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Sleep talking is kind of like having spinach in your teeth. You’re usually not aware of it until someone brings it to your attention.
People who find out that they’re talking while they’re asleep are often concerned about what they might say. They worry that they’ll reveal something incriminating or embarrassing about themselves.
The good news is that nothing you say while you’re asleep can be used against you in court, no matter how terrible or incriminating your utterances are. The bad news is that unless a bedtime companion, family member or roommate tells you that you’re doing it, you’re not likely to know it’s even happening.
Scientists haven’t yet narrowed down what causes sleep talking, which makes controlling it impossible. Fortunately, there are several factors that have been identified that make it more likely to occur. We’ll share these contributing causes and give you some tips on how to reduce your chances of being told by a loved one that you’ve been talking or screaming in sleep.
What is Sleep Talking?
Also known as somniloquy, this disorder causes someone to engage in night talking while they’re asleep. It’s classified as a parasomnia, which is a type of sleep disorder. Other parasomnias include sleepwalking, night terrors, teeth grinding and even sex while asleep.
Sometimes the noises that nighttime talkers make are little more than groans, grunts, whispers or laughing. Other times, the person can be having an entire conversation with someone, although you’ll only hear the side of the sleeper. According to one study, the most commonly used word is, “No,” and profanities also make frequent appearances in this dialogue.
On occasion, people who talk while they’re asleep will make rude or vulgar comments. It’s important to remember that the person talking is unconscious. The words they say could be part of a nonsensical dream, so we suggest that if you hear something offensive, don’t take it personally.
Who Experiences This?
This occurrence is quite common in children, with about 50% of kids from the ages of 3 to 10 having routine incidences. Boys and girls are equally like to talk while asleep, and there could be a genetic link. Therefore, if a parent had this habit when he or she was a kid, then the offspring could be more likely to exhibit the same behavior.
Surprisingly, men have more reported incidences than women.
Why do People Talk in Their Sleep?
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
Dreaming occurs during REM (rapid eye movement). This stage of sleeping accounts for about 20 to 25% of the total time we spend asleep, and it’s a busy time for our brains. During this stage, eyes flutter rapidly underneath the eyelids, blood pressure rises, the heart rate increases, and brain wave activity is similar to being awake.
The body remains at rest, nearly paralyzed, during REM, which prevents us from acting out our dreams. That is unless someone has REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD). People RBD may indeed act out their dreams. Not only does this mean they could talk, but they could also get violent or even get out of bed to move around.
Sleep terrors are more commonly associated with children, but they can happen in adults, too. During a night terror, the person may seem like they’re awake. They could be screaming, yelling, kicking and thrashing, and they’re frightened about some vision they’re having, whether it’s a dream or a hallucination.
The next morning, the person with the night terror is unlikely to recall what happened.
Nocturnal Sleep-related Eating Disorder
If you’re wondering the flaming hot Cheetos went, and no one in the house well fess up, you may need to look inward, especially if you have any unexplained weight gain. NS-RED or Nocturnal Sleep-related Eating Disorder happens when people eat while they are asleep. They could even go into the kitchen and prepare an entire meal while being asleep.
As you might imagine, if someone confronts them while they’re devouring the contents of the pantry, they could potentially carry on a conversation, which would be another example of somniloquy.
If you’re talking while you’re dozing, check any prescription drugs you’re taking to find out if one of the potential side effects could be somniloquy. If so, your doctor may need to adjust the medication or dosage.
It turns out that sun exposure (specifically exposure to Vitamin D) helps speed up metabolism, encouraging the body to maintain a healthy weight. In addition to this vitamin, sun exposure causes our body to release nitric oxide, another metabolic regulator. If you avoid the sun, however, you might end up packing on the pounds.
We can’t help but wonder if running outdoors between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. with our arms and legs exposed could be the miracle weight loss solution we’ve been looking for!
Those with irregular bedtime patterns are more likely to talk during unconsciousness. It could be because the brain is having trouble shutting down for the night, which disrupts the sleep cycle, or it might be the subconscious mind working overtime, trying to figure out a solution to a pressing problem.
Sleep talking while running a high fever is fairly common. The body and brain are typically exhausted, as they’re diverting critical energy and resources to boost the immune system rather than regulate what your body is doing during restful periods. Therefore, you’re more vulnerable to a nighttime talking incident.
Mental Health Disorder
Mental health disorders are frequently linked to sleep disorders as well. At this point, scientists are not able to pinpoint if the mental health problem results in the disorder, or if having a sleeping disorder could eventually lead to mental health challenges.
Some drugs act as stimulants, keeping you awake. Others induce a state of drowsiness. Either way, the effects are artificial, and they wear off. Your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm is affected, these illicit substances could also throw off the timing of your sleeping schedule. As a result, you’re more likely to have disruptions that could lead to talking while you’re asleep.
