An Overview of Sleep Talking

A harmless habit or something more serious?

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Somniloquy, also known as sleep talking, is the act of talking while sleeping. It is a parasomnia, which means it is a behavior that takes place during sleep. Generally speaking, sleep talking is a common occurrence and is not usually a reason for concern or a sign of a medical condition. 

Sleeping talking is harmless although, at times, the content a sleep-talker speaks about may be quite graphic or alarming. Sometimes, those who hear sleep talk may find it offensive. It may also keep bedmates from getting needed sleep. 

Prevalence 

Sleep talking affects around 5 percent of adults and up to 50 percent of children. Most people sleep talk when they are stressed or sleep deprived. Additional research shows more than 66 percent of people have spoken in their sleep at some point.

Sleep talkers generally do not talk for more than 30 seconds at a time, but some may talk many times throughout the night. Sleep talkers may appear to be talking to themselves, but other times they seem to carry on conversations with others. Sometimes sleep talkers whisper, and other times they may shout. 

Sleep talkers do not recall sleep talking episodes upon waking. 

Researchers haven't discovered all of the reasons people talk in their sleep. However, some research suggests that sleep talking might be related to a rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder. It is believed that the region of the brain that stops speech and movement during sleep might not be functioning correctly in sleep talkers, leading to sleep talking.

Causes 

It's a common belief that sleep talking can only occur while a person is dreaming. However, researchers aren’t sure of this because sleep talking can occur at any stage of sleep. 

Sleep talking is usually harmless. In some cases, it might be a sign of a sleep disorder or other health condition.  

REM sleep behavior disorder and night terrors may cause a person to shout during sleep. Night terrors are more common with children than they are with adults, and they can cause children to both sleep talk and sleepwalk. 

Sleep talking may also arise due to:

  • stress.
  • depression.
  • sleep deprivation.
  • daytime fatigue.
  • alcohol and drug abuse.
  • fever.
  • medications.

Sleep talking may run in families, although external factors are a stronger force. Sleep talking may also co-occur with sleep disorders. There are rare cases where sleep talking in adults is related to seizures or mental health disorders. 

Symptoms 

Sleep talking can occur at any sleep stage. In stages 1 and 2, a person may sleep talk an entire conversation (except the sleep talker is the only one speaking), but in stages 3 and 4, the sleep talking may sound more like gibberish. 

The severity of sleep talk and duration may vary. In mild cases, a person has less than one episode weekly. In moderate causes, sleep talking may occur more than once a week and even keep a bedmate awake. Severe episodes tend to be on a nightly basis and may involve frequent episodes, keeping others awake consistently as a result.

For some people, sleep talking is a short-term problem and can be changed by practicing a healthy lifestyle. For others, sleep talking may last a year or more and become chronic.   

Sleep talking may also include sleepwalking, night terrors, confusion, and seizures. Or, it may be associated with sleep disorders including REM sleep behavior disorder and obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder marked by pauses in breathing while asleep, making sleep restless and not refreshing.

Treatment 

Sleep talking rarely needs treatment. However, severe sleep talking may be a sign of a sleep disorder or medical condition needing treatment. Anyone who thinks their sleep talking may be a sign of a serious condition should consult a doctor.

A person whose sleep talking is frequent, involves intense fear, screaming, violent behavior, or continues from childhood into adulthood should talk to their doctor about sleep disorders and medical testing. 

Sleep talking in children rarely requires treatment. If a parent thinks their child has sleep problems, they should talk to their child’s doctor. 

There are no specific tests to diagnose sleep talking. However, sleep studies and sleep recordings may help doctors determine if a person has another more serious sleep disorder causing symptoms. 

Sleep Journals

A sleep journal may identify sleep patterns to aid your doctor in making a diagnosis. It is a good idea to track sleep times, wake-up times, medicines taken, is caffeinated drinks are consumed, and exercise as well as any other activity. 

A Word From Verywell

Most of the time, sleep issues are not harmful and require no treatment. There is no way to stop sleep talking definitively. However, avoiding stress, getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding other potential causes can reduce incidences of sleep talking. Be sure to consult with your doctor if you are a loved one is experiencing concerning behavior associated with sleep talking.

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