Sleep Care


Many people have had, at one point or another, an intense dream of a strong sexual nature that led to waking up in a sweat, or breathing heavily, or perhaps having an elevated heart rate. Depending on the characters and setting, some are relieved to realize their experience was just a dream, while others may be a little disappointed. But what if the dreams somehow managed to become actual, physical behavior while a person was unconsciously asleep? It is known that blood flow is significantly increased to the sexual organs in both men and women during REM sleep periods throughout the night, resulting in erections for men and vaginal moistening for women. What if people acted on the unconscious sexual urges possibly associated with these physical changes? Sexual Behavior in Sleep (SBS), or “Sexsomnia” Although it is not listed in the latest diagnostic manual used by sleep specialists as a specific sleep disorder, Sexual Behavior in Sleep (SBS, or “sexsomnia”) is a very real and concerning behavior to those who suffer from it. SBS includes most sexual behaviors that are done when people are consciously awake and in control of their bodies. Relatively few cases have been documented through the standard method of a sleep study with video recording, although this may be due to the embarrassment experienced by those suffering from these events. For example, while sleep walking or sleep eating are known disorders that individuals could find a support group for or talk easily about with their doctor, it would not be as easy to find help if one’s problem is that he or she sexually gropes themselves, or whoever is sleeping next to or near them. Clinically, SBS is regarded by the International Classification of Sleep Disorders—2 as a parasomnia, meaning it is a behavior during sleep that is abnormal or unusual. It is viewed primarily as a variant of confusional arousals and sleepwalking, two behaviors which are diagnosable. A Little Known Problem Since there are few cases investigated and recorded in a laboratory, and many who suffer from it may not seek help, relatively little is known about sexual behavior in sleep. Research from those who have investigated it or seen patients willing to

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share their experiences is largely anecdotal. Generally, those who have problems with SBS don’t discover it on their own, but are told by a bed partner or someone sleeping in the room with them—which can lead to some uncomfortable and embarrassing situations for both parties involved. Despite the lack of clearly

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established treatment guidelines for SBS, there are a couple of actions that can be taken. Sleeping alone or in a separate bed will be helpful to avoid any situations where another person is groped or touched in an unwanted manner. Additionally, moving any objects away from the bed (such as those found on a nightstand) that could be grabbed and used to possibly self-injure during an unconscious sexual episode is also a good idea. Since SBS is considered a variant of sleepwalking, some treatments commonly used for sleepwalking may be useful to consider as well. If you suspect you may have problems with sexual behavior in sleep, or are told by a bed partner that you engage in abnormal sexual behavior while asleep, the best thing to do is to see a doctor to determine if there are any other factors that may be causing the unwanted behavior.

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