Shapiro and Guilleminault have each published research describing 11 patients with symptoms of sexsomnia that ranged from loud, disruptive moaning to sexual assault. Regardless of how unusual or violent the behavior, Guilleminault says his patients had no memory of the events the next morning.
He notes that often, people who engage in sleep sex have a history of sleepwalking, REM behavior disorders, apnea, bed-wetting, or other sleep-related problems, to name a few. Some even have seizure disorders.
"That's a big find," Guilleminault says. "It suggests we can treat the seizures and eliminate the problem."
Shapiro urges people to have an open dialogue about any abnormal sexual behavior during sleep with their doctors. "Just recognizing that sexsomnia is a sleep disorder is a step in the right direction," he says. "Now that we know it is possible and doctors start to ask the right questions, we will start to learn more about it."
The medical community has also been slow to recognize sleep eating as a medical condition, says Lea Montgomery, RN, MS, an instructor at Texas Christian University Harris School of Nursing in Fort Worth, who has written review articles on the disorder. "I had one woman frantic to get help; she had been sleep eating for 13 years. She tried to get help but wasn't taken seriously."
Sleep eaters get up to nosh as many as 12 times a night, Montgomery tells WebMD. "It's messy, primitive eating -- butter right out of the butter dish, salt out of the saltshaker -- not what they would normally eat during the day," she says.
A Good Night's Sleep
Doctors still don't know the cause of sleep sex or sleep eating. But, experts agree, the best way to combat any sleep woe is to practice good sleep habits:
- Eat right
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid stress
- Avoid or at least limit alcohol and caffeine
- Don't eat or drink too close to bedtime
- Go the bed at the same time each night
If symptoms of parasomnia persist, you may want to seek help at an accredited sleep center, the specialists say. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine maintains a list of accredited sleep centers around the country.