An Overview of Sleep Talking

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Sleep talking is the act of talking while sleeping. It is considered a parasomnia, or a disorder that is only evident during sleep. Those who sleep talk are not aware they are speaking. Their speech may be clear or garbled, simple phrases or full statements. Sleep talking is considered distinct from acting out a dream.

Formally known as somniloquy, sleep talking is common. It poses no risk to your physical health on its own, but could be a sign of or occur with a condition, such as sleep apnea or depression.

The subject matter a sleep talker speaks about can be benign, but is often graphic or alarming. This may cause those who hear it to take offense, which can impact relationships. The sheer volume of the sleep talking may also keep bedmates from getting their needed sleep. 

This article looks at how common sleep talk is and what causes it. It also describes sleep talk symptoms and treatment options.

Couple sleeping in bed.

Tetra Images / Getty Images

Prevalence

Sleep talking affects about 5% of adults and up to 50% of children. Most people sleep talk when they're stressed or sleep-deprived. Some research shows that more than 66% 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 or mumble; at other times, they may shout. 

Researchers have not discovered all of the reasons people talk in their sleep or if the behavior is linked to dreaming. 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 function properly in sleep talkers, leading them to be vocal while they sleep.

Recall Fades

Sleep talkers do not recall sleep-talking episodes upon waking. 

Causes

There is a lot that researchers don't know about sleep talking. As of now, experts assume it may be caused by:

  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Depression
  • Fever
  • Medication
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Stress

Sleep talking may run in families, but external factors may be a stronger influence. Sleep talking may also co-occur with sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, which is marked by pauses in breathing. There are rare cases in which sleep talking in adults is related to seizures or mental health disorders. 

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

Symptoms 

Many people assume that sleep talking occurs only while a person is dreaming. But researchers suspect that sleep talking can occur during any of the five sleep stages.

In stages 1 and 2, a person may have an entire conversation without someone responding to them. In stages 3 and 4, the sleep talking may sound more like gibberish. Stage 5, when REM sleep occurs, is most associated with dreaming.

The substance and duration of sleep talk can vary. In mild cases, a person has fewer than one full episode a week. In moderate cases, sleep talking may occur more than once a week and keep a bedmate awake. Severe cases can involve episodes that occur nightly.

As a result, the behavior can cause problems for bedmates or housemates, too.

For some people, sleep talking is a short-term problem and can be changed by practicing healthy lifestyle habits. For others, sleep talking may last a year or more and become chronic. Sleep talking may also include sleepwalking, night terrors, confusion, and seizures.

Treatment 

Sleep talking rarely needs treatment. However, severe sleep talking may be a sign of a sleep disorder or medical condition that does.

If you think your or your child's sleep talking may be a sign of a serious condition, consult a healthcare provider.

There are no tests to diagnose sleep talking. However, sleep studies and sleep recordings may help a healthcare provider determine if you or your child could benefit from a treatment plan.

Sleep Journals

A sleep journal may identify sleep patterns to help your healthcare provider make a diagnosis. It's a good idea to track how much you sleep, when you sleep, and what (if anything) appears to interfere with your sleep.

Also take note of if and when you exercise and consume caffeinated beverages. Ultimately, a picture should begin to emerge with indicators about what may be contributing to the episodes.

Summary

You may be among the vast majority of American adults who sleep talk. But even you may not remember doing so. In general, sleep talkers don't talk for more than 30 seconds at a time. But some of them may talk many times throughout the night. Some sleep talkers talk to themselves while others appear to carry on conversations with others. Sometimes, sleep talkers whisper or mumble; at other times, they may shout. 

No one knows exactly what triggers sleep talking, but it appears to be prompted by an underlying influence, such as alcohol and drug abuse, daytime fatigue, depression, fever, medication, sleep deprivation, or stress.

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 following a balanced diet may reduce incidences of sleep talking. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider if you or a loved one is experiencing concerning behavior associated with sleep talking.

Was this page helpful?
4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sleep Foundation. Sleep Talking.

  2. Bjorvatn B, Grønli J, Pallesen S. Prevalence of different parasomnias in the general population. Sleep Med. 2010 Dec;11(10):1031-4. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2010.07.011. 

  3. American Sleep Association. Stages of sleep: The sleep cycle.

  4. The Sleep Advisors. Talking in your sleep.