A team of Edinburgh researchers studying sexual behavior in sleep (SBS) said that SBS can originate from childhood and is linked to other underlying psychiatric and psychological disorders, according to a July 5 presentation at the FENS [Federation of European Neuroscience Societies] 2016 Forum for European Neuroscience.

SBS is one of a range of disorders known as “parasomnias,” which include abnormal behaviors such as night terrors and sleepwalking, that occur during sleep. SBS (also known as “sexsomnia”) is a disorder where sufferers will engage in sexual activity during sleep, usually with no recollection. These behaviors include inappropriate and uncharacteristic sexual vocalizations, fondling, masturbation, and sexual intercourse. These actions are uncontrolled, and can even be violent.

Much of the previous work in this area has been based on small case series or expert opinion. The team from the University of Edinburgh examined a group of 20 men and three women who were referred to one of the largest specialist sleep disorders clinics in the United Kingdom.

The study is part of a wider research program to understand the psychiatric and psychological causes of complex sleep behaviors. Led by Ian Morrison, PhD, and Renata Riha, BMedSc, RPSGT, FRACP, MD, at the University of Edinburgh, it involves neurologists and scientists from universities throughout Scotland, including the Universities of Edinburgh and Dundee, and specialists in sleep medicine, psychology, psychiatry, and the law.

EmmaLee Maschauer from Edinburgh told delegates at FENS 2016, “We identified features of sexsomnia that haven’t been described previously, including childhood onset, variable recall of the behaviors, and a possible link with other psychiatric conditions including post-traumatic stress or anxiety disorders. These issues are important, particularly in the forensic setting, and may influence outcome in criminal trials of serious sexual offenses.”