Have you ever been awoken in the middle of the night by a sleep talking bed partner? We’ve all probably talked in our sleep at some point, but we may not even know we did it!
Sleep talking generally doesn’t have any adverse health effects, and it may even seem like a funny occurrence, but it can actually be a sign of underlying problems with the sleep talker. Sleep talk can also cause problems with a person’s bed partner if it keeps them up at night.
Talking in your sleep is a common phenomenon— about 66 percent of people have experienced at least one sleep talking episode in their lives. However, it’s difficult to come up with concrete statistics because people who talk in their sleep are unaware that they’re doing so, and any reports tend to come from their sleep partner, or a parent if the sleep talker is a child.
There’s more to sleep talking than you may realize, so let’s take a closer look at what causes sleep talking and how you can fix it if you or your partner experience it.
What is Sleep Talking?
Sleep talking— also known as somniloquy— is when a person talks during their sleep without realizing that they’re doing it. Children are more prone to sleep talking than adults are, and in adults, it occurs most in men.
The main symptom of sleep talking is, of course, audible speech during sleep. This verbal utterance can just be gibberish, or it can be normal speech. Sleep talking can occur both during REM sleep and non REM sleep (NREM Sleep).
Sleep talking cases can be organized in two ways: by severity or by sleep stage. Stage 1 and 2 sleep talk occurs in earlier stages of sleep, and the vocalizations are easier to understand. They may even be in clear words or sentences. Stage 3 or 4 sleep talk occurs when the person is in a deep sleep, and their speech is harder to understand— it may not even be actual words.
If a person experiences mild sleep talking episodes, then sleep talk occurs less than once a month. Moderate cases happen around once a week, and severe cases occur every night and can disturb the sleep of your bed partner or any other people in the room.
Why Do People Talk In Their Sleep?
Sleep talking can be caused by any number of things— that’s why it’s so common. Some common triggers for sleep talking include:
- Sickness or fever
- Alcohol consumption
- Mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety
Other disorders or parasomnias— abnormal behavior during sleep— can cause sleep talking as well. These include:
- Teeth grinding
- Nightmares or sleep terrors
- REM Sleep Behavior Disorder— acting out dreams, complete with vocalizations and often violent limb movement
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
- Confusional arousals— when a sleeping person appears to wake up, but they behave in an odd or unusual way
Is Sleep Talking Dangerous?
Sleep talking itself is not dangerous, but it can be an indicator of other sleep problems or even a sleep disorder. It may even lead to potentially embarrassing moments with your sleep partner if your talking is particularly hostile or R-rated!
It’s not uncommon for more severe cases of somniloquy to disturb your partner’s rest. A sleep talker can potentially keep their bed partner up at night, which can contribute to or worsen sleep deprivation, daytime sleepiness or conditions like insomnia. So even if you’re sleeping fine, your bedmate might be experiencing something quite different..
More severe cases of sleep talking may cause sleep deprivation. The effects of sleep deprivation can really add up fast, and chronic sleep deprivation can put you at higher risk for accidents, injury, and hamper your cognitive abilities. So what can you do if you or your bed partner talk in your sleep?
How to Stop Sleep Talking
Let me be clear: there is no treatment for sleep talking. But if you’ve been here a while, then you know that a good way to address and possibly clear up a lot of sleep issues is to practice proper sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene can help ensure that you get your best rest each evening.
Here are my suggestions for nipping sleep speech in the bud and getting the deep, restful sleep you need at night.
- Follow a regular sleep schedule: This means going to bed at the same time each night, and waking up at the same time every morning.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or eating large meals a few hours before bed. This will help promote healthy sleep onset and make sure your body’s systems aren’t hard at work while you’re trying to rest.
- Practice relaxation techniques before bed to help you unwind and clear your head. These are especially helpful if you’re feeling anxious or stressed at the end of the day.
How to Sleep With a Sleep Talking Bed Partner
A person who talks in their sleep may not realize that they do it, but that still doesn’t make it any easier on their partners who end up hearing them! Thankfully, just like with a snoring bed partner, there are ways to ensure that they don’t prevent you from getting the sleep you need.
The easiest solution here would probably be to use earplugs since they’re inexpensive and available pretty much anywhere. Sound machines are another good option, since they play pleasing noises like white noise or rainfall to help lull you to sleep. They’re great for covering the sound of sleep talking too.
My favorite option and the one I recommend to clients is the Bose Sleepbuds II. These handy devices combine the best qualities of earplugs and sound machines, as well as Bose’s noise-masking technology to dampen background noise and help you get a great night’s sleep. (Full disclosure, I’ve partnered with Bose because of their commitment to reducing background noise and creating a peaceful sleep environment.)
When to Seek Help
Sleep talking very rarely requires treatment since it generally resolves on its own, but it’s important to seek treatment for any conditions that may be causing you, your partner, or your child to talk in their sleep or keep others awake.
If you think you may have an underlying sleep disorder that is causing you to sleep talk, be sure to reach out to your doctor or a sleep specialist. Your doctor may recommend a sleep study or other course of treatment, and a sleep specialist can help you with testing and with finding treatment options if you do have an underlying sleep disorder.
If you’re not sure where to find a sleep expert or a certified sleep center near you, I recommend this tool by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Sleep talking itself is relatively harmless, but it can be annoying to your bed partner or even indicative of other health problems you may not even realize you have. That’s why it’s a bad idea to just brush it off if it happens often. A little treatment can go a long way in helping you get the good night’s sleep you deserve each night, and your partner too!
Michael J. Breus, PhD, D, ABSM; FAASM
The Sleep Doctor