Sexsomnia: Everything You Need to Know About Sex During Sleep 1

Sexsomnia: Everything You Need to Know About Sex During Sleep

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What Is Sexsomnia?

Sexsomnia, also known as sleep sex, is a type of parasomnia, a sleep disorder most people are not usually comfortable talking about. If you have this kind of condition, you may end up having sexual intercourse with people close to you, or engage in masturbation and fondling while falling asleep, during sleep or arousal from sleep.

This condition can be distressing to the point of affecting relationships. It’s mostly connected to poor sleep quality or stress. Sexsomnia is considered a non-rapid eye movement(NREM). A 2021 research published in the Sleep Science journal, reported cases of this condition, memory of the sexual event was either completely or almost completely impaired.

What Are the Symptoms of Sexsomnia?

Symptoms of sexsomnia vary depending on who is experiencing the symptoms. The underlying feature of parasomnia is that a sleeping person displays uncontrollable sexual behaviours. These behaviours include:

  • Sexual assault
  • Initiating sexual activities
  • Masturbation
  • Sexual aggression
  • Fondling
  • sexual movements
  • Sexual noises
  • This condition may occur alongside other parasomnias including sleep talking and sleepwalking. It appears to be more common of the three and is more common among men than among women. Masturbation is the most common sexual behaviour.

In addition to the weird sexual behaviours, signs that someone is acting under the influence of sexual parasomnia include:

Difficulty or inability being woken.

Genital trauma is mostly due to abrasion.

Minimal or no responsiveness to conversation or the environment.

No memory of sexual behaviours once awake.

Aggression or unusual sexual responses.

Some people with sexsomnia may mistake their condition for nocturnal emissions if nobody else witnesses their weird sexual behaviour. Nocturnal emissions are commonly known as “wet dreams” and are not the same thing as sexsomnia.

sleep deprivation may contribute to sexsomnia
sleep deprivation may contribute to sexsomnia

What Are the Causes of Sexsomnia?

Research into the causes of sexsomnia is limited, however, experts’ findings show that sexsomnia is related to a variety of risk factors and underlying medical conditions. It is also associated with sleep disorders like sleep apnea and sleepwalking.

The exact neurological mechanisms are not clear but it may involve abnormal activation of brain areas that control sexual behaviour and sexual arousal during sleep. Here are some of the causes of sexsomnia:

      Obstructive Sleep Apnea

  • This sleep disorder momentarily cuts off the breathing process. It occurs when the muscles supporting the soft tissues located in your throat, like your soft palate and tongue, relax temporarily. When these muscles relax, your airway is narrowed after which the breathing is cut off.
  • Sleep-related seizures

  • Night seizures occur while a person is waking up or falling asleep. They may result in unusual nighttime behaviour like waking up for no reason, urinating while sleeping and also shaking of the body. They are mostly linked to epilepsy.
  • Kleine-Levin syndrome

This disease which mostly affects adolescent males is characterized by episodes of hypersomnia, hypersexuality and compulsive eating behaviour as well as cognitive and behavioural disturbances.

  • Chronic insomnia

Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which one has trouble falling or staying asleep. This condition may last a long time. It may also come and go. Acute is short-term and may last from one night to a few weeks. Insomnia is chronic if it happens for 3 months or more or if it happens for at least 3 nights in a week.

  • Restless legs syndrome

  • This condition is characterized by an urge to move the legs mostly in the evenings. It occurs mostly while lying or sitting down worsens with age and can disrupt sleep. Getting up and walking around helps the unpleasant feeling to disappear. Medication, self-care steps and lifestyle changes may also aid you.
  • Narcolepsy

  • This is a sleep disorder that makes people drowsy mostly during the daytime. People with this condition may find it hard to remain awake for long periods of time. They may fall asleep suddenly a thing that may cause serious problems in their daily routine.
  • Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome

  • Persistent genital arousal disorder or restless genital syndrome results in uncontrollable genital arousal with or without orgasm or genital engorgement unrelated to any feelings of sexual desire.

What triggers sexsomnia?

