top of page

Surviving an Active Sleeper

Imagine cozily, and peacefully, sleeping in your bed. Now imagine feeling a sharp,

heavy pressure on one of your eye sockets followed by excruciating pain in and around your eye. No, this was not a dream. This pain was very real. When this happened to me, I was so shocked that I believed an intruder had attacked me in my sleep. I immediately yelled out in pain, placed my hand over my eye and jolted up to a sitting position with my back against the headboard. I saw my hubby next to me flailing his elbows, one of which was responsible for the blow to my right eye. My scream had woken him, and as he gained consciousness his elbow-jabbing came to a halt.

My Husband gets very Physical in his sleep

My husband, Bubby, was confused, frightened and very apologetic that he had unconsciously inflicted such harm in his sleep. He recalled that in this dream he was much younger and was throwing a couple of elbow jabs at his buddy to get free from an attempted wrestling takedown. Events like this happened early on in our marriage, and I later found out that this would not be an isolated event.

On another occasion, he whacked me in the face with a pillow with so much force that he nearly pushed me off the bed. In this dream, he was trying to knock a family cat off our bed. He recalled watching the cat’s face fade into my shocked face as he woke up and realized that he had done it again.

A more recent dream resulted in his falling and causing us both injuries. I was jolted awake by a kick to the top of my head. He pinched his back during the dream fall, or the actual kick, and could hardly move until he became fully alert and the pain subsided. In case you are wondering, on this night he had fallen asleep at the foot of the bed.

Sleep Disorders and Parasomnias

I have known for many years that sleep disorders can cause an individual to physically act out their dreams. My husband’s nighttime sleep disturbances remind me of an active volcano, and I can never truly predict an eruption. I am not sure if he suffers from a combination of sleep disorders like sleepwalking, or Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep Behavior Disorder, but I decided that it was time to learn more about these disorders in order to seek the best professional help.

I learned that, “REM sleep disorder affects approximately 1% of the population and that it is more common in males over the age of 50”. I also came across the word parasomnias which is described by the Merriam Webster Dictionary as “any of various disorders of sleep characterized by abnormal behavioral or physiological activity (such as sleepwalking or night terrors) during sleep or in the transitional stage between sleep and wakefulness”. Each article that I accessed confirmed that it was important to speak with a doctor if experiencing sleep disturbances.

There are other rare and complex sleep disorders that I discovered and felt were worth mentioning.

Kleine-Levin Syndrome (Sleeping Beauty Disorder)

A form of hypersomnia that typically affects teen boys and lasts for 1-3 weeks, and during this time young men sleep for 16-20 hours a day. The version that affects females is Menstrual-related hypersomnia (4).


The act of initiating sex, having sex, masturbating, or fondling one’s self or partner while asleep (5).

Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS)

This is a genetic cardiac condition that results in the sudden death of young adults (6).

Sleep Paralysis

Feeling of being conscious but unable to move or speak. Some people report feeling as if they are levitating over their bodies during this time (7).

Sleep Related Eating Disorder (SRED)

Uncontrolled eating and drinking while in a sleep state. This disorder has resulted in individuals eating toxic, non-food items, and excessive weight gain (8).

I also learned that there are certain risk factors that could potentially be responsible for certain sleep disorders, including but not limited to:

  • Medications

  • Narcolepsy

  • Neurological disorders

  • Environmental, or occupational stressors

  • Genetics

  • Stress


I do not want to wear a Kevlar helmet, so until we can professionally treat Bubby’s active sleeping this is how I’m learning to survive:

  • Relocate to separate room or bed after he falls asleep

  • Encourage him to take melatonin

  • Do my part to minimize daily physical and emotional stress

  • Fall asleep after he does to monitor his REM sleep

  • Wake him at the start of increased sleep activity

  • Allow him to wind down before falling asleep

  • Remove furniture away from the bed

  • Listen to soothing sounds

  • Remove dangerous objects

  • Use pillows as barriers (warning: these are also weapons)

  • Education

  • Seek medical intervention


Sleep disorders are disruptive, and they can put an individual and their partners at risk for physical injury. If your partner has a sleep disorder, or you have been told that you are an active sleeper, please talk to your provider about the symptoms.

Thanks for reading, and please stop by again to learn how we manage our real-life issues.


1) Mayo Clinic Staff, Mayo Clinic, REM Sleep Behavior Disorder. Accessed 20 Nov. 2020.

2) Pacheco, Danielle, reviewed by Dr. Truon, Kimberly, REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, Sleep, Accessed 17 Nov. 2020.

3) “Parasomnia.” Medical Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Nov. 2020.

4) Stanford Health Care.Org, Kleine Levin Syndrome Diagnosis,, Accessed 21, Nov. 2020

5) Davis, Susan, WebMD, Sex While Asleep, Accessed 21 Nov. 2020

6) Mayo Clinic Staff, Mayo Clinic, Sudden death in young people, Accessed 21 Nov. 2020

7) WebMD Medical Reference, Reviewed by: Felson, Sabrina MD. Sleep Paralysis, Accessed 21 Nov. 2020

8) Mayo Clinic Staff, Mayo Clinic, Sleep-related eating disorder, Accessed 21 Nov. 2020

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page