Is Sexsomnia Real?

Emerging cases of a serious sleep disorder.

Posted Apr 19, 2010

"Sexsomnia"- sounds like a made-up, weird word, but this appears to be a sleep disorder. While doing research for a recent TV appearance , I investigated what looked like a new and intriguing parasomnia. A parasomnia is a classification of sleep disorder where people can do some pretty complicated behaviors in their sleep. Sleep walking, sleep talking, sleeps eating, but sleep sex? I have to admit I was skeptical.

I found a fascinating paper published in 2003 by a highly respected sleep researcher, Colin Shapiro, that described 11 cases of people having or attempting to have intercourse or masturbating in their sleep. And what was most amazing to me, very few patients had ever been asked about these types of behaviors by their doctors or sleep specialists.

What appear to be the criteria or characteristics of a sexsomniac ? Here is what I have found:

  • Most people who exhibit this behavior are known sleepwalkers - either in childhood or more recently in their lives.
  • The sexual behavior of the individual during episodes of sexsomnia is different than their usual behavior, sometimes more aggressive than usual.
  • The behavior is always amplified by situations where sleep quality or quantity is worsened:
  • Many of the patients were men.
  • Several patients report that they were dreaming about having sex, or having some type of sexual fantasy.
  • Some of the individuals who reported these behaviors were actually physically sexually aroused, but not all were.
  • This behavior seems to occur in deep non-REM sleep at anytime throughout the night. 
  • The behavior can last up to 30 min.
  • The behavior is found almost exclusively in adults.

Sexsomnia appears to be a situation that warrants further study, and if you are experiencing these behaviors you should tell your doctor or sleep specialist immediately as there have been reported cases of deviant sexual behavior leading to, in some cases abusive situations.

Next Blog: The Good Sleep/Good Sex Connection

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor