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Volume 10 No. 08
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Accepted Papers

Review Articles

Sleep-Related Violence and Sexual Behavior in Sleep: A Systematic Review of Medical-Legal Case Reports

Francesca Ingravallo, Ph.D.1; Francesca Poli, Ph.D.1; Emma V. Gilmore, B.A.1; Fabio Pizza, Ph.D.2,3; Luca Vignatelli, Ph.D.4; Carlos H. Schenck, M.D.5; Giuseppe Plazzi, M.D.2,3
1Department of Medical and Surgical Sciences, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy; ; 2Department of Biomedical and Neuromotor Sciences, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy; ; 3IRRCS Institute of Neurological Sciences, Bologna, Italy; ; 4Local Health Trust, Bologna, Italy; ; 5University of Minnesota, Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Centre, Minneapolis, MN


To review systematically medical-legal cases of sleep-related violence (SRV) and sexual behavior in sleep (SBS).

Search Methods:

We searched Pubmed and PsychINFO (from 1980 to 2012) with pre-specified terms. We also searched reference lists of relevant articles.

Selection Criteria:

Case reports in which a sleep disorder was purported as the defense during a criminal trial and in which information about the forensic evaluation of the defendant was provided.

Data Extraction and Analysis:

Information about legal issues, defendant and victim characteristics, circumstantial factors, and forensic evaluation was extracted from each case. A qualitative-comparative assessment of cases was performed.


Eighteen cases (9 SRV and 9 SBS) were included. The charge was murder or attempted murder in all SRV cases, while in SBS cases the charge ranged from sexual touching to rape. The defense was based on sleepwalking in 11 of 18 cases. The trial outcome was in favor of the defendant in 14 of 18 cases. Defendants were relatively young males in all cases. Victims were usually adult relatives of the defendants in SRV cases and unrelated young girls or adolescents in SBS cases. In most cases the criminal events occurred 1-2 hours after the defendant's sleep onset, and both proximity and other potential triggering factors were reported. The forensic evaluations widely differed from case to case.


SRV and SBS medical-legal cases did not show apparent differences, except for the severity of the charges and the victim characteristics. An international multidisciplinary consensus for the forensic evaluation of SRV and SBS should be developed as an urgent priority.


Ingravallo F, Poli F, Gilmore EV, Pizza F, Vignatelli L, Schenck CH, Plazzi G. Sleep-related violence and sexual behavior in sleep: a systematic review of medical-legal case reports. J Clin Sleep Med 2014;10(8):927-935.

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