"When we fall asleep, we withdraw our awareness from its hypnotic fascination with physical sensation, thereby enabling us to listen with our now awakening sixth sense."

~Henry Reed~

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One of the most common questions about sleeping is that, "Do we actually need sleep?" The answer is yes, although our bodies can be trained to do with gradually less sleep. There may be some people who claim that they need no sleep at all, but you will find that they tend to take occasional five to ten-minute naps during the day. We need sleep for our body to relieve stress, to grow, and also to balance our bodily chemicals.

Around the beginning of the century it was thought that chemicals such as lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and cholesterol were collected in our brain while we were awake and were depleted during sleep. But about sixty years later we began experimenting on how long a human body could go without sleeping. Randy Gardner, a 17-year-old high-school student from San Diego, stayed awake for eleven complete days. Although he felt nauseous at times, had difficulty reading, and suffered temporary memory lapses, he had no long term emotional or physical side-affects of the experiment. Measurements have been taken, however, to prove that there are some chemical changes during sleep deprivation that concludes the fact that our body needs sleep.

Rapid Eye Movement Behavior Disorder

In this disorder, a person loses paralysis which is normal for the Rapid Eye Movement period, causing their body to freely act out their dreams. These behaviours can be violent in nature and in some cases will result in injury to either the patient or their bed partner. RBD is a treatable condition. The standard therapy is the anti-convulsant drug clonazepam, and this is generally received very well. The reason for its effectiveness is unknown, but it restores the natural paralyzed state of a person in the REM stage of sleep.

Night Terrors

A night terror is a parasomnia sleep disorder characterized by extreme terror and a temporary inability to regain full consciousness. The subject wakes abruptly from slow-wave sleep, with waking usually accompanied by gasping, moaning, or screaming. It is often impossible to fully awaken the person, and after the episode the subject normally settles back to sleep without waking. A night terror can rarely be recalled by the subject. Night terrors are distinct from nightmares in several key ways. First, the subject is not fully awake when roused, and even when efforts are made to awaken the sleeper, he/she may continue to experience the night terror for ten to twenty minutes. Often times it's extremely dangerous for the person, for it can cause trauma, and even hurting someone (e.g. trying to kill "the murderer" and in fact injuring someone else).

Non-24-hour Sleep-Wake Syndrome

This odd (and extremely rare) disorder consists of a person's body not recognizing the 24 hour sleep cycle. Consequently, the body will not allow itself to sleep in a regular day/night pattern. Left untreated, non-24-hour sleep-wake syndrome causes a person's sleep-wake cycleto change every day, the degree determined by how much over 24 hours the cycle lasts. The cycle may go around the clock, eventually returning to "normal" for one or two days before going "off" again. In many cases it can take up to a week for the body to complete one cycle of its disturbed pattern. To add even further weirdness, this disorder takes place almost exclusively in blind people (though there have been one or two accounts of a sighted person suffering from it).

Kleine-Levin Syndrome

Kleine-Levin syndrome is a rare disorder characterized by the need for excessive amounts of sleep, sometimes for up to 20 hours a day, and is normally accompanied with excessive food intake (compulsive hyperphagia) and an abnormally uninhibited sexual drive (hypersexuality). While some researchers speculate that Kleine-Levin syndrome is the cause of a hereditary predisposition, others believe the condition may be the result of an autoimmune disorder. There is no definitive treatment for Kleine-Levin syndrome. Stimulants, including amphetamines, methylphenidate, imipramine and modafinil, administered orally, are used to treat sleepiness. Because of similarities between Kleine-Levin syndrome and certain mood disorders, lithium and carbamazepine may be prescribed. Responses to treatment have often been limited.

Somniloquy (Sleep Talking)

Somiloquy refers to talking aloud in one's sleep. It can be quite loud, ranging from simple sounds to long speeches, and can occur many times during sleep. Listeners may or may not be able to understand what the person is saying. Sleep-talking usually occurs during transitory arousals from non-REM sleep, which is when the body does not move smoothly from one stage in non-REM sleep to another, and they become partially aroused from sleep. Further it can also occur during REM sleep at which time it represents a motor breakthrough of dream speech, when words spoken in a dream are spoken out loud. There are no medical treatments for this, but in order to prevent sleep-talking a mouthguard may be worn.


Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder that is commonly associated with falling asleep at random times. Narcoleptics tend to fall directly into REM sleep, when most dreaming occurs, and less commonly enter deeper and more restful stages of non-REM sleep. As a result, they are unable to stay awake for extended periods of time, and upon falling back asleep, they still are unable experience sleep's more restorative stages - causing a vicious cycle of extreme sleepiness and inability to stay awake after having slept. Another symptom can include cataplexy, the sudden collapse of an individual into REM sleep upon experiencing strong emotions. Sleep paralysis and hypnogogic hallucinations (hallucinations which accompany sleep paralysis) are also known to be symptoms. The cause of narcolepsy has not been determined. It is widely believed to be an autoimmune disorder, but it may also be genetic. Treatments include stimulants, anti-depressants, or hypnotic medications such as Xyrem.


