We all have that friend (or are that friend) who sleepwalks or spills the nonsensical tea in their sleep. But some bed-mate behaviors are a little more unnerving. Take sleep sex, for example.
What is sleep sex?
Extreme horniness or sexual behavior while sleeping can be a warning sign of sexsomnia — aka sleepwalking, but make it sex.
Sexsomnia is a real, bonafide sleep disorder, with medical causes and treatment options. It falls under the parasomnia category, which means it occurs when your brain gets stuck between sleeping and waking. Basically, your body acts awake even though you’re not.
So if your partner or roommate says you had sleep sex or took yourself to O-town last night, know this: You’re not crazy, it’s real, and you’re not the only one.
It’s important to understand this isn’t just a wet dream. Peeps with sexsomnia actually do all the things, and sometimes with their eyes open.
Because it happens during deep sleep, most people find out about their sleep sexcapades from a caring partner or roommate.
Here’s an incomplete list of sexsomnia symptoms:
- spontaneous orgasms
- acting out sex without actually doing it
- fondling, fingering, or having sex with your bed partner
- pelvic thrusting
- being more sexually assertive or aggressive than usual
- glassy eyes or vacant zombie-stare during all of the above
- no memory of these behaviors after waking
Experts aren’t sure why some people experience sexsomnia.
There are a few potential triggers:
- high levels of stress or anxiety (thanks for nothing, 2020!)
- sleep deprivation
- poor sleep habits
- certain prescription meds
- popping pills or using drugs you weren’t prescribed
Deep breaths, y’all. It’s rare, and it’s not contagious.
Sexsomnia is linked to other sleep-related disorders, including:
- sleepwalking, sleep talking, or other parasomnia disorders
- epilepsy with nocturnal seizures
- obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
People with certain medical conditions also have a higher risk:
- head trauma
- restless leg syndrome
- GERD (acid reflux)
A 2016 review indicated more research is necessary to know how common sexsomnia is. Researchers did notice it’s most common in younger men who already have a sleep disorder.
In one study, about 8 percent of sleep clinic patients showed signs of sexsomnia. Men were also nearly three times more likely than women to have sleep sex.
Of course, being at a sleep disorder clinic suggests these people were already high risk. Then again, if your sexsomnia isn’t paired with another sleep disorder, you might never know to seek treatment in the first place.
Self-aware self-pleasure in the middle of the night? It’s all good.
But having sex with someone without realizing it? That’s cause for concern.
Unfortunately, sexsomnia doesn’t stop with you — it also affects those around you. It’s been used as a defense in rape trials. It’s caused trouble in romantic relationships. It could also just be frustrating or uncomfortable.
If someone tells you you’re having sleep sex or acting uncharacteristically horny in your sleep, give your doctor or local sleep specialist a call. There’s no shame in asking for help.
Hang tight — getting diagnosed with sexsomnia can be a process.
Before your appointment, ask the person who alerted you to the problem to write down everything they’ve seen you do. Take their notes and info on your latest sleep habits to your appointment.
Sometimes anecdotal evidence is enough for your doctor to diagnose you. But they also might recommend a sleep study.
Sleep studies take place at sleep centers, where doctors record your snoozing habits with a polysomnography test. While you’re off in la-la land, they record your:
- leg movement
- eye movement
- heart rate
- breathing patterns
Some patients need to chill at the sleep center for a few nights, but sometimes one’s enough to understand your condition.
So, what happens if you don’t get steamy during your sleep center snooze fests? Your doc might need to schedule another sleep study or test to rule out other medical conditions.
Sexsomnia is treatable. Your doctor might suggest one of these paths to a cure.
1. Treating alll your sleep probs
If you’ve got sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, chances are your sexsomnia is related. Treating underlying disorders — like using a CPAP machine or mouth guard for sleep apnea — could signal your body to cut out the sleep sex.
2. Changing your meds
Some meds trigger weird side effects like sexsomnia. If you take sleeping pills, talk to your doc about switching prescriptions or OTC recommendations.
3. Caring for your mental health
Consider therapy or talk to your doctor about medications if you think your steamy sleep episodes might be triggered by anxiety, depression, or stress. Remember, it’s always OK to ask for help.
4. Prescribing new meds
Some prescription pills trigger sexsomnia. Others help stop it. Your doctor might suggest antidepressants or anti-seizure meds to end your sleep disorder for good.
Most people with sexsomnia banish the behaviors for good by treating the underlying causes. Of course, poor sleep habits or other health conditions could trigger a relapse.
The good news is, most people find a treatment that works for them.
There are a few lifestyle hacks to reduce your risk of future episodes — but if you haven’t talked to a doc yet, make that your first step.
Limit booze and other triggers
Some sleep sex episodes are triggered by alcohol, weed, or other recreational drugs. Pay attention to what throws your sleep off balance, then limit yourself.
Make a safe zone
Until your sexsomnia is under control, make sure your sleeping arrangements are safe for everyone nearby.
- lock your bedroom door
- sleep in a separate room from your partner
- consider motion alarms that let others know when you’re active in the middle of the night
Find a routine that works
Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is super important for managing sleep disorders. Set a bedtime, then stick to it.
Talk it out
Remember how stress can trigger sexsomnia? Spilling the tea about your diagnosis to loved ones can help. Communication is especially key for intimate relationships since sleep sex could affect your partner/s.
Sexsomnia is a medical disorder that triggers a person to have sex or act sexually without waking up. It’s often diagnosed in tandem with other sleep disorders. Thus, treating underlying sleep disorders or health issues could prevent sleep sex too.
If you think you might have sexsomnia, talk to your doctor. Though rare, this sleep disorder is treatable. You can also identify your triggers to help manage the disorder.