Sleepwalking to sex during sleep, a new disorder detected
It is possible, says, Carlos Schenck, a psychiatrist at the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center and the Hennepin County Medical Center, who has been studying bizarre sleep-related disorders for the past 20 years.
That includes people who eat while asleep and even drive a car. In the June issue of the journal Sleep, Schenck and his colleagues Isabelle Arnulf and Mark Mahowald reveal, after a review of the literature, talk at length about such a disorder.
Manifestations include sexual vocalizations, masturbation, fondling another person, intercourse, and assaultive sexual behaviors, they say.
"People are very embarrassed by this; it's very shameful, humiliating. I see a lot of people with sleep-related eating, and they're embarrassed, especially with the weight gain. But with sleep sex, they're really ashamed," notes Schenck.
Some disorders that can bring on abnormal sexual behaviours:
• Restless leg syndrome - has caused several cases of masturbation or rhythmic pelvic movement while entering sleep.
• Narcolepsy - severe tiredness known to cause intense hallucinations of rape and sexual assault when patients do get to REM or dream stage sleep.
• Insomnia - several cases of hypersexuality during waking hours.
Schenck says a computer search of peer-reviewed journals and other sources uncovered more than 125 cases dating to 1986 that provide the basis for the new classification system.
· 31 cases resulting from parasomnias, which is especially unstable delta sleep, a period of the slowest brain wave activity. Usually associated with sleepwalking, it has resulted in sexual talking, masturbation, fondling, sexual intercourse and aggressive sexual behaviour. Several rapes have been associated with this sleep state.
· Seven incidents of epileptic seizures during sleep that have brought on intense orgasms, grabbing of partners and violent masturbation.
· 78 cases of Kleine-Levin syndrome, which causes intense and lengthy bouts of sleep.
"It's important to know that it's treatable. A physician would do a family history, and a partner sleep history. Most of the patients in our review did have a very rich history of parasomnias, such as sleepwalking, sleeptalking. Most responded to standard therapy, which includes medication such as benzodiazepines and klonipin," Schenck adds confidently.
Both are minor tranquilizers, prescribed for treatment of such problems as anxiety, insomnia, agitation, seizures, and muscle spasms, as well as alcohol withdrawal.