A new form of somnambulism for the Internet age has been identified by doctors and reported in the latest edition of the medical journal Sleep Medicine. Sleep researchers from the University of Toledo, Ohio, reported the first ever case of someone using the Internet while asleep, even sending emails inviting people over for drinks and caviar.
The 44-year-old woman had gone to bed at about 10pm, but rose a couple of hours later, walked to the next room and sat down at her computer. She turned the machine on, connected to the Internet and successfully logged on with her user name and password, before composing three emails and sending them to friends. She only found out what she had done when one of them telephoned the next day to reply to the email and accept the invitation.
The mails themselves were perhaps not up to the woman’s waking standard; each was in a random mix of upper and lower case characters, badly formatted and containing odd expressions. One read: “Come tomorrow and sort this hell hole out. Dinner and drinks, 4.pm. Bring wine and caviar only.” Another said simply: “What the…”
The writers of the report have dubbed this new variation of sleepwalking ‘zzz-mailing’. They say: “We believe writing an email after turning the computer on, connecting to the Internet and remembering the password displayed by our patient is novel. To our knowledge this type of complex behaviour requiring coordinated movements has not been reported before in sleepwalking. She was shocked when she saw these emails, as she did not recall writing them. She did not have any history of night terrors or sleepwalking as a child.”
Unlike simple sleepwalking, they argue, the activities the woman engaged in required complex behaviour and coordinated movement, as well being able to remember her login details. She had no memory of the events next day. It’s thought that the somnambulistic episode may have been triggered by prescription medication.
While certainly novel, this is hardly the most dramatic sleepwalking behaviour on record: there are cases of people driving cars, playing musical instruments, cooking meals and doing paintings (like Welsh nurse Lee Hadwin, dubbed ‘Kipasso’).
In some cases, somnambulism has even been used as a defence in murder trials, such as that of Scott Falater , who initially claimed to have been sleepwalking when he stabbed his wife 44 times with a hunting knife. While Falater was found guilty, other defendants have (sleep)walked to freedom. In 1982, Steven Steinberg was acquitted of stabbing his wife 26 times, while in 1987 Ken Parks – who had a long history of sleepwalking – was found not guilty of murder after driving 14 miles (23km) to his in-laws’ house and killing them both, apparently in his sleep [FT167:42–45]. Jules Lowe admitted beating his father to death in Greater Manchester in 2003, but claimed he had no memory of it. His defence of somnambulism was accepted and he was acquitted in March 2005 [FT198:25].
In June 2005, a teenager climbed a crane in Dulwich, southeast London, in her sleep and curled up on the concrete counterweight 130ft (40m) from the ground; her parents rang her mobile to wake her and she was rescued by hydraulic ladder [FT201:22]. For more on sleep-climbers, see FT65:42–43. A Fife man regularly prepared and cooked meals in his sleep [FT212:6]. Then there’s sleep sex, an REM behavioural disorder distinct from somnambulism: a middle-aged Australian woman had no idea she was leaving her house at night and having sex with random strangers [FT193:13].