Sleepwalking, Sleep Sex... Now Sleep E-Mailing?

"This is no surprise, as sleepwalking is due to the a mixture of wakefulness and non-REM sleep -- resulting in enough wakefulness to result in complex behaviors [such as] sex, driving, walking, e-mailing and telephoning," Mahoney said.

"Sleep e-mailing is no different," said Dr. Karl Doghramji, medical director of the Jefferson Sleep Disorders Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. "It represents only a different behavioral manifestation of the same disorder."

Sleep E-Mailing Causes Still Debatable

But why do parasomnias occur in the first place? Some sleep experts have pointed in the past to a wide array of drugs designed to help us sleep. As more of these drugs hit the market, they say, reports of parasomnia have become ever more frequent and bizarre.

However, Dr. Donald Greenblatt, director of the Strong Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Rochester, says these cases of sleepwalking caused by a sleeping aid such as zolpidem are not nearly as common as most think.

"If you look at the number of times Ambien was dosed around the world since it came on market ... you'll see that this is fairly uncommon phenomenon compared to number of doses [prescribed]," Greenblatt said.

Greenblatt added that only about 5 percent of people taking zolpidem reported experiencing sleepwalking episodes as a side effect of the drug.

Because sleep aid drugs are psychoactive, Greenblatt explained, they are meant to turn off certain parts of your brain -- the effect of which could lead you to have a conversation or engage in activity that you will have no recollection of the next day.

Sleep experts said that if a patient experiences sleepwalking as a side effect of these medications, they should cease taking the drug and go to their doctor immediately.

But Greenblatt said the public fear of experiencing these sleepwalking episodes as a result of taking a sleep aid drug are unnecessary.

"Ambien is a very good drug -- a very effective hypnotic with few side effects, that's usually very well tolerated by people," he said. "We're seeing more reports about abnormal behavior in part because of the wide prescription of the drug and sometimes because of the less than responsible behavior on the part of patients taking the drugs."

Still, Dr. Frisca Yan-Go, director of the UCLA Sleep Disorder Center in Santa Monica, Calif., warned that patients should follow their doctor's advice when taking these medications.

"I tell my patients to try not to take sleep medication every day, allow at least eight hours of sleep before driving or operating machinery and do not use any alcohol or other sedatives with this medication," Yan-Go said.

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