Relief in sight for sleep-sex sufferers

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Scientists have found what they believe is a cure for a little-known but highly disturbing condition known as sleep sex. According to doctors from Stanford University in the US, it can range from loud disruptive moaning to having sex with bed partners.

However, just like sleepwalkers, sleep-sex sufferers have no recollection of their behaviour when they wake up. Often it is only when they are slapped across the face, or worse, that they realise what has happened.

According to researchers, whose study appears in the journal Psychosomatic Medi- cine, the disorder has three degrees of severity. The least damaging involves nightly disturbances which are mildly annoying. Then there are cases in which people are left with bruises. Finally, a few men and women make unwanted sexual advances on their partners.

Researchers believe the condition stems from glitches in brainwaves. Rather than passing through the five phases of sleep, sufferers have interrupted periods of sleep.

But now doctors believe the condition can be eased by sufferers taking the same type of drug used to treat chronic sleepwalking – Valium, for example, and those used to combat breathing problems.

It's not known, however, how widespread the condition actually is. It is thought that known cases may be just the tip of the iceberg because people are reluctant to talk about it. "What was surprising was the duration of the abnormal behaviour and the fact that people weren't reporting it," said Professor Christian Guilleminault of Stanford University. "The aggressor and the victim are often both in difficult situations and don't know how to express the problem."