There are multiple triggers for sexsomnia that include:

  • Stress.
  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Irregular sleep schedule or sleeping in unfamiliar places.
  • Other sleep disorders for instance restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea may increase the chances of experiencing episodes of sexsomnia.

Alcohol and other recreational drugs may disrupt sleep patterns and reduce the brain’s ability to regulate sleep hence making episodes more likely.

Sex-related trauma may also worsen the condition or contribute to its onset.


How Is Sexsomnia Diagnosed?

Most of the people who experience sexsomnia symptoms don’t report them to their doctor since most of them are ashamed to do so. It is important to note that sexsomnia is treatable and medical professionals have your best interests at heart.

If you are concerned about the possibility of experiencing this condition, it’s advisable to speak to a medical professional. Your doctor could recommend a recorded sleep study for them to understand your condition along with any underlying sleep-related causes including an extended electroencephalogram (EEG) to assess for seizures.

How Is Sexsomnia Treated?

The treatment for this medical condition depends on the underlying cause. Benzodiazepine (for instance clonazepam) is mostly prescribed to treat sexsomnia. Sexsomnia, mostly associated with other sleep disorders is mostly relieved by treating the underlying problem, for instance, the use of a mandibular advancement device or continuous positive airway pressure machine(CPAP).

Other treatments for the condition may include, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac® or Zoloft® that may also treat depression and anxiety. Medications for restless legs syndrome and heartburn may also help to treat the condition.

Since the condition is caused by a variety of conditions, your doctor may prescribe treatment options that relate to your unique circumstances. They may suggest that you make lifestyle changes to ensure your safety and those around you and avoid potential triggers until the condition is under your control.

Sleep specialist and neurologist Marri Horvat, MD, MS notes, ‘“For treatment, you must avoid any external stimulation that could trigger sexsomnia. Both internal and external things that make you uncomfortable or half wake you up can trigger episodes, so you should avoid them.”

Coping With Sexsomnia

Sexsomnia can highly upset people with the disorder and those who surround them since those with the condition are unaware and not in control of their actions while they sleep. More often, they behave in ways they wouldn’t behave if they were awake.

a sleeping person with sexsomnia displays uncontrollable sexual behaviours.
a sleeping person with sexsomnia displays uncontrollable sexual behaviours.

This condition may pose serious and stressful complications surrounding consent. Sexsomnia may cause one to be sexually aggressive or initiate sexual activity with a person they wouldn’t behave sexually with.

Receiving diagnosis and treatment is the first move to coping with sexsomnia. In as much as people feel shame around this condition speaking honestly and openly with the people in their life concerning diagnosis and treatment will help keep everyone safe.

Counselling for the person affected with sexsomnia and the people affected helps with the emotional toll this disorder poses. Since sexsomnia treatment may not be highly effective, it’s important to take safety precautions that may involve:

  • Sleeping in a separate bed and room
  • Locking your bedroom doors.
  • Avoiding sleeping around strangers or minors
  • Avoiding possible triggers.

It’s vital to have good sleep hygiene. Following a sleep schedule, winding down at the end of a long day and sticking to a consistent bedtime routine will help you to be part of healthy sleep hygiene.

Dealing With a Partner With Sexsomnia

Encourage Professional Help

If your partner is not willing to seek help from a professional, you should explain to them to get help from a professional. It’s advisable for them to seek medical advice and treatment from a sleep specialist.

Establish Boundaries

Set clear boundaries and discuss your and your 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.

 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 sexually moan or have sex with a bed partner. Consulting a doctor is very important to do away with sexsomnia.

Open Communication

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



Sexsomnia is a sleep disorder that’s characterized by engaging in sexual acts during sleep.

The causes of sexsomnia may be related to other sleep disorders and other factors including stress and alcohol.

Treatment for sexsomnia depends on the cause and mostly includes medication, reducing the triggers or stress as well as improving sleep hygiene.

A sleep study helps to diagnose sexsomnia or diagnose a different sleep disorder or medical condition associated with the condition.

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