New research out of Edinburgh has found that sexual behavior in sleep (SBS) may be linked to underlying psychological and psychiatric conditions that are rooted all the way back to childhood.
The findings were presented in Edinburgh this month at the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) Forum. Researchers presented the likely case that SBS actually originates from childhood sleep disturbances and may be linked to more serious underlying mental health disorders.
While some people may find SBS comical in nature, others find it disconcerting and too intimate to discuss. In any case, most sufferers and their partners find it embarrassing and exceedingly difficult to live with. The case for SBS has been used as part of a defense in some sexual assault cases as well.
Sexual behavior in sleep, or sexsomnia as it is sometimes called, is considered a parasomnia, which describes abnormal behaviors in the autonomic nervous system during sleep. This includes things like sleep talking, night terrors, and sleep walking.
SBS is a parasomnia characterized by the act of engaging in sexual activity during sleep, but not remembering the act upon waking. These types behaviors can be inappropriate and out of character for that individual such as fondling, vocalizations, intercourse, and masturbation. These actions by the sufferer are uncontrollable and can sometimes be violent.
In the past, studies and research have been focused primarily on individual case studies, forensic psychology, and expert opinions. The research team at the University of Edinburgh have tried to take a broader view. They examined three women and 20 men who were referred to one of the most widely known and prestigious sleep centers in the United Kingdom.
Led by Drs. Renata Riha and Ian Morrison out of the University of Edinburgh, the research panel consisted of scientists in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, sleep medicine, neurology, and law from various universities throughout Scotland. The study is part of a larger program that is investigating psychological and psychiatric causes of sleep behaviors that have been otherwise unexplained.
One of the authors of the study, Ms. Emmalee Maschauer, told delegates at the forum that this study stands out because some of the features of SBS that have not been identified previously have been targeted in this analysis. These components include childhood onset, possible links to underlying psychiatric disorders like anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the variable ability to recall the behaviors. Researchers believe these are some of the more important components of the condition, especially in forensic cases, because it may influence not only treatment options for sufferers, but even the outcome of some criminal trials.
Author: Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.