Sleep problems like insomnia, snoring, sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome are common for millions of Americans. But a sleep disorder that involves having sex – well, it could be worse … right?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen the occasional article about a rare disorder called sexomnia. I never really paid much attention to the sexomnia phenomenon, but a recent abstract published in the Journal of Sleep Research is the first of its kind to provide insight into this condition as a sleep disorder that may affect more Americans than once thought.
Researchers conducted a survey of 832 patients who reported to a sleep center for testing because of suspected sleep disorders. What they found was that almost 8 percent of these patients were engaging in sleep sex. And not surprisingly, it was more common in men — although women do suffer from it too.
Sexomnia is described as a confusional arousal, similar to sleep walking, where extreme sexual appetite is reached, leading to masturbation or the physical initiation of intercourse with the person sleeping next to you. Researchers believe it may affect about one percent of the population, but it’s hard to get an accurate idea because many sexomniacs are too embarrassed to report it, or just have no memory of their sleep sex habits.
We don’t quite know what causes sexomnia, but it a common theme in the lives of those who suffer from it seems to be high levels of stress, fatigue and insomnia – all of which are often brought on or intensified by underlying anxiety.
So, the question is: Is sexomnia dangerous? I would argue that it can be if it goes unrecognized and leads to inappropriate behavior with a partner who is not expecting it. We all know the legal ramifications associated with this sort of sexual behavior, so it is important that patients take their condition seriously and seek help.
But the other fundamental problem that I see is that sleep is essential for good health and immunity. Sleep disorders can lead to other conditions such as cardiovascular problems, abnormal immune responses and general metabolic weakness – just to name a few.
Sexomnia presents itself with symptoms similar to insomnia, such as chronic fatigue, irritability, depression and problems concentrating. Obviously, one of the best ways to tell if you are suffering from it is by talking to your partner. But not all patients have that secondary input, so it’s important to look for these symptoms and realize that there is help. Sleep centers, sex therapy or psychological evaluation are a good place to start, and common anti-anxiety medications can help patients get a good night’s sleep.
So the next time you wake up smiling and can’t quite figure out why — think again — because it wasn’t a dream.