Strange sleep disorders: sexsomnia and exploding head syndrome

By | August 1, 2013

Sexsomnia, a condition where people have sex in their sleep, has only really been brought to the public’s attention in recent years. As yet very little research has been done into it, say sleep experts, but more cases are being reported.

It can become more frequent during times of stress or under the influence of alcohol or drugs and ranges from minor behaviour to full sexual intercourse, in some cases with serious consequences.

Idzikowski gives expert evidence at trials that involve serious sexual assaults and rape.

He says sexsomnia is a parasomnia. It is most likely to occur in the “deep sleep” stage when the thinking and awareness part of the brain is switched off but not the part of the brain responsible for basic urges like having sex.

“It is instinctive behaviour, people are not conscious at the time,” says Idzikowski.

“When you are in a deep sleep moral and rational decision-making do not occur.

“It constantly surprises me the type of sleep problems people live with for years. Often they don’t realise they can get help.” …

Exploding head syndrome

LighteningYou’re peacefully falling asleep and suddenly it’s like a bomb has gone off in your head. It’s exploding head syndrome, when a sudden and incredibly loud noise comes from within your head.It’s another parasomnia event. Sufferers have described the loud noise as sounding like a bomb explosion, a thunderclap and lightning or a gunshot. It is painless but can leave the person distressed. There are reports of people running to their windows to look out as they think a bomb has gone off nearby.

Some sleep experts say it is very rare but Anderson says cases have been referred to her in recent years. It is really the sensory equivalent of the motor start [the hypnic or sudden jerk accompanied by a falling feeling] we all sometimes get as we are going off to sleep, she says.

“People hear a really loud bang or explosion as they are drifting off to sleep, and then work out that it can’t be external as no-one else heard it. Sometimes people get bright flashes of light.

“It is entirely benign, but can be alarming and mostly we simply reassure sufferers. Sometimes medication is used if people are very bothered and therefore worry about falling asleep and make it worse.”

Often there is no pattern to episodes, but they can go on for years and be a significant disruption to quality of life.

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