Sexsomnia: Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

If you’ve ever acted sexually in your sleep, here’s a closer look at the rare and unknown sleep disorder like sexsomnia . Most people are familiar with sleepwalking, in which a person in deep sleep gets up and begins to walk around the house, another condition that occurs during the same phase of the sleep cycle is sexsomnia, in which the individual Sleeping acts sexually, unlike sleepwalking, sexsomnia is largely unknown and misunderstood.

What is sexsomnia?

It is a distinct form of parasomnia , or abnormal activity that occurs while an individual is asleep, characterized by an individual engaging in sexual acts during sleep without rapid eye movement (NREM). Sexual behaviors that result from sexsomnia should not be confused with normal nocturnal sexual behaviors, which do not occur during sleep NREM, sexual behaviors that are considered normal during sleep and that are accompanied by extensive research and documentation include nocturnal emissions, nocturnal erections and orgasms during sleep.

It can present in an individual with other pre-existing sleep-related disorders , while parasomnia disorders such as somnambulism ( sleepwalking ), talking and sleeping, and night terrors are widely investigated and discussed, the lack of research and indecision associated with the Discussion of the disorder stems from its sexually aggressive nature. Although they appear to be fully awake, people with sexsomnia often do not remember the sexual behaviors they exhibit while sleeping.

In some cases, a medical diagnosis has been used as a criminal defense in court for alleged cases of sexual assault and rape. This is a relatively new condition, with the first official case recorded in 1986 and according to a 2015 study, only 94 cases of sex during sleep have been documented worldwide. It is also very difficult to study long-term because it takes place randomly overnight.

Symptoms of sexsomnia

It is different from sex dreams, because sex-themed dreams are not unusual for teens and adults, these experiences are quite different from sexsomnia. People with this disorder engage in sexual behaviors while they sleep, often with other people.

The difficulty with a parasomnia like this is that the person with the disorder may not realize they have it, partners, parents, roommates or friends may first notice the behaviors, the person with the condition may not know that it’s happening until someone else brings it up.

Common behaviors with sexsomnia include:

  • Petting or inducing foreplay with a bed partner.
  • Stroke or rub.
  • Moan.
  • Heavy breathing and elevated heart rate.
  • Perspiration.
  • Masturbation.
  • Pelvic thrust.
  • Behaviors that mimic sexual intercourse.
  • Masturbation.
  • No recollection or memory of sexual events.
  • Inability or difficulty waking up during events.
  • Sexual relations
  • Spontaneous orgasm.
  • Glassy and empty gaze in the eyes during these behaviors, unaware of the subsequent behavior.

If the person is unaware of the behavior after waking up, this could be a sign of parasomnia, the individual experiencing sexsomnia may have their eyes open and act awake. However, they are experiencing an amnesic episode and will not remember anything. Similarly, subtle changes in sexual behavior can be a sign of the sleep disorder, people can be more energetic during episodes of sex during sleep than they would be otherwise. The inhibitions may be lower because they are asleep, so the behavior may appear different. In addition to the physical symptoms that occur it can have harmful emotional, psychosocial and even criminal consequences.

Causes and risk factors of sexsomnia

Symptoms of sexsomnia can be caused by or associated with:

  • Stress factors .
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Consumption of alcohol or other drugs.
  • Pre-existing parasomnia behaviors.
  • Anxiety .
  • Fatigue.

Sleep deprivation is known to have negative effects on the brain and behavior, prolonged periods of sleep deprivation often result in the malfunction of neurons, directly affecting an individual’s behavior. While muscles are capable of regenerating even in the absence of sleep, neurons are incapable of this ability. Specific stages of sleep are responsible for the regeneration of neurons, while others are responsible for the generation of new synaptic connections, the formation of new memories, etc.

Sexsomnia can also be triggered by physical contact initiated by a partner or by an individual sharing the same bed. It affects people of all age groups and backgrounds, but is at increased risk for people who have the following:

  • Coexisting sleep disorders.
  • Sleep disruption
  • Sleep-related epilepsy .
  • Certain medications
  • concurrent sleep disturbances, including sleep walking or talking.
  • Restless leg syndrome.
  • Head injuries.
  • Migraines .

