, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 400-409

Impulsive acts and confusional states during incomplete arousal from sleep: Criminological and forensic implications

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Impulsive behavior during the confusional state of a prolonged period of arousal from sleep appears to be a syndrome in its own right, referred to as “sleep drunkenness”. This condition is probably more common than generally believed. It is assumed that some cases remained unrecognized due to inadequate information inherent in most situations in which this syndrome is acted out. Other cases were probably misdiagnosed for other forms of sleep pathology (e.g., somnambulism).

Approximately 20 cases of murder and about 30 incidents of other crimes or offences have been attributed to this syndrome. The author presents illustrative cases and clinical criteria which may serve as a guide in differential diagnosis.

Classification attempts and psychophysiological theories are reviewed. Recent evidence suggests that this syndrome and some other automatisms of sleep are linked with partial arousal from the non-REM phase of the sleep cycle and show little if any relationship with dreaming.

The paper is based on a presentation at the 5th International Meeting of Forensis Sciences, Toronto, 1969.