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Sleep Talking

*Nothing in this article constitutes medical advice. Seek the guidance of a physician if you have any questions.*

Has anyone ever told you that you talk in your sleep? If so, you probably cannot remember doing it but only knew because someone said something.  Perhaps you have heard your child mumble while napping? A recent study found that 66% of the population has experienced episodes of sleep talking. The medical term for sleep talking is somniloquy, and it is precisely what it sounds like, which is talking while asleep without being aware of it. According to Web MD, “It’s a type of parasomnia — an abnormal behavior that takes place during sleep. It’s a [quite] common occurrence and is not usually considered a medical problem”. The talking can be complicated dialogues as if speaking with another person or wholly gibberish and not understood. It’s common for people to experience at least one episode of sleep talking during their life. Sleep talking impacts a significant number of people.  Sleep talking occurs in half of all kids between the ages of 3 and 10 years old. Ironically, sleep talking impacts a much smaller number of adults, about 5%. The utterances can take place occasionally or every night. Experts have analyzed symptoms and consequences of sleep talking, but there are still many unknowns about this condition’s causes and treatment.

Sleep Talking and Other Sleep Behavior Disorders

Most people automatically assume that sleep talking occurs during a dream. But scholars are still not sure if sleep talking is related to dreams at all. Experts have found that sleep talking can happen during any stage of sleep.  Somniloquy is uniquely different from other sleep disorders because it typically occurs alone, not with another sleep disorder. In most cases, talking while sleeping is harmless. It is rarely an indication of a more serious sleep disorder or health condition. It essential to understand that sleep talking is distinct from other vocalizations that can occur during sleep. According to the sleep foundation, “Catathrenia is a breathing disorder that causes audible groaning, or REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which involves a person physically acting out their dreams.”

There are two types of sleep disorders that cause people to grunt and groan in their sleep (REM), sleep behavior disorders (RBD) and sleep, terrors. Sleep terrors are also called night terrors and typically include blood-curdling screams, flailing arms, and kicking. Most experts suggest that parents do not attempt to wake a child with sleep terror because it only confuses them further. Sleep terrors are believed to occur when a person gets stuck between sleep cycles, so it is challenging to wake them from a night terror episode. Children with sleep terrors may also sleep talk and sleepwalk.

Stages and Severity of Sleep Talking

According to Healthline, Sleep talking can be categorized into different stages depending on the severity.

  • Stages 1 and 2: during this stage, the sleep talker has not entered a deep sleep, and their speech is more coherent and audible. A person in this phase can have an entire conversation while asleep.
  • Stages 3 and 4: during this stage, the sleep talker enters a deeper sleep, and their speech becomes harder to understand. The talking may sound more like gibberish.

Sleep talk severity is determined by the rate or frequency in which it occurs:

  • Mild: sleep talking occurs around once a month.
  • Moderate: sleep talking may happen once a week, but not every night. The talking does not impact others in the same room.
  • Severe: Sleep talking occurs nightly and may interfere with others sleeping in the same room.

How Can You Stop Sleep Talking?

Since experts do not fully understand the cause of sleep talking, there is limited knowledge about proven methods to prevent sleep talking. Often, treatment for sleep talking is unnecessary because it is harmless.

People who want to stop sleep talking episodes should focus on getting good, quality sleep at night. The Sleep Foundation stated, “most parasomnias are thought to be an abnormal state that blends wakefulness and sleep, and this state may be more likely to arise when normal sleep patterns are disturbed.” Therefore, steps should be taken to promote consistent quality sleep.  Sleep hygiene encompasses a person’s sleep environment and any habits that may affect sleep. Improving sleep hygiene can eliminate sleep interruptions.

Ways to Improve Sleep Hygiene:

  • Create and maintain a consistent sleep schedule (including weekends).
  • Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and at night time.
  • Set aside some time to unwind from the day.
  • Go outside and get fresh air and sunlight for vitamin d, which impacts sleep.
  • Create a distraction-free sleeping environment (lights, sound, temperature).  

People who share a bedroom with someone who sleep talk may suffer from sleeping problems, like excessive drowsiness during the day.  In most cases, a physician can diagnose sleep issues and recommend proper treatment.

How Can Partners of Sleep Talkers Get Better Sleep?

Most of the time, the person who sleep talks cannot remember that they talked in their sleep. It is the bed partners or roommates of people who sleeptalk who suffer from somniloquy’s negative consequences. For example, partners of sleep talkers may find themselves awoken unexpectedly by loud talking.  If sleep talking creates significant problems, then emphasis should be placed on improving sleep hygiene. Improved sleep hygiene should decrease the frequency of sleep talking episodes. Other steps can be taken to reduce sleep disturbance, such as:

  • Wearing earplugs to block out the sound.
  • Use white noise to muffle the sound of talking.
  • Some find it necessary to sleep in separate rooms.

Key Takeaway:

Sleep talking is usually a harmless condition that is more common in children than adults but can occur at any time in life. Most people will not remember talking in their sleep because it can happen during any part of the sleep cycle. Most of the time, doctors will refrain from treatment so that it resolves on its own. It can be a chronic or temporary condition, but for the most part, it is harmless.

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