Sexsomnia, a Sleep Disorder, Can Have 'Legal Consequences'

Like sleepwalking or sleeptalking, sexsomnia is a disorder — but one in which people engage in sexual activity

<p>Getty</p> Stock photo of an unmade bed,


Stock photo of an unmade bed,

Some people sleepwalk. Others talk in their sleep. And then there’s another sleep disorder — one that can cause embarrassment, relationship problems, and at times, legal troubles.

Sexsomnia, as the National Library of Medicine explains, is “characterized by sexual behavior during sleep.”

“Your cognition is deeply asleep, and you’re not with the program, but your body is activated,” Dr. Carlos Schenck, a professor and senior staff psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota's Hennepin County Medical Center, told CNN.

Sexsomnia is a type of parasomnia: That’s the clinical term for “unusual and undesirable physical events or experiences that disrupt your sleep,” the Cleveland Clinic says, and most people know or experience forms of parasomnia that involve sleep-talking or sleep-walking.

<p>Getty</p> Stock image of a man sleeping.


Stock image of a man sleeping.

These nocturnal disturbances “most often occur during the slowest, deepest stage of sleep, called delta sleep,” Schenck told the outlet. “It’s like an alarm or trigger goes off in the central nervous system, and you go from your basement to your roof in no time flat.”

“That’s dangerous because then you start walking and running and doing all sorts of things without your mind being awake.”

Related: Emma Roberts on Possibility That Her 2-Year-Old Son Will Sleepwalk: 'Hope It's Not Hereditary'

Many people are unaware of their nocturnal sexual activities until a partner tells them; They may masturbate, instigate sex, and as CNN reports, some people will instigate sex with a partner while asleep, but become conscious during intercourse — and then accuse their partner of sexual assault.

“There certainly can be legal consequences from the sexual behaviors, particularly with minors, and also with aggressive behaviors during sleep,” Schenck said.

“What is really disconcerting to these patients is they have total amnesia,” Schenck told CNN. “It’s the bed partner or family member telling them, ‘You did this, why did you do that?’ and then the patient says, ‘I don’t remember anything.’ So they are really embarrassed, full of shame, very apologetic and totally miserable.”

<p>Getty</p> Stock image of bedroom slippers.


Stock image of bedroom slippers.

“There’s a whole area of sleep forensics to deal with these issues,” he said.

As one Redditor shared, her husband went to see a doctor after he "sexually assaulted me in his sleep and doesn't remember any of it."

"I know he doesn't remember it and didn't mean it. But I still feel like I was assaulted," the Redditor wrote on the sexsomnia subreddit, which is devoted to the disorder.

Related: His Dad Claimed He Was Sleepwalking When He Killed His Mom — and Now Son Is Speaking Out

There are medications and therapies to treat the disorder.  And although Schenck said the “ultimate cause” of sexsomnia is unknown, sleep apnea is believed to be a trigger.

“It’s the breath holding or apnea from the obstructive sleep apnea that triggers the arousal, typically in men, which then triggers the sexual behaviors in sleep,” Schenck said. “After you diagnose sleep apnea and you treat the patient, treatment not only controls the sleep apnea, it also controls the secondary sexsomnia.”

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