Sexsomnia is a sleep disorder which causes people to commit sexual acts while they are asleep. It is considered to be a distinct variant of sleepwalking. In some cases, sufferers are aware of their behavior for a long time before they seek help, often because they lack information that it is a medical disorder or for fear that others will judge it as willful behavior rather than a medical condition. However, the reality of sexsomnia has been confirmed by sleep disorder researchers who have made polygraphic and video recordings of patients with the condition while they are asleep and observed unusual brain wave activity during the episodes. Treatments are similar to those of other non-REM parasomnias such as sleep walking, which may involve specific interventions. By avoiding precipitating factors and ensuring for the safe environment, the condition could be brought to high level of control with a minimal effort. Sexsomnia is not always problematic or extreme for those who experience it or for their partners. There is a great variety in both the frequency and levels to which people are affected by this disorder.


Sleepwalking has been described in medical literature dating before Hippocrates (460 BC-370 BC). In Shakespeare's tragic play, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth's famous sleepwalking scene ("out, damned spot") is ascribed to her guilt and resulting insanity as a consequence of her involvement in the murder of her father-in-law.

Sleepwalking is characterized by a complex behavior (walking) occurring while asleep. Occasionally nonsensical talking may occur. The person's eyes are commonly open, but have a characteristic glassy "look right through you" character. This activity most commonly occurs during middle childhood and young adolescence. Approximately 15% of children between 4-12 years of age will experience sleepwalking. Generally sleepwalking behaviors wane by late adolescence. However, approximately 10% of all sleepwalkers begin their behavior as teens. It appears that persons with certain inherited genes have an increased tendency toward developing sleepwalking behaviors

Sleep Eating

Sleep eating disorder is not actually considered an eating disorder but a sleep disorder. Also known as nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder or NS-RED, it is a condition in which a person gets up during the night, consumes food, often a large quantity of food, without knowing it. It's similar to sleep walking. The person has no memory of eating the food, or has only fragmentary memories, when they awaken.

When they awaken and discover the evidence, people often feel embarrassed or ashamed. They may be afraid they are losing their mind. They may deny it, even when confronted with evidence that they were in fact up eating during the night.

The foods consumed during episodes of nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder are usually high-fat, high-sugar "comfort" foods that people deny themselves during the day. However, they may also be bizarre combinations of foods, such as hotdogs dipped in peanut butter or raw bacon smeared with mayonnaise. Sometimes people eat non-food items, such as soap.

Bizarre Cases


In 1981 a Scottsdale, Arizona man named Steven Steinberg was accused of murdering his wife, Elena, with a kitchen knife. She was stabbed 26 times. The trial took place in Maricopa County Superior Court in 1982. Steinberg acknowledged the murder, claimed he did it while sleepwalking, and therefore was not sane at the time. Dr. Martin Blinder, a California psychiatrist, testified that the murder was committed under a scenario of "dissociative reaction," when Steinberg stabbed repeatedly stabbed his wife.

Steinberg didn't deny the fact that he had killed her, but he pleaded 'not guilty' because he claimed not to remember the crime. He was sleeping, and must have been sleepwalking at the time. Steinberg was found innocent by the jury, on the ground he was temporarily insane when he killed his wife. He walked away a free man.

Should Steinberg have gone to jail? Whether or not he remembered the act, he had murdered his wife. Was the fact he did it while asleep a rational defense? Was it even true? Diana Lindstrom-McClure, part of Steinberg's legal team, believed him. In a newspaper article she was quoted as saying she doesn't feel that he pulled the wool over anyone's eyes. "He was just a nice guy," she said.

Members of the jury were quoted as stating they made the correct decision. Even though they knew they were letting a murderer go, they felt they had no choice. They believed Steinberg was sleep walking and therefore not responsible.


Kenneth Parks, a 23-year-old Toronto man with a wife and infant daughter, was suffering from severe insomnia caused by joblessness and gambling debts. Early in the morning of May 23, 1987 he arose, got in his car and drove 23 kilometers to his in-laws' home. He stabbed to death his mother-in-law, whom he loved and who had once referred to him as "a gentle giant." Parks also assaulted his father in law, who survived the attack. He then drove to the police and said "I think I have killed some people . . . my hands," only then realizing he had severely cut his own hands. Under police arrest he was taken to the hospital where he underwent repair of several flexor tendons of both hands.

Because he could not remember anything about the murder and assault, had no motive for the crime whatsoever, and did have a history of sleepwalking, his team of defense experts (psychiatrists, a psychologist, a neurologist and a sleep specialist) concluded Ken Parks was 'asleep' when he committed the crime, and therefore unaware of his actions. To quote from a medical review of the case, "the legal defense was, therefore, one of homicide during noninsane automatism as part of a presumed episode of somnambulism...the defendant did not have any preexisting "disease of the mind" within the meaning of... the Canadian Criminal Code. There was no evidence for psychosis or other mental pathology. Moreover, it was believed that the clustering of such a number of triggering factors was extremely unlikely to occur again, so that the possibility of recurrence of sleepwalking with aggression was considered extremely remote."

