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Sexsomniacs put the moves on without waking

You know how, when you’re sleeping, and you get that sexy feeling, you wake up and nudge the other person in your bed for a wee-hour encounter?

Well, what if you weren’t actually awake?

A study released today at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas, found that 7.6 percent of patients seeking help at a sleep clinic “reported that they had initiated or engaged in sexual activity with a bed partner while asleep.”

That may seem impossible -- how can you have sex when you’re asleep? But so-called “sexsomnia,” one of many parasomnias -- like sleep walking, say, or reciting your old college dissertation -- is real.

“Sexsomnia” was coined by some clever Canadian experts in 2003, but as detailed by psychiatrist Joel Dimsdale in an essay for the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Shakespeare described it in “Othello.”

Modern day studies have documented people masturbating, groaning and dirty talking while sound asleep.

While 7.6 percent may seem high, remember that these were people who were already going to a sleep clinic. The number among the rest of us is almost certainly smaller and most people who experience it likely have something else going on, especially sleep apnea. In the new study, which included a survey of 428 men and 404 women, people who reported sexsomnia were also about twice as likely to be using illicit drugs.

The main issue, explained Dr. Alex Dimitriu, a fellow at the Stanford Sleep Medicine Clinic in Redwood City, Calif., is unstable, disturbed sleep. “Normally in a dream state your body is paralyzed,” he said. “That prevents us from acting out, say, the fight scene.” But, in some people, this protective mechanism breaks down and “then there is the possibility of acting out the sexual content of an erotic dream.”

The idea might seem funny -- and in one 2007 journal report, a few bed partners of sexsomniacs said they actually liked it -- but consequences can be serious. Sexual assaults have been committed by sexsomniacs. In a recent case from the United Kingdom, a teen boy was brought up on charges of infecting a teenage girl with Chlamydia and genital warts during sex. He was acquitted because he’d been sleepwalking.

What's the weirdest thing you've ever done in your sleep? Share it in the comment field below.