Do you often find yourself waking up to the sight of your partner with a black eye or a bruised cheek? The phenomenon of hitting your partner in your sleep, also known as sleep-related violence, is a puzzling and distressing issue experienced by many individuals. While it may seem inexplicable, there are several potential reasons for this behavior that are worth exploring.

In this article, we delve into the intriguing topic of why some people hit their partners while sleeping. We examine various factors that may contribute to this phenomenon, including sleep disorders such as REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), stress, trauma, and even medication side effects. By understanding the underlying causes, we hope to shed light on this complex issue and provide insights and possible solutions for those affected.

Please note that this article is not intended to provide medical advice, but rather to inform and educate readers about this unusual phenomenon.

Understanding Sleep-Related Violence

Sleep-related violence, characterized by physical aggression towards a partner during sleep, is a distressing and often confusing experience for both the individual who exhibits the behavior and their partner. This phenomenon can range from mild episodes of flailing limbs to more severe instances of hitting, punching, or kicking. It is crucial to understand that sleep-related violence is involuntary, and the person engaging in these actions is unaware of their behavior at the time.

Research suggests that sleep-related violence is relatively rare, affecting around 2% of the general population. However, the impact on those affected can be significant, leading to physical injury, emotional distress, and strained relationships. Understanding the potential causes of sleep-related violence is crucial in finding effective strategies to manage and prevent these incidents.

Causes of Sleep-Related Violence

  1. Sleep Disorders: One of the primary causes of sleep-related violence is the presence of sleep disorders, particularly REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD). RBD is characterized by the absence of the usual muscle paralysis during REM sleep, leading to the enactment of dreams through physical movements. Individuals with RBD may act out violent or aggressive dreams, unknowingly harming their sleeping partners.
  2. Stress and Anxiety: High levels of stress and anxiety can significantly impact sleep quality and increase the likelihood of sleep-related violence. Emotional and psychological stressors can manifest in dreams as threatening or violent situations, leading to physical outbursts during sleep.
  3. Trauma: Individuals who have experienced trauma, such as physical or emotional abuse, may be more prone to sleep-related violence. Traumatic experiences can manifest in dreams and trigger aggressive or violent behaviors during sleep.
  4. Medication Side Effects: Certain medications, particularly those that affect the central nervous system, can disrupt sleep patterns and increase the risk of sleep-related violence. It is essential to review any medications with potential side effects with a healthcare professional to identify if they may be contributing to the issue.

The Link Between Sleep Disorders and Violence

Sleep disorders, particularly RBD, have been closely associated with sleep-related violence. In individuals with RBD, the usual muscle paralysis that occurs during REM sleep is absent, allowing them to physically act out their dreams. This can lead to violent or aggressive behaviors, such as punching, kicking, or thrashing, which can result in injury to their sleeping partner.

It is important to note that not all individuals with RBD engage in violent behaviors during sleep. Some may exhibit milder forms of sleep-related violence, while others may not display any aggressive actions at all. The severity and frequency of sleep-related violence can vary from person to person, depending on several factors, including individual differences in brain chemistry and underlying health conditions.

Seeking Professional Help for Sleep-Related Violence

If you or your partner experience sleep-related violence, it is crucial to seek professional help to address the underlying causes and develop effective management strategies. Consulting with a sleep specialist or a healthcare professional experienced in sleep disorders can provide valuable insights and guidance.

A professional evaluation may involve a comprehensive sleep study to monitor brain activity, muscle movements, and other physiological factors during sleep. This can help identify any underlying sleep disorders, such as RBD, and determine the most appropriate course of action.

Treatment options for sleep-related violence may include medications to suppress muscle activity during sleep, stress management techniques, trauma-focused therapy, and lifestyle modifications to improve sleep hygiene. It is important to remember that each individual’s situation is unique, and the treatment plan should be tailored to their specific needs.

Managing Sleep-Related Violence at Home

While seeking professional help is crucial, there are also steps that can be taken at home to manage sleep-related violence and reduce the risk of injury to both the individual and their partner:

  1. Creating a Safe Sleep Environment: Clear the bedroom of any sharp objects or potentially dangerous items that could cause injury during sleep-related violence episodes. Consider using padded bed rails or pillows to create a protective barrier.
  2. Sleep Positioning: Experiment with different sleep positions that may help minimize the risk of physical contact during sleep. For example, sleeping in separate beds or using a body pillow between partners can create a physical barrier.
  3. Communicate Openly: Maintaining open and honest communication with your partner about sleep-related violence is essential. Discuss your concerns, fears, and any strategies you may have discovered to manage the issue together.
  4. Supportive Sleep Schedule: Establishing a regular sleep schedule can help improve sleep quality and reduce the occurrence of sleep-related violence. Creating a relaxing bedtime routine and ensuring a comfortable sleep environment can also contribute to better sleep.

Coping Strategies for Partners of Sleep-Related Violence Sufferers

Living with a partner who experiences sleep-related violence can be challenging and emotionally draining. It is essential for partners to take care of their well-being while providing support to their affected loved one. Here are some coping strategies for partners of sleep-related violence sufferers:

  1. Education and Understanding: Educate yourself about sleep-related violence, its causes, and potential management strategies. Understanding the condition can help alleviate any feelings of blame or confusion and foster empathy.
  2. Seek Support: Reach out to support groups or online communities where partners of sleep-related violence sufferers share experiences and coping strategies. Connecting with others who are going through similar situations can provide validation, comfort, and practical advice.
  3. Practice Self-Care: Taking care of your own physical and emotional well-being is crucial when supporting a partner with sleep-related violence. Engage in activities that help reduce stress, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with supportive friends and family.
  4. Communicate Openly and Safely: Express your concerns, fears, and emotions with your partner in a safe and understanding environment. Clear communication can help build trust and strengthen the relationship.

Support Groups and Resources for Sleep-Related Violence

If you or your partner are seeking additional support and resources for sleep-related violence, several organizations and online communities can provide valuable information and assistance. These resources can offer a sense of community, knowledge, and empathy for individuals and partners dealing with this issue. Some reputable organizations include:

  1. National Sleep Foundation
  2. American Sleep Association
  3. Sleep Disorders Australia
  4. Sleep Health Foundation (Canada)
  5. European Sleep Research Society

Case Studies and Personal Experiences

Reading about real-life experiences and case studies can provide insights into the challenges faced by individuals and their partners dealing with sleep-related violence. These personal accounts can help foster empathy, understanding, and offer potential strategies for managing this complex issue.

Please note that each individual’s experience with sleep-related violence is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. It is important to consult with healthcare professionals and sleep specialists to develop a personalized approach.


Sleep-related violence is a distressing phenomenon that can significantly impact the lives of individuals and their partners. Understanding the potential causes, seeking professional help, and implementing effective management strategies are crucial in addressing this issue. By raising awareness, providing support, and fostering empathy, we can create a safer sleep environment for those affected by sleep-related violence.

Remember, if you or your partner are experiencing sleep-related violence, consult with a healthcare professional or sleep specialist to discuss your situation and explore appropriate treatment options.