Not getting enough shuteye could lead to somniloquy. Scientists theorize that people who aren’t resting enough have trouble passing seamlessly between the stages of sleep. As they shift from slow-wave sleep to the lighter stages, making the chance of an outburst more likely. Those with this type of disorder may also have a hard time waking up. The lengthened stage of grogginess could also cause them to talk, even though they’re not fully awake to do it consciously or remember it.
If you’re talking during slumber, you might be able to blame your parents. There’s been a genetic component to somniloquy that’s been identified.
Like drugs, alcohol can also induce an episode. The initial drowsiness you feel after a glass of wine or two could cause you to fall asleep sooner than you would naturally. As the effects of the alcohol wear off, it could cause you to wake up (at least partially), which is an ideal setup for an incident.
Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression are strongly linked to sleeping disorders, including somniloquy. Part of it could be that people with these conditions don’t rest deeply enough and are even deprived of shut-eye.
How to Stop Sleep Talking
Life can be stressful, and some of us are better at handling stress than others. But if you let stress take over your life, it can lead to trouble sleeping. When you do finally fall asleep, you’re not likely to be able to rest as deeply. And, like substance abusers, your body may have trouble shifting between sleep cycles, which greatly increases your chance of a somniloquy, night terrors, and more.
Get Medical Advice
The advice of a doctor may help you shed some light on the situation. Maybe a medication you’re taking is at the heart of the issue. Or perhaps your physician can recommend that you stay away from certain foods or activities before bed.
Develop Good Sleep Habits
The best way to ensure a peaceful night of uninterrupted rest is to develop good bedtime habits also called sleep hygiene. This means getting plenty of shuteye and going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom and considering adopting a relaxing bedtime routine, like reading an enjoyable novel and drinking a warm cup of herbal tea.
Block out the Noise
If your partner is the one who’s talking during the night, then you may want to block out the noise. Try headphones that are streamlined designed for lying down on your side (you can see our top rated headphones for sleeping here). Or get a white noise machine, which also serves to drown out other background noises in addition to nocturnal mumblings (see our top rated white noise machine picks here).
Keep a Sleep Diary
You’ll need the help of a partner or an app that records when you’ve been talking at night. Then take note of everything of importance that could cause a somniloquy. Note the time you went to bed and woke up, how long it seemed to take you to fall asleep, any food or drink you consumed that day, and even stressful incidents that could have affected your ability to get adequate shut-eye.
Over time, you may notice a pattern emerge. Once that happens, you can take steps to minimize or eliminate it altogether.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it common in toddlers and children?
Yes, a toddler talking in sleep can happen in nearly 50% of children that age. In fact, up until about the age of 10, about half of all kids will have a semi-regular nighttime talking habit. Fortunately, most people outgrow this habit. Only about 5% of adults display this behavior.
Does sleep talking have a spiritual meaning?
Usually, there’s a biological explanation for this parasomnia. Chronic fatigue, stress, and medications are all linked to this condition. However, in the absence of any of these factors, there could be a spiritual component. It might sound a bit “out there,” but inner energy shifts, emotional traumas coming to the surface, psychic disturbances, and actively processing internal conflicts through the dreaming process could all be potential triggers.
If you’re concerned about this habit, the same advice we gave earlier for situation-induced sleep talking can also be applied in these circumstances.
Are there treatments available?
Typically, this behavior occurs rarely, and it tends to go away on its own. For frequent or chronic cases, the best treatment involves improving bedtime and lifestyle habits. Meditation before bed can help relax the mind and prepare it for deep and uninterrupted rest as well.
We tend to think of somniloquy occurring during dreaming, where the person verbally acts out what’s happening while they’re asleep. However, that’s just one of the many reasons that could explain the incident. It’s not usually about the dream.
In reality, an episode can occur during any stage of the cycle, whether the sleeper is in the early stages of rest, or if they’re in a deep slumber.
It can be scary to lose control of what comes out of your mouth when you’re asleep. For most of us, it’s hard enough to use a filter that prevents us from saying whatever’s on our mind. When we’re sleeping, that filter is nonexistent. Despite that, even though you might say some words or phrases that seem incriminating, they’re not rooted in consciousness or reality.
For example, if your spouse hears you say, “I don’t like you,” he or she might assume you were talking to them, but you could have just as easily been talking to a plate of string beans. Or, it might have even been nonsensical mumbling not linked to anything tenable.
Sources and References:
- Talking in Your Sleep – webmd.com
- Somniloquy – Talking While You're Asleep – sleepfoundation.org
- Somniloquy – sciencedirect.com
Author: Sarah Cummings
I think we’re all nerds, but I’m probably the biggest nerd in the group. Put me nose deep in a spreadsheet and I'll start smiling.
I love to travel, hang out with positive people, and love cycling when I find the time!
My hope is that everyone who visits our site will walk away with a fresh perspective. I think too many people in society downplay the importance of sleep. In my opinion, it’s the difference between an average life and an amazing one.