Parasomnias, or abnormal sleep behaviors often triggered by sleep deprivation, stress and binge drinking, affect about 10 percent of us, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Some people cook themselves three-course meals, wake up to entire text conversations without recollection or even have sex while asleep.
But others commit violent crimes and self-harm, and they often have no conscious control over their actions.
We’ve rounded up seven of the oddest oddities people do in their sleep. So when your partner’s expressionless eyes are looking glassy, you’ll know what’s going on.
While murderous rampages are nothing short of terrifying, hurling oneself out a window is equally chilling (though chances of surviving a fall are higher while asleep, because the more limp and relaxed the muscles, the lower the impact on the bones).
A new poll from Britain reveals that 1 in 10 people have had sex in their sleep—otherwise known as sexsomnia. Among 13,000 participants in the poll conducted by Guy Meadows, Ph.D., at The Sleep School, nine percent self-reported having had sex while asleep. Apparently they can even get pretty loud and go in for round two later in the night. “Sleep cheating” has even entered the lexicon because of all of the uncontrollable and unconscious sex happening, though if you’re sleeping next to someone other than your partner, you’re probably in the wrong, anyway.
In the same aforementioned study, 16 percent of sleepwalkers reported picking up light snacks during their sleep-scapades. Nocturnal sleep-related eating disorders (NS-RED) refer to people actually unconsciously eating a large amount of typically unhealthy, high-caloric foods while asleep. And they typically don’t remember, so it can lead to significant weight gain and other health problems like type 2 diabetes, hypertension and depression. That condition is distinct from night eating syndrome (NES), where people wake up during the night with an uncontrollable urge to eat, regardless of their level of hunger; some are unable to fall back to sleep until they eat. So if you awake to tomato sauce splattered on the kitchen walls, stale pizza crust on the stove and potato chips crushed on the floor, chances are there wasn’t a food burglar—it was you.
If you’ve ever woken up to a stranger climbing through your window, you’ve probably experienced a hypnagogic hallucination—well, let’s hope. Sleep-related hallucinations are often vivid visually, but they can also involve the false sensation of sound or touch. And more than half of adults have likely experienced them at least once in their lives—especially those who have sleep apnea (breathing complications) or restless leg syndrome.
4. Sleep Driving
Sleep driving is of the most dangerous disorders—you can actually get up out of bed, go for a drive, go back to bed, wake up the next morning and not remember a thing… until you notice that your keys aren’t where you typically leave them and you left your lights on. Sleep aid medications have been implicated in the increasing prevalence of sleep driving, and the US Food and Drug Administration requires a warning label on all sleep aid drugs about this potential side effect.
5. Committing Crimes
Criminal behavior is the most dangerous sleep activity, for obvious reasons. Those with REM sleep disorder, which affects less than one percent of the population, often have action-packed, violent dreams, which have led to several cases in which people have committed crimes and have zero recollection of doing so. By 2000, there were 68 cases of homicide-while-sleepwalking reported worldwide. Among the most notable, 23-year-old Ken Parks got out of bed, drove his car to his in-law’s home, strangled his father-in-law and stabbed his mother-in-law to death before driving to the police station where he said, “I think I have killed some people… my hands.” He was later found not guilty.
6. Self Harm
While murderous rampages are nothing short of terrifying, hurling oneself out a window is equally chilling. (though chances of surviving a fall are higher while asleep, because the more limp and relaxed the muscles, the lower the impact on the bones). Self-defenestration and other self-harming behaviors are no joke for avid sleepwalkers. In 2007, a teenager in Germany jumped out of the fourth story of a building and survived. Other sleepwalkers risk falling down stairs, walking into oncoming traffic and finding themselves atop 130-foot cranes at 2 a.m., like one 15-year-old girl in London.
7. Sleep Messaging
Sleep texting is a lot like drunk texting—you often don’t remember full-fledged conversations, they’re chock-full of grammatical errors and it plagues millennials. They usually don’t make any sense at all. A survey from Villanova University found that out of 300 students, 25 to 35 percent had sent texts while asleep. Some have gone as far as calling 911 in their sleep, and others have done way less damage by sending party invites. In 2008, researchers in Ohio reported the first-ever case of someone using the Internet while asleep, when a 44-year-old woman turned on her computer, logged into her email and sent three emails all while asleep. Her emails were actually pretty well-written. One read: “Come tomorrow and sort this hellhole out. Dinner and drinks, 4 p.m. Bring wine and caviar only.”
Editor’s note: Photo at the top is a still from Robert Wiene’s 1920 silent masterpiece, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which many consider the quintessential German Expressionist flick and Roger Ebert called “the first true horror film.” The plot? A mad hypnotist uses a somnambulist (sleepwalker) to commit murders. So when you think about it, it’s really kind of a feel-good buddy comedy!