Sleep Disorders

Updated 11 August 2014

6 bizarre sleep disorders

We've all heard the story about the man who blabbed his secrets while talking in his sleep. Well, what about the guy who shagged someone in his sleep?

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We've all heard the story about the man who blabbed his secrets while talking in his sleep. Well, what about the guy who had sex in his sleep? There are some truly bizarre sleep disorders out there. Let's take a look at a few of them:

1. Sexsomnia

Many people fall asleep after sex, but there are a few that also sleep during sex. Sexsomnia is a sleep disorder that, much like sleepwalking, compels the "sufferer" to engage in sexual activity while asleep – either by initiating and having sex with a partner, or masturbating. Identified in 2003, sexsomnia has since been cited to acquit defendants accused of sexual assault in British and Canadian criminal cases. Researchers have described this condition as a mix between having a wet dream and sleepwalking.

2. Fatal Familial Insomnia

This one gives new meaning to the saying: being "dead tired". Fatal familial insomnia (FFI) is a rare genetic sleep disorder that causes worsening insomnia, which eventually leads to death. This inability to sleep results in dementia and severe loss of energy. Eventually the patient falls into a state of physical and mental impairment where s/he is caught in between sleep and wakefulness. Some patients fall into a coma, and death occurs between eight and 72 months after the onset of FFI due to complications such as infection. There is no known cure for FFI.

3. Sleep Terrors

Screaming in bed, and I don't mean the amorous kind, may be a sign of sleep terrors - also known as night terrors. Night terrors are not the same as nightmares - during an episode of night terrors, a person will shout and scream, sit up in bed, and sometimes also thrash about. The person's eyes are wide open and they have an intense look of fear on their face. Physiological symptoms, such as a racing heart, sweat and heavy breathing, also manifest, and in some cases people bolt out of bed and run around the house. In this state, the sufferer doesn't respond to voices and it is hard to wake them. Once awake up, they are confused and unaware of anything that took place.

4. Narcolepsy

In the movies, narcoleptics are often shown to collapse unexpectedly to fall into a deep sleep. Narcolepsy is termed as excessive sleepiness, and a person who suffer from it usually don't have control over sleep and wakefulness, sometimes suffering "sleep attacks" that can happen while eating, walking or driving. Narcolepsy also includes features of dreaming that occur while awake. Narcoleptics are often refreshed by short naps, but after two or three hours, they feel sleepy again. There is presently no cure for narcolepsy, but it can be managed with the help of a sleep specialist.

5. Sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis causes a person to be unable to move your body when either falling asleep, or waking up. Normally the brain causes your muscles to relax and be still while you sleep, but with sleep paralysis, this happens while you are awake. During an episode of paralysis, a person may be unable to speak, or move legs arms, legs, or any other part of their body. The sufferer is fully aware of what is happening, but they just can't move, or do anything about it. An episode of sleep paralysis can last a couple of second, or several minutes.

6. REM sleep behaviour disorder

People with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behaviour disorder act out dramatic and/or violent dreams during REM sleep. REM sleep usually involves a state of sleep paralysis, but people with this condition move the body or limbs while dreaming. Usually, RBD occurs in men aged 50 and older, but the disorder also can occur in women and in younger people. It differs from sleep walking and sleep terrors in that the sleeper can be easily awakened and can recall vivid details of the dream. - (Wilma Stassen/Health24, November 2010)

Source: Health24, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, WebMD

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Sleep disorders expert

Neera Bhikha is a Neurophysiologist at SandtonMedi Clinic in Johannesburg. She specialises in Neurodiagnostic testing which includes EEG (routine and long term monitoring sleep studies), Polysomnograms, Nerve conduction studies/EMG studies.

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