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article imageSleepwalker acquitted of drunk-driving charge

By Kim I. Hartman     Nov 3, 2010 in World
Karlskrona - A 51-year-old Swedish man has been acquitted of drunken driving charges after a court couldn't rule out the possibility that the man was asleep when he got behind the wheel.
There is no doubt that the man was well above the legal limit when he awoke late one evening last May in the driver's seat of his car, which had careened into a ditch in Karlskrona in southern Sweden.
According to court documents, the man had a blood alcohol level of 1.85 per mille – nearly ten times Sweden's legal limit of 0.2 per mille, reports The Local.
He was wearing a nightshirt, track pants and slippers and told officers he thought he was on his way to replenish his supply of snus, a wet snuff tobacco product.
The man later claimed to have no memory of initial post-accident interview, only that "he spoke with a police officer and that he was in shock and extremely intoxicated when the interview took place".
In tossing out the drink driving charges, Blekinge District Court cited the opinion of the man's doctor who said he may have suffered from some form of somnambulism or sleep-driving and sleep-walking.
Not all sleep-walking, sleep disorders or complex sleep related behaviours is related to combining alcohol and prescription medicines and not all sleep sessions are passive and dormant.
The doctor said the man had previously displayed what could be interpreted as sleep-walking after taking the same sleeping pills he took the night of the accident.
"Somnambulism is a well known medical phenomenon where a person can carry out complex behaviours like walking, eating and making food, driving a car and having sex without actually being awake or aware of what's happening," wrote the doctor, according to court documents.
Sleeping pills, also known as hypnotic sedatives, are now required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to carry warnings for these complex sleep related behaviours.
A new study in may help explain some of the rare but strange side effects in people taking the sleep drug Ambien, and other sleeping pills, including sleep walking, midnight binges and even driving while not fully awake.
"You are kind of releasing the brakes," said Molly Huntsman of Georgetown, who worked on the study that appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This may stimulate brain circuits that would normally be silenced. "In a way, sleeping pills are awakening other circuits because the brakes are not in place," Huntsman said.
As a result, the court said: "It cannot be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the man was aware of his actions when he drove his car."
The man's attorney, Christer Holmqvist, said he wasn't surprised by the verdict but added that he expected prosecutors to appeal.
"I won't be surprised if it's appealed. I understand there is a certain amount of public pressure on a prosecutor to gain a conviction," he said.
More about Ambien, Sleepwalking, Sleepdriving, Somnabulism, Lunesta
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