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Definition of Sleep Forensics

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Updated February 18, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition: The study of criminal behavior purported to occur during the unconscious state of sleep. The behavior may include murder, rape, assault, and other criminal acts. Certain sleep disorders, such as rapid eye movement (REM) behavior disorder or other abnormal sleep behaviors called parasomnias, might predispose an individual to performing physical actions while remaining asleep. These activities might also occur with the use of certain hypnotic medications, such as Ambien (zolpidem). When these actions result in a crime being committed, experts may be called in to investigate whether an underlying sleep disorder could be to blame. Sleepwalking has been a recognized defense in American law since the Albert Jackson Tirrell Case of 1846. Some criminals might attempt a similar legal defense that can be medically disproven.
Examples:
Sleep forensics was able to prove that he did not kill his wife while sleepwalking.
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