Know your midnight itch, its sexsomnia

February 25th, 2008 - 11:28 am ICT by admin  

By Kavita Bajeli-Datt
New Delhi, Feb 25 (IANS) Ever heard of sexsomnia? If not, then you are not to be blamed. It’s a sleep disorder not commonly reported in India mostly due to embarrassment in admitting the problem or ignorance. But it is known globally. A counterpart of sleepwalking, sexsomnia is defined as making sexual advances towards a person while he or she is asleep. A rare medical condition, it’s a disorder in which a person doesn’t realise or remains amnaesic about his or her behaviour.

Take the example of Delhi-based businessman Shiv Shankar (name changed), who thought he had trouble sleeping. He met a city-based psychiatrist, along with his homemaker wife, for help and was shocked to discover that he had an uncommon problem.

During interaction, the specialist asked the middle-aged man’s partner about his behaviour and was told that her husband sometimes turned violent and forced himself on her. And at times, he started fondling her and then left her alone.

The businessman, however, had no recollection of his abnormality the next day.

According to M.S. Bhatia, professor and head of department of psychiatry at the Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital, the man would have been treated for sleeping disorders had his wife not revealed his abnormality.

It made them realise that he was actually suffering from sexsomnia.

Bhatia, who has written about the subject in the October issue of Delhi Psychiatry Journal, read by 300 psychiatrists across the country, said doctors should always talk to patients’ spouses or partners to get the real picture as the person has no clue about it themselves.

“Most people in India are not aware of it. They don’t know they have a problem. And even those who know about it hide it or feel embarrassed. Even in the West, people are ignorant about this problem,” Bhatia told IANS.

He said the person in sleep is often very demanding, even a little violent and aggressive and not ready to take no for an answer. “The person suffering from this problem doesn’t realise that he has sought sex, sometimes unintentionally,” he added.

Also known as “sleep sex”, this disorder usually causes problems in relationships. “People are not aware that it is a medical problem. And they are afraid that they would be judged for their behaviour.”

The patient also suffers from guilt and fails to understand that he could behave in such a manner when the partner inform him the next day.

Not thought of as a common problem, as compared to sleepwalking, which is said to affect two to four percent adults, sexsomnia can be cured if triggering factors like depression, stress and sleep deprivation are addressed, Bhatia said.

Even in western countries this particular problem was not recognised. “People become aware about it in the west when they heard about it being referred to in court cases, he explained.

Often, the disorders cause rifts between partners.

Apart from the persons who are suffering, partners also find it difficult to share it with others as they fear they would not be believed.

“It is not a known fact. Most people have heard of people walking, eating and talking in their sleep, but this kind of sexual behaviour during sleep is unknown,” he added.

He said such patients react well to medicines like Clonazepam and to psychotherapy. “If the problem is acute then we monitor their sleep patterns too,” he said.

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