Parks' sleepwalking defense proved successful and on May 25, 1988, the jury rendered a verdict of not guilty. Subsequently Parks was also acquitted of the attempted murder of his father-in-law. The government appealed the decision and in 1992 the Canadian Supreme Court upheld the acquittals

Nurse who Draws Masterpieces

Lee Hadwin By day a nurse, at night he's a "sleepwalking artist" who produces strange and fantastical artworks which he has no recollection of drawing when he wakes up the next morning.

Dubbed 'Kipasso', he says he is utterly mystified by his nocturnal talent, while at the daytime he shows no interest or ability in art whatsoever. Major galleries have been asking for examples of his work, which they hope to market on its artistic merit as well as its novelty value.

Hadwin first started sleepwalking when he was four years old, but his parents believed it was a normal childhood phase. When he was in his teens, he began producing art work while asleep, at first on his bedroom walls. Once, staying over at a friend's house, he covered the kitchen walls with doodles in his sleep, an embarrassing discovery at breakfast time the next day. In his late teens and early 20s, the intensity of his sleepwalking increased and Hadwin would wake to find everything in the vicinity: tableclothes, newspapers, clothes and walls, covered in artwork.

Hoping to harness the strange ability, he started leaving artists' materials out when he went to bed and, sure enough, when he awoke he says he would find full-blown pictures beside him. Now, he leaves his home prepared for nocturnal wanderings, with sketchbooks and charcoal pencils scattered around the house, particularly under the stairs, a favorite venue.

Had Sex With Strangers

In 2004, sleep medicine experts have successfully treated a rare case of a woman having sex with strangers while sleepwalking.

At night while asleep, the middle-aged sleepwalker from Australia left her house and had sexual intercourse with strangers. The behavior continued for several months and the woman had no memory of her nocturnal activities. Circumstantial evidence, such as condoms found scattered around the house, alerted the couple to the problem. On one occasion, her partner awoke to find her missing, went searching for her and found her engaged in the sex act.

Incredulity is the leading player in cases like this. But a combination of factors convinced the doctors that the case was a real sleepwalking phenomenon, including the distress of the couple, and an in-depth clinical evaluation. She stopped her night-time excursions after psychiatric counselling. Drugs such as benzodiazepines, which are sometimes used to treat sleep walkers, were not necessary.

The Chef

Robert Wood, a 55 year-old chef, gets up four or five times a week while asleep and heads to the kitchen where he prepares omelettes, stir fries and chips. He has been sleepwalking for 40 years but, together with wife Eleanor, is becoming increasingly worried about having an accident while in the kitchen.

The couple from Glenrothes in Fife now cannot sleep for more than around three hours at a time. Mr Wood believes an ulcer in his intestine may be at the root of the problem. Because the condition only allows him to eat very small portions, he thinks his hunger pangs might cause him to head to the kitchen. Once he tried to fill a small bowl with a whole box of cereal and carton of milk. Mr Wood is said to be seeking help from sleep specialists in Edinburgh.

Froze to Death

In Jan 2009, Timothy Brueggeman, a 51-year-old electrician from Wisconsin, sleepwalked out of his home in Hayward wearing only his underwear and a fleece shirt. His body was found the next morning about 190 yards from his rural home.

With temperatures around -16 F, Brueggeman died of hypothermia.
Investigators found a bottle of Ambien in his bedroom. Ambien is the most-prescribed sleeping pill in the country and has been linked to hundreds of cases of sleepwalking. Sanofi-Aventis, which produces the drug, insists Ambien is safe when taken as directed and not mixed with alcohol or other drugs. But a friend of the victim, Ed Lesniak, admitted that his friend, who was plagued with insomnia, sometimes drank when taking the sleep aid.

This wasn't Brueggeman's first dangerous sleepwalking incident. Last summer, he drove his pickup truck into the side of his own garage. Brueggeman's mother had advised him to stop taking Ambien after the incident.

Molested a Child and got Absolved

In 2007, Alan Ball went to a New Year's Eve house party, drank heavily and fell asleep on a sofa. At some point during the night, he got up, went upstairs and climbed into bed with an under-age girl, whom he kissed on the lips.

After a year in which this lorry-driving father lost his job and was able to see his five-year-old daughter only during supervised visits, a judge at Preston Crown Court cleared him of sexual assault in 2009, after the 35-year-old claimed he was sleepwalking at the time of the incident and had no memory of the events.

Mowed the Lawn Naked

In 2005, a sleep-walking computer expert was reportedly caught by his wife mowing the lawn naked at 2am. Rebekah Armstrong was woken by a noise coming from the garden. When she realized her husband Ian was not in bed she went downstairs to see what was happening.

Rebekah found Ian was mowing the lawn completely starker. She was afraid to wake him up because she had always been told it can be dangerous to disturb someone who is sleepwalking. She just unplugged the mower, went back to bed and let him get on with it. Ian, 34, later got back into bed and didn't believe Rebekah when she told him what he'd been up to.



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