An Overview of Sleep Talking

Sleep talking is the act of talking while sleeping. It is a parasomnia, or something that only happens during sleep. It used to be called somniloquy.

When a person is talking in their sleep, their speech might be clear or garbled. They might use simple phrases or full statements. People who sleep talk don't know they're speaking and don't recall what they said.

Sleep talking is not a sleep disorder on its own; however, it can be a symptom of a sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea. It can also be accompanied by other parasomnias such as sleepwalking, night terrors, sleep eating, sleep paralysis, sexsomnia, etc.

This article will cover what sleeping talking is, why it happens, and when you should see your provider about it.

Couple sleeping in bed.

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How Common Is Sleep Talking?

Overall, it's not common—only about 5% of adults are sleep talkers. However, up to 50% of children are reported to talk in their sleep, and about 66% of adults, both men and women equally, have talked in their sleep at some point.

People are most likely to sleep talk when they're stressed or sleep-deprived. Sleep talking also seems more common in people with certain medical and mental health conditions, including:

Sleep talking is not the same as acting out a dream, which refers to another sleep disorder known as REM sleep behavior disorder.

Symptoms

Sleep talking can range from sounding like speech that a person would use when they're awake to senseless babbling or even shouting or laughing.

Sleep talkers do not remember sleep-talking episodes when they wake up.

Sleep talkers can appear to be talking to themselves or be carrying on conversations with other people. Sometimes, sleep talkers whisper or mumble, but they may also groan, shout, or cry out.

For some people, sleep talking is a short-term problem and can be addressed with good sleep hygiene and by making a few lifestyle changes. For others, sleep talking may last a year or longer. In this case, it may become chronic. 

When It Happens and What People Talk About

Many people think that sleep talking occurs only while a person is dreaming, but sleep talking can occur during any of the four sleep stages. There is one stage for rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and three stages that are non-REM sleep.

  • In stages 1 - 3, In the beginning, when a person is transitioning from wake to sleep, they may have a complete and understandable conversation with themselves. As they move toward deeper sleep, their talking may sound more like gibberish.
  • In stage 4, a person may talk during REM sleep, which is when they are dreaming. While the things they're saying relate to their dream, they won't likely make sense to anyone overhearing it.

The content and duration of sleep talking can vary. Sleep talkers generally do not talk for longer than 9 seconds at a time, and often it's much shorter than that—just a few seconds. Rarely, people have been recorded giving very long speeches in their sleep.

However, some people speak many times throughout the night.

  • In mild cases, a person has fewer than one full episode of sleep talking a week.
  • In moderate cases, sleep talking happens multiple times a week.
  • In severe cases, a person talks in their sleep every night.

The content of a person's sleep talking is usually harmless and even boring—if it makes sense and can be understood at all. One study showed that 59% of sleep talk was incomprehensible (mumbles, shouts, whispers, and laughs).

However, sleep talk can also be graphic and alarming, including profanity and verbal abuse. If a partner, child, or roommate overhears offensive or disturbing content, it can become a source of relationship problems.

Causes

Researchers are not sure why some people talk in their sleep. Sleep talking can run in families, which means there might be a genetic component. However, researchers think that external factors are a stronger influence than genes.

Factors that might contribute to sleep talking include:

Sleep Disorders

Sleep talking can be part of certain sleep disorders, like sleep apnea. People with REM sleep behavior disorder and night terrors may verbalize while asleep.

  • Night terrors, which are more common in kids, can cause them to cry out in their sleep. They may also have additional parasomnias such as confusional arousal and sleepwalking.
  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RSD), which is more common in adults over 50, is when a person physically acts out their dreams, usually of frightening content such as being chased or attacked. In some cases, they may shout or make loud noises as they move about. This can be a dangerous experience for the sleeper and bed partners, as they can cause injury to themselves or others.

It is believed that the part of the brain that stops movement (including speech), in people with RSD, might not work right, leading them to be vocal when asleep. Researchers explain this may be a precursor to more serious neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's, Lewy body disease, and other dementias.

Diagnosis

It's not uncommon for someone to be unaware that they sleep talk unless they have a bedmate who happens to overhear them.

Sleep talking is a sign of a condition rather than a condition on its own. While a person might not be diagnosed with sleep talking specifically, it may be a symptom of a diagnosable sleep disorder.

Sleep Studies

One way that people can find out if they have a sleep disorder is by having a sleep study done, known as a polysomnogram.

For this test, a person goes to a sleep lab and is fitted with monitors that will track different things, like their brain waves, breathing, and heart rate, while asleep.

The information that a healthcare provider gets from a sleep study can help them figure out what is causing a person's sleep problems. For example, they might have pauses in their breathing while they are asleep (sleep apnea).

Even if the test does not show a person sleep talking, it can still be useful because it helps providers rule out specific sleep disorders.

Sleep Journals

Keeping a sleep journal can help you identify your sleep patterns. You can use it to track:

  • How much you sleep
  • When you sleep and when you wake up
  • What gets in the way of you having a restful night's sleep
  • Your diet, exercise, medication use, and consumption of alcohol/caffeine

This information can help your provider figure out what is causing you to sleep talk. It can also help you identify the things that might make you more likely to talk in your sleep.

If you don't want to write in a physical journal, apps and even wearable fitness trackers can help you monitor your sleep.

Treatment 

Sleep talking usually doesn't need to be treated. However, sleep talking can be part of another condition or disorder that does need to be treated.

The treatment for sleep disorders varies, but often includes lifestyle changes, medication, and therapy.

For example:

  • Some people who have insomnia or narcolepsy may need to take prescription medications.
  • People with occasional sleep problems—for example, related to travel—might find over-the-counter (OTC) medications and supplements (like melatonin) helpful until they return to their regular sleep routine.
  • For people who have long-term sleep problems, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is sometimes helpful.
  • A person who has sleep apnea may need to wear a special breathing device to bed to make sure they are getting enough oxygen while they're sleeping.

While there might not be a specific treatment for sleep talking, there are some steps that you and a bedmate can take to cope with it as well as help your bedmates cope, such as:

  • Sleeping in separate beds or rooms if your sleep talking is making it hard for someone else to sleep
  • Running a white noise machine or fan at night
  • Wearing earplugs or headphones to bed

Most sleep problems benefit from good sleep hygiene habits. It may help for you to:

Taking care of your overall health can also improve your sleep. Here are a few habits to consider:

  • Eat a nutritious diet
  • Get regular physical activity during the day
  • Find ways to manage your stress levels

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Sleep talking isn't usually a serious problem until it starts interfering with your sleep—or the sleep of someone you live with.

If you're sleep talking is negatively affecting your life and relationships, it's important to talk to your provider. Once you figure out what's causing you to talk in your sleep, you can take steps to address it.

You should also talk to your provider if you've never talked in your sleep before, but suddenly start doing it as an adult—after the age of 25. In this case, the behavior is usually a sign of an underlying health problem.

Summary

Sleep talking can be a strange experience for the talker and anyone who happens to be listening. While it's usually harmless, it can also become a disruptive sleep problem.

Talking in your sleep isn't a disorder on its own, but it can be a sign of an underlying health condition or sleep disorder that needs treatment.

If you're sleep talking is a problem, talk to your provider. Once they find out what's causing you to sleep talk, treatment options exist.

You should also know that sleep talking is much more common in kids than adults. If you're over 25 and suddenly start talking in your sleep for the first time, let your provider know because it could be a sign of a medical condition.

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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.
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By Lana Barhum
Lana Barhum has been a freelance medical writer since 2009. She shares advice on living well with chronic disease.