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Sleep Disorders

Sleep Sex and Sleep Talking

06/02/2009

Question:

My partner has tried numerous times to initate sex while sleeping. At first I didnt think he was still sleeping but he would not remember it in the morning and accuse me of making it up. He also talks or mumbles in his sleep on occaison. Last night he whispered in my ear he wanted to rape me and then gropped me and thrusted against me. It only lasted around 10 seconds and then he rolled over and continued to sleep. It happened a couple of hours after we had fallen asleep. Why is he doing this and does it now mean he wants to hurt me?

Answer:

Abnormal behaviors that occur during sleep are called parasomnias. Parasomnias are caused by partial arousals (brain activation without full consciousness) from sleep or during transitions between the sleep and waking state. Non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) parasomnias are events that occur in non-dream sleep. It is important to seek medical help for this condition as the sufferer and bed partner may experience frustration, guilt, shame or denial. This can be very stressful for a relationship. In addition, personal injury can result and so it’s important to get this evaluated.

One such type of parasomnia is often referred to as sexsomnia, though some have described it as “sleep sex.” Sexsomnia is described as a person engaging in sexual acts while asleep. Types of sexual behavior reported during sleep have included violent masturbation, sexual assaults, and continuous and loud sexual vocalizations. The severity of this disorder varies. Individuals tend to have no recall of the events upon awakening in the morning. While a specific cause may not be found in some cases, potential causes of this type of behavior have ranged from obstructive sleep apnea to a specific type of seizure disorder (epilepsy) to deep sleep (slow wave sleep) parasomnias to REM behavior disorder. Stress, alcohol and certain medications can also serve as triggers for this type of activity.

Generally, individuals with this disorder are not dreaming about sex. Sex dreams occur during dream (REM) sleep, during which our bodies are paralyzed, with the exception of our eye muscles and those muscles needed to breathe. People who are able to move during dream sleep have a sleep disorder called, REM behavior disorder.

To determine if there is an identifiable cause for your bed partner’s problem, a thorough history and physical examination are needed. This should ideally be performed by someone trained in sleep medicine and obtaining a referral to a Sleep Specialist from your partner’s primary care physician is a good idea. Once a history and physical examination have been performed, the sleep physician will likely recommend further evaluation by a sleep study, which is usually necessary to determine the presence or absence of the conditions mentioned above. Specific treatments for each condition are available and will depend upon the results of the evaluation.

While awaiting further evaluation, which I strongly recommend, you should consider sleeping in a separate bed from your partner.

To learn more or find an accredited sleep disorder center near you, please follow the links below.

Best of luck!

Related Resources:

Find a Sleep Center
National Sleep Foundation
Sleep Education.com

For more information:

Go to the Sleep Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Aneesa M Das, MD Aneesa M Das, MD
Assistant Clinical Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University