Forensic Aspects of Sleep Medicine

Rosalind D. Cartwright

in The Oxford Handbook of Sleep and Sleep Disorders

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780195376203
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Forensic Aspects of Sleep Medicine

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  • Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Criminal and Forensic Psychology


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Sleep medicine has extended into two areas with legal implications: 1) public policy regarding work-related accidents caused by excessive sleepiness and 2) harm done during partial arousals from sleep. In the first, excessive daytime sleepiness, harm is caused by the defendant falling asleep during a waking activity. In the second, partial arousals from sleep, such as sleepwalking, harm occurs when the accused behaves as if awake while still partially sleeping. Accidents due to excessive daytime sleepiness are often the result of insufficient time spent sleeping. This has led several countries to regulate allowable working hours. Aggressive and sexual assaults during sleepwalking have resulted in improved diagnostic specificity. A sleep expert’s role as witness in these new areas includes validation of the diagnosis and testimony pertinent to responsibility for a sleep-related, unmotivated, nonconscious act. This role is controversial based on the ability of the expert to judge an accused’s state of mind during an unwitnessed event remote in time and the explanatory model they employ.

Keywords: accidents; aggression; excessive sleepiness; legal responsibility; sex assaults; sleepwalking; slow wave sleep; state of mind.

Article.  9421 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Clinical Psychology ; Criminal and Forensic Psychology

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