Overview: Sexsomnia, a sleep disorder where a person engages in sexual activity during sleep, is rarely discussed by health providers. This sleep-related sexual behavior can lead to sexual health or relationship complications if left untreated. Fortunately, this sleep condition can be treated with lifestyle and behavioral changes.
Definition: Sexsomnia is a sleep disorder in which involuntary sexual arousal, masturbation, or intercourse occurs while a person is sleeping.
What Is Sexsomnia?
Sexsomnia is sometimes referred to as “sleep sex.” A person who regularly engages in sexual activity such as masturbation or sexual intercourse while sleeping may be suffering from sexsomnia. Someone living with sexsomnia is often completely unaware until it is brought to their attention by a partner.
Sexsomnia is considered a parasomnia. Parasomnias are any sleep-related disorder that involves speaking, walking, or even eating during sleep. These actions are made possible when your brain is caught between REM and non-REM sleep stages, causing you to move and act as if you are awake, sometimes with no awareness of your actions.
How Would I Know If I Have Sexsomnia?
You may suspect you have sexsomnia if you wake up in the middle of sexual activity or if you have memories of engaging in sex during sleep. However, many people are unaware of their nighttime activities and will not suspect they have sexsomnia until someone who lives with them brings it to their attention. Having sexual dreams is not the same thing as having sexsomnia.
Common symptoms of sexsomnia include:
- Grinding or pelvic thrusting
- Initiating kissing or foreplay with a partner
- Initiating sexual intercourse
- Mimicking intercourse or other sexual behaviors
- Not remembering engaging in sex or sexual behaviors
- Not responding to partner during sex or sexual behaviors
Both men and women can experience sexsomnia. It is important to speak with a medical provider or sleep specialist if you believe you are living with this condition. Specialists can help you to identify the root cause of your sexsomnia.
What Causes Sexsomnia?
The exact cause of sexsomnia can be difficult to pinpoint for most patients. Often, multiple sleep, behavioral, and lifestyle factors contribute to this condition. This condition may arise during a particularly stressful time in your life, or it may be life-long.
Potential causes of sexsomnia include:
- Certain prescription medications
- Chronic fatigue or exhaustion
- Excessive drinking or substance use
- Extreme stress (sudden or chronic)
- Mental health problems or mood disorders
- Relationship stress
- Sleep deprivation
- Sleep dysfunction (e.g. irregular sleep, other sleep disorders)
There are also certain risk factors that make someone more likely to experience sexsomnia. The majority of these risk factors are existing medical conditions.
Risk factors for sexsomnia include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Head injuries
- Migraine headaches
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
- Other sleep conditions or parasomnias
- Parkinson’s disease
- Restless leg syndrome
- Sleep-related epilepsy
A medical provider such as a sleep specialist can work with you to determine the root cause of your condition. They will likely take a full medical history, stress and mental health inventory, and ask that you participate in a sleep study. It may take more than one sleep study to receive a diagnosis and treatment plan.
What Does the Research Say About Sexsomnia?
The exact prevalence of sexsomnia is unknown. One Canadian study attempted to determine the frequency of sexsomnia cases in a specific sleep clinic. This study revealed that sexsomnia presented in approximately 8 percent of patient cases.
Sexsomnia can occur in both sexes, though women are less likely than men to experience it. Interestingly, a 2015 review of sleep-related sex conditions revealed that women living with sexsomnia are less likely to experience sexual dysfunction than women who are not living with sexsomnia. The authors commented that the literature on sexsomnia is still limited and that the topic should be more closely examined in clinical sleep centers.
An additional study, published in Sleep Science, used video-polysomnography (vPSG) to document sleep masturbation experiences. This study documented sexsomnia episodes in a 20-year-old male with a history of sleepwalking and other sleep disturbances. The researchers treated the male with clonazepam and found that the drug helped with sleepwalking but not with sleep masturbation.
When Should I Worry About Sexsomnia?
People living with sexsomnia may experience relationship strain or embarrassment about their condition. If you suspect you are experiencing sexsomnia, it is important to discuss this openly with any bed partners or roommates. Sexsomnia can also bring up issues surrounding consent to sexual activity.
If you are concerned about your sleep behaviors, you should speak with a specialist to address your concerns. You may also benefit from creating a plan to prevent episodes by sleeping in a separate room, locking your door, or setting alarms until you have started treatment.
How Can I Treat My Sexsomnia?
Fortunately, there are several treatment options available for people living with sexsomnia. Successful treatment may require a combined treatment approach to address your sleep patterns, medication use, or lifestyle factors that contribute to sexsomnia. Most people find success when working with a sleep specialist.
Examples of sexsomnia treatments include but are not limited to:
- Medication management. People living with sexsomnia may respond well to antidepressants or epilepsy medications. Some prescription medications (e.g., common sleep medications) may actually contribute to sexsomnia, so these medication dosages may need to be adjusted.
- Therapy and stress management. Some people experience parasomnias during times of extreme duress. Therapy, sex therapy, and stress management may help to reduce sexsomnia episodes and any other parasomnias.
- Treating existing sleep disorders. Seeing a sleep specialist to treat any co-occurring sleep disorders is essential in successfully treating parasomnias like sexsomnia. Research has linked treating obstructive sleep apnea with success in reducing sexsomnia episodes.
Other Forms of Sexual Dysfunction
Sexsomnia can co-occur with other sexual dysfunctions. While sexsomnia can be complicated to treat, fortunately, more common conditions, such as erectile dysfunction (ED) and even premature ejaculation (PE), are more easily treated with prescription medication. These oral medications, known as phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors, work by increasing blood flow to the penis. They are approved for use in most adult men.
Examples of safe and effective ED drugs include:
- Cialis (tadalafil)
- Levitra (vardenafil)
- Stendra (avanafil – not yet available in a generic version)
- Viagra (sildenafil)
Accessing safe and effective treatment is easier than ever with eDrugstore.com. Men can schedule a free consultation with a licensed doctor and choose from a variety of erectile dysfunction treatment options, all online. Learn more today by visiting eDrugstore.com.
Shelby is a public health professional with research and field experience in sexual and reproductive health. She holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).