it? A recent study, presented at the Associated Professional Sleep Studies conference in San Antonio, found that 1 in 12 individuals seeking treatment for a sleep disorder experiences episodes of sexsomnia. In this particular pool, men were almost three times as likely as women to suffer from the condition. No one knows how prevalent sexsomnia is in the general population.

Is it potentially dangerous?Yes. While most episodes of sexsomnia involve masturbation or sex acts with a significant other, there have been reported cases of more violent sexsomnia that include rape, sadism and sex with complete strangers. Many patients also feel a heavy psychological burden. "People are very embarrassed by this," said Dr. Carlos Schenck of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorder Clinic, author of 2007 paper that looked at sexsomnia and related conditions. "I see a lot of people with sleep-related eating, and they're embarrassed, especially with the weight gain. But with sleep sex, they're really ashamed."

How do researchers know the sexsomniacs are truly asleep?They monitored their brain waves using polysomnography (PSG), which measures and records changes in brain activity as a subject sleeps.

Are there any daytime symptoms?Sufferers report depression, insomnia, and fatigue at about the same levels as sleepwalkers. However, "sexsomniacs" are far more likely than sleepwalkers to abuse alcohol and illegal drugs.

Is sexsomnia treatable?Yes. Doctors medicate sexsomnia using benzodiazepines, the same category of drugs often prescribed for epilepsy, sleep apnea, and anxiety disorders.

Sources: LA Times, APSS, MedIndia, Psychology Today, New Scientist, BBC, Daily Health Web,

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