Pelvic thrusting, sexual arousal, and orgasm behaviors are attributed to sleep-related epileptic disorder. Medications, such as the commonly prescribed insomnia treatment Ambien, have been shown to induce symptoms commonly associated with sexsomnia. Like sleep-related eating disorders , sexsomnia occurs more frequently in adults than in children, yet these individuals generally have a history of parasomnias that began during childhood.

How is sexsomnia diagnosed?

Before seeing your doctor, ask anyone who has observed your sexual sleep behaviors to write down what they have seen and you should also keep a diary of your sleep patterns.

A record of these sexual episodes may be enough for your doctor to diagnose the condition, if not, they may request that you undergo a study. Sleep studies are usually performed in specialized medical centers, the test also called polysomnography, records the following during sleep:

  • Brain waves.
  • Heart rate.
  • Breathing pattern.
  • Movement of eyes and legs.

One night in the sleep center may be enough. Your doctor may also ask you to stay several nights so they can gain a broader understanding. If the behaviors occur while you are in the sleep center, this may confirm your doctor’s diagnosis. If an episode of sexsomnia does not occur, your doctor may order additional studies later or they may also try other tests to rule out possible causes.

Clinic tests


Electroencephalograms are tests used to represent the electrical activity and waves produced by the brain, this test has the ability to detect abnormalities that are associated with disorders that affect brain activity. Sexsomnia episodes commonly occur during slow wave sleep and during this stage, brain waves tend to decrease and increase in size. Using electroencephalography, healthcare professionals can determine if sexual behaviors occur during non-REM sleep or if the individual is fully conscious.


It is a study performed while the observed individual is asleep, which is a recording of an individual’s bodily functions while sleeping. Comprehensive sleep studies are usually facilitated at a designated center, specialized electrodes and monitors are attached to the individual and remain in place throughout the study. Video cameras can be used in certain cases to record physical behaviors that occur while the individual is asleep.

Among the bodily functions measured by this test is:

  • Inspiratory and expiratory air flow.
  • Oxygen saturation in the blood.
  • Respiratory effort.
  • Breathing frequency.
  • Eye movements
  • Brain waves.
  • Electrical activity in the muscles.

Polysomnography is also used to aid in the diagnosis of other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome. Normal test results show few or no episodes of sleep apnea and normal electrical activity in the brain during sleep.

Treatment for sexsomnia

Treatment is usually very successful. These include:

Dealing With Underlying Sleep Disorders If the sexsomnia is possibly the result of another sleep disorder, such as apnea or restless legs syndrome, the underlying treatment may also stop the involuntary sexual behaviors. Sleep apnea, for example, is most often treated with a continuous positive airway pressure machine.

Changes in medication. If you started a new prescription shortly before sexsomnia behaviors began, changing medications can stop the disorder, sleep medications, even over-the-counter ones, can cause episodes of parasomnia

Medications for underlying causes. Conditions like depression , anxiety, and stress can contribute to sexsomnia and disorderly sleep. Medication or talk therapy can be treatment options that can end sexual behaviors.

New drugs. While some medications can lead to sexsomnia, others can help stop it, antidepressants and anti-seizure medications may be prescribed.

Tips for managing sexsomnia

These lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of sexsomnia and possibly prevent future episodes:

Talk to your partner and family

This condition can put the people in your life at risk. It can also affect personal relationships. It is important that you let your loved ones know about the diagnosis, how you are treating it, and what they can do to help you. Honesty is the best policy.

Create a protective environment

Until treatments work, establish a safe environment for yourself and your loved ones.

sleep in separate rooms

Get into a room with a closed door and set alarms that can alert people when you are moving.

Avoid triggers

Alcohol use and recreational drug use can lead to dream sex, identifying those triggers can help you prevent episodes of sexsomnia.

Practice good sleep hygiene

Regular sleep every night is very important to prevent sexsomnia, lack of sleep and changes in the pattern can cause episodes of the disorder, so it is advisable to set a bedtime, and stick to it every day.

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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.

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