Sex while sleeping? A study suggest it’s not uncommon

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People have been known to sleep through ringing alarm clocks or even an earthquake — but sex? A new study finds that nearly 8% of people with sleep disorders reported bouts of sexsomnia, in which they initiated or engaged in sexual activity with a partner or masturbated while asleep.

The study looked at the medical charts of 832 patients who sought treatment at a sleep-disorders clinic; according to questionnaires filled out by the patients, 63 reported sex while sleeping. The phenomenon tends to occur simultaneously with other parasomnias — disorders, such as sleepwalking, which involve undesirable behaviors while falling asleep, sleeping or waking up — but patients rarely mention it to their doctors. The study found that only four of the 832 patients had complained about their sexsomnia with a sleep specialist.

(Maybe they were the only four who considered it anything less than a boon; incidentally, men were three times more likely to report sexsomnia than women.)

The new study, which is not published, was presented this week at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in San Antonio. It found also that symptoms of insomnia, fatigue and depression were similar between people who reported sexsomnia and other sleep-center patients who did not. But sexsomniacs were about twice as likely as other patients to acknowledge using illegal drugs.

Although the data would appear to suggest that sexsomnia is extremely common, said author Sharon Chung, a staff scientist at the Sleep Research Laboratory in the department of psychiatry at the University Health Network in Toronto, in a statement, “It should be stressed that we only studied patients referred to a sleep clinic. So, we would expect the numbers to be much lower in the general population.”