If your sleep partner or child seems to mumble or carry on conversations while they sleep, they are likely sleep talking. Sleep talkers can be loud or quiet. They may form coherent sentences, appear to answer questions, or speak gibberish. Whatever their talking sounds like, sleep talkers tend to have one thing in common: they rarely remember what they say while they are asleep.
We explain why people talk in their sleep, what it means, and how to get better sleep if you share your bed with a sleep talker.
What Is Sleep Talking?
Sleep talking describes any kind of talking during sleep, from clear, understandable statements to seemingly random words and word-like sounds. The medical term for sleep talking is somniloquy. Sleep talking rarely disturbs the sleep of the sleep talker themselves, but it often disturbs their sleep partner or anyone sleeping in the same room. Sleep talking becomes especially disruptive if the talker is speaking loudly or saying offensive things.
Symptoms of Sleep Talking
Sleep talking describes any kind of talking during sleep. Sleep talkers may:
- Take turns to speak, as if they are having a conversation
- Ask or respond to questions
- Form sentences or phrases
- Whisper or shout
- Use real words or gibberish
- Use profanities
Sleep talking can occur during any stage of sleep, including rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. However, if a person sleep talks during REM sleep, their language is more likely to correspond to something happening in a dream.
Typically, sleep talking episodes are brief, lasting about 9 seconds on average when they occur during REM and 4 seconds when during non-REM sleep.
How Common Is Sleep Talking?
Sleep talking is quite common. An estimated two-thirds of people talk in their sleep at least once during their lifetimes, and 17% of people report sleep talking in the past three months. Sleep talking affects both men and women equally, although women may be more likely to cry and laugh, and men may be more likely to use more profanities.
Sleep talking is more common during childhood, with an older study finding that around half of children talk in their sleep at least occasionally. By adulthood, sleep talking is less common, affecting only 6% of adults on a weekly basis.
Why Do People Talk in Their Sleep?
Researchers still do not know with certainty what causes sleep talking. In most cases, sleep talking is harmless and does not require treatment. However, in some cases, sleep talking can be a sign of a more serious sleep disorder, such as:
- REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD), a sleep disorder in which the person experiences intense or violent dreams and physically acts them out. People with RBD who sleep talk may be more likely to talk loudly, use profanity or emotional language, and make statements that correspond with the behavior in their dreams.
- Night Terrors, a parasomnia in which the person appears terrified and screams or kicks during their sleep. Night terrors affect children more than adults. As with REM sleep behavior disorder, people who experience night terrors and sleep talk are more likely to appear distressed and agitated and use emotional language. However, they typically do not remember their dreams upon waking up.
Sleep talking can occur with other parasomnias, or abnormal behaviors that occur during sleep, such as sleepwalking, nightmares, and teeth grinding. Researchers have found that these parasomnias share some genetic associations, which may explain why sleep talking can run in families.
Sleep talking is twice as common among people with psychiatric disorders, especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People who have PTSD may talk more during their sleep. Sleep talking sometimes accompanies certain types of dementia, as well as seizures during sleep. Still, sleep talking is common enough that experiencing it does not necessarily suggest you have one of these underlying disorders.
Sleep talking can be confused with catathrenia, which is when people groan in their sleep. Catathrenia is a separate condition from sleep talking, and the groans may sound sad or sexual in nature. If you are groaning a lot during your sleep, talk to your doctor. Unlike sleep talking, which often only disturbs the sleep of the sleep partner, catathrenia has been shown to impair the sleep quality of the sleeper themselves and cause fatigue.
Can You Stop Talking in Your Sleep?
The largest issue most people have with sleep talking is that it disturbs their sleep partner. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for sleep talking. If your sleep talking is caused by another sleep disorder or mental condition, treating the underlying disorder may reduce your sleep talking. Otherwise, you may be able to improve your sleep with better sleep hygiene:
- Aim to sleep at least seven hours each night
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol, especially before bed
- Make your bedroom as dark, cool, and quiet as possible
- Stop using electronics at least 30 minutes before bed
- Manage your stress levels
Tips for Sharing a Bed With a Sleep Talker
Sharing your bed with a sleep talker can be difficult. Try these tips to prevent them from interrupting your sleep.
Drown Out the Noise
You may sleep easier if you cannot hear your partner sleep talking. Try wearing ear plugs during sleep, or use a white noise machine.
If your partner’s sleep talking is disrupting your sleep, you may want to sleep in a separate bed to minimize disturbances.
Your partner will likely appreciate you being supportive as they navigate their symptoms. It can be embarrassing for people to find out they have been talking in their sleep, especially if the content is graphic or offensive. If you notice other concerning symptoms, encourage sleep-talking family members to see a doctor.
When to Talk to Your Doctor
If your sleep talking is disturbing you or your partner’s sleep, or, if you are concerned it is a sign of something more serious, make an appointment with your doctor.
Let them know if you experience additional symptoms, such as screaming, violent thrashing or kicking during your sleep, or if you seem afraid. Your doctor may order an overnight sleep study, called polysomnography, to rule out another sleep disorder like REM sleep behavior disorder or night terrors.
In many cases, sleep talking is harmless. But if you have concerns, talk to your doctor or sleep specialist.
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