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Sexsomnia: All you need to know about sex during sleep

Engaging in sexual activity while sleeping and not knowing about it? It may be due to sexsomnia also known as sleep sex.
A woman with sexsomnia
Sexsomnia is also known as sleep sex. Image courtesy: Freepik
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 20 Jun 2024, 10:30 pm IST
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Wondering what sexsomnia really is? It is a type of sleep disorder that people are usually not comfortable talking about. If you have sexsomnia or sleep sex, you may have sex with the person near you or engage in masturbation or other sexual activities – while sleeping! Seems bizarre, doesn’t it? This condition can actually be distressing for the person suffering sexsomnia. It can even go on to affect relationships. This disorder is generally connected to stress or poor sleep quality. Read on to know more about sexsomnia and how to deal with it.

What is sexsomnia?

Sexsomnia is a type of parasomnia, a sleep disorder characterised by abnormal behaviours, experiences, or physiological events that occur while falling asleep, during sleep, or during arousal from sleep. People with sexsomnia engage in sexual behaviours such as masturbation, fondling, or intercourse, while they are asleep, says mental health and behavioural science expert Dr Rahul Chandhok.

During a 2021 research published in the Sleep Science journal, in all reported sexsomnia cases, memory of the sexual event was either completely or almost completely impaired. It is considered a non-rapid eye movement (NREM) parasomnia and can be quite distressing for both the individual and their partner.

A woman with sexsomnia
Sexsomnia is connected to stress and sleep deprivation. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the causes of sexsomnia?

Sexsomnia occurs because of the disruptions in the normal sleep cycle. Factors that contribute to these disruptions include stress, sleep deprivation, and irregular sleep patterns. It is also associated with other sleep disorders, like sleepwalking and sleep apnea. The exact neurological mechanisms are not completely clear, but it is believed to involve abnormal activation of the brain regions that control sexual behaviour and arousal during sleep, says the expert.

What are the symptoms of sexsomnia?

The symptoms of sexsomnia typically include engaging in sexual activities during sleep without conscious awareness. This can involve masturbation, initiating intercourse and making sexual noises or moaning. Other symptoms may include sleepwalking, and sleep talking.

Even though the person is asleep, it can appear to others that they are wide awake, they may have an open-eyed, and vacant look. In fact, people may only find out about having the disorder from their partner, or family member they are staying with.

What triggers sexsomnia?

There may be multiple triggers for sexsomnia. These include:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Stress
  • Environmental factors like irregular sleep schedule or sleeping in unfamiliar places
  • Other sleep disorders like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome can increase the likelihood of experiencing sexsomnia episodes
  • Trauma, especially related to sexual experiences, may worsen the condition or contribute to its onset
  • Alcohol and recreational drugs can disrupt sleep patterns and reduce the brain’s ability to regulate sleep, making episodes more likely.

How to treat sexsomnia?

Treatment options for sexsomnia include improving sleep hygiene, addressing underlying sleep disorders, and managing stress, says the expert. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be effective in reducing stress and anxiety that may trigger episodes. Medications like benzodiazepines or antidepressants may be prescribed by your doctor. Treating coexisting sleep disorders like sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine can also help.

What are the ways to deal with sexsomnia?

You can also make efforts to manage sexsomnia:

1. Avoid triggers

Alcohol and recreational drugs can lead to sexsomnia, so identify the triggers first. Stop consuming alcohol or taking recreational drugs to reduce the frequency and severity of the episodes.

2. Improve sleep quality

Don’t deprive yourself of sleep, and have a regular sleep schedule, so that you get proper sleep. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to promote consistent sleep patterns, says the expert.

A woman sleeping to reduce sexsomnia episodes
Improve sleep quality to reduce sexsomnia episodes. Image courtesy: Freepik

3. Create a safe environment

Make sure the environment you are in is safe for you and loved ones. Sometimes, people get violent during sexsomnia episodes. So, remove potentially harmful objects from the room to prevent injury during the episodes.

4. Sleep in separate bedrooms

Sleep alone if you have sexsomnia. It is not your partner who should be away from you, but also any minor or other relative or roommate. Be in a room where you can lock the door.

5. Contraceptive method

If you are a woman with sexsomnia and at a fertile age, you are at risk for unwanted pregnancy if you have sex with male partners. So, use a contraceptive method, but consult with your gynaecologist.

How to deal with a partner with sexsomnia?

If it is your partner who has sexsomnia, do the following:

1. Communicate openly

Don’t feel ashamed about it. Just discuss the condition and its impact on your relationship clearly and openly. This will ensure that both the partners understand sexsomnia and its symptoms.

2. Encourage professional help

If your partner is not willing to take help from a professional, tell them why it is needed to get help from a professional. Encourage them to seek medical advice and treatment from a sleep specialist.

3. Establish boundaries

Set clear boundaries and discuss your and partner’s sleeping arrangements even during your lover’s treatment. This can help in making both of you feel safe and comfortable, says Dr Chandhok.

4. Monitor and record episodes

While journaling is good for mental health, you should also maintain a diary for a different purpose. Keep a sleep diary to track the sexsomnia episodes of your partner. This can help in identifying the triggers and discussing them with a doctor.

5. Practice patience and empathy

Remember that sexsomnia is a medical condition, so approach it with compassion. Working together to find solutions can help in managing the condition effectively.

Sexsomnia or sleep sex is characterised by sexual behaviour while sleeping. A person with this condition may masturbate or sexually moan or have sex with a bed partner. Consulting a doctor is very important to do away with sexsomnia.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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