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Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 10:52 GMT
'Sleep sex' attacks warning
Patients do not remember their behaviour in the morning (picture posed by models)
Patients do not remember their behaviour in the morning
Imagine awaking in the middle of the night to find your partner trying to make love to you - while they are sound asleep.

"Sleep sex" is a term coined by US scientists to describe the phenomenon, which can cause people to commit sexual acts on themselves or their partners - while asleep.

The condition can range in severity from disruptive moaning to unwanted, and sometimes violent, sexual advances to their partner.

But no matter how serious their night-time behaviour, patients did not remember what they had done the next morning.

The Stanford scientists, whose research is published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, believe the condition is caused by a sleep disorder combined with emotional problems.

Police called

Christian Guilleminault, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the Stanford School of Medicine, studied 11 patients, grouping them according to the seriousness of their symptoms.

People have to realise that it's a medical problem and there is a treatment

Professor Christian Guilleminault, Stanford University
One woman felt particularly embarrassed because her moaning disturbed her husband and children.

And one man broke two fingers whilst trying to escape from restraints he had made to restrict his night-time behaviour.

Seven of those studied had made unwanted, and sometimes violent, sexual advances to their bed partners while asleep.

In one case, the patient tried to strangle his wife. Police were called by a teenager in the house who heard the disturbance.

In all cases except one, the patient's disorder was cured by sleep disorder treatments including drugs similar to Valium and treatments used for breathing disturbances.

Scientists made sound and video recordings of the patients while they were asleep.

They found that instead of passing through the normal five phases of sleep, each of which has a classic brain-wave pattern, patients affected by sleep sex had unusual patterns during one of the sleep phases or short interruptions in their sleep.

The sleep sex behaviour took place during these hiccups in the sleep cycle. Seven patients also had a history of walking in their sleep.

'Nowhere to turn'

Each of the patients did have additional emotional problems, without which their sleep disturbance could have manifested itself as sleepwalking or talking while asleep, said Professor Guilleminault.

He wants to draw patients' and health professionals' attention to sleep sex.

Professor Guilleminault said: "People have to realise that it's a medical problem and there is a treatment,"

"What was surprising was the duration of the abnormal behaviour and the fact that people weren't reporting it."

One patient in the study had been aware of their unusual behaviour for 15 years before talking about it with his doctor.

He said embarrassment often prevented people from asking for help - and that most did not know where to turn.

"The aggressor and the victim are often both in difficult situations and don't know how to express the problem. They feel that there is nowhere to turn."

See also:

19 Aug 01 | Health
Snoring ruins sex lives
03 Nov 99 | Health
'Snoring spoils sex lives'
27 Jul 99 | Health
Migraine wrecks sex for millions
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