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The Sleep Sex Disorder Isn't as Sexy as It Sounds

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Your partner has probably never complained about you groping him at 3 a.m. But if he's ever woken up to your touch and your sounds of snoring, well, you may have a crazy sleep disorder called sexomnia.

Sexomnia, also known as sleep sex and banditing, is a sleep disorder in which someone initiates or engages in sexual activity while asleep. It's like sleepwalking, but instead of walking...you're having sex. Sexomnia doesn't necessarily involve sexual intercourse—it can also include masturbation, touching, and any other type of sexual activity.

The main problem with sexomnia (aside from the awkwardness that might arise if you happen to be sleeping next to a non-sexual partner) is fatigue—if your body is moving while you're asleep, it's not exactly in that deep REM so crucial to our daytime functioning. (Find out what happens to Your Brain On: No Sleep.) 

According to a new study, sleep sex may be more prevalent than you think: Research performed by U.K.-based bed supplier Bensons for Beds and The Sleep School questioned 13,000 adults across the U.K. and found that one in 10 people claim to have experienced sexomnia before.

Really? Ten percent of the population is engaging in subconscious sexy-time?

Probably not, say experts. First, the Bensons for Beds study says people were 'questioned' about their sleep habits, implying that the stats were self-reported. And sexomnia is not something you're likely to remember in the morning, because it occurs below the level of consciousness. "You'd probably be alerted to the idea that you have sexomnia by a partner who tells you that you were trying to engage in masturbation, fondling, groping, or sexual intercourse while you were asleep," says clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis, Ph.D., author of Your Next Big Thing.

There are very few studies that deal with sexomnia, Michaelis explains, because it's a relatively new disorder. However, because it's considered a subtype of Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Arousal Disorder (NREM Sleep Arousal Disorder), and this disorder exists in one to five percent of the population, sexomnia probably exists in less than two percent of the actual population, Michaelis conjectures. (Here are 4 Sneaky Things That Cause Sleep Problems.)

But even if sexomnia is rarer than the Bensons for Beds study would have us believe, people could still be having sleep sex, says sleep doctor and neurologist Jose Colon, M.D.

"Sexomnia is very rare, because complex nocturnal behaviors are typically a childhood phenomenon, and are usually outgrown by the time you're 10 years old," Colon explains. "More common than 'pure' sexomnia are actions induced by sleeping pills. Some sleep aids may impair inhibition and also affect your memory. As a result, you could engage in sexual acts and fail to remember them in the morning."

So the next time your guy tries to get frisky before dawn, it could be sexomnia, it could be sleeping pills, or it could be that he just finds you incredibly sexy in the middle of the night. Whether you raise complaints, we'll leave up to you.

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