In the 1980s, the Romantics had a number-one hit with a catchy tune about someone talking in their sleep. In the song, the person revealed their deepest secrets every night, much to the delight of the person listening. But while the song was great and it remains a classic to this day, the Romantics had it all wrong.
Yes, people talk in their sleep, plenty of people do, but they’re probably not divulging their deepest darkest secrets. In fact, they’re probably not saying anything even remotely coherent.
Sleep talking is pretty common, but it’s also innocuous. So, when it comes to research, it’s pretty low on the list of priorities. That said, while researchers may not have all the answers, they do have some.
If you’ve been told that you talk in your sleep or your bedmate is a bit of a chatty Cathy in the wee hours, here’s what you need to know.
What is Sleep Talking?
Sleep talking, otherwise known as somniloquy, affects approximately 67% of people. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source
Sleep talking is considered a parasomnia (an umbrella term for unusual behaviors that people experience before falling asleep, while they are asleep, or during the arousal stage of sleep). It can occur during any sleep stage and occurs as much during the REM sleep stage as the NON-REM sleep stage. More often than not, however, sleep talking occurs during the transition between sleep stages.
Although the condition is referred to as sleep talking, somniloquy also encompasses yelling, mumbling, and nonsensical “talk” during sleep. Sleep-talking episodes usually occur in short 30-second bursts. In some cases, that may be it for the night, and in other cases, the individual may continue speaking as the night wears on. Sleep talking is more common in kids and adolescents, and it tends to fade away once the child enters puberty.
Interestingly, it appears that sex is not a differentiator for the occurrence of sleep talking in adolescents. The instances of sleep talking are evenly distributed between girls and boys. However, studies also show a gender difference in sleep talking in adults. Sleep talking is more common in males than females. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source
Misconceptions About Sleep Talking
People often confuse sleep talking with catathrenia, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source an entirely separate condition marked by groaning during sleep upon exhalation. Whereas sleep talking only affects bed partners with little to no effect on the individual experiencing it, catathrenia disturbs the sleep of both parties.
Not only do the groaning sounds rouse bed partners, much the way snoring does. Catathrenia has also been shown to hamper the sleep quality of those experiencing it, causing frequent headaches, fatigue, and grogginess.
Another misconception of sleep talking is that it results from someone acting out or speaking the dialogue from a weird dream—this is not true at all. Sleep talking does not reflect the goings-on in someone’s dream.
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Talking?
The symptoms of sleep talking are pretty straightforward. They often include:
- Utterances of short sentences or phrases
- The use of real words or gibberish
- Speaking or yelling out profanities or obscenities
What Causes Sleep Talking?
The causes of sleep talking are still unclear, but some researchers theorize that it may be linked to stress or sleep deprivation. Moreover, sleep talking has been associated with other parasomnias, and some researchers believe it could be a sign of more serious sleep disorders.
“Parasomnias, a category of sleep disorders are grouped by type of behavior or the sleep stage from which they occur,” says Dr. Nayantara Santhi. “Some common non-rapid eye movement parasomnias are somnambulism, confusional arousals, and night terrors. A REM sleep parasomnia is REM sleep behavior disorder which is characterised by dream enactment.”
Sleep talking has been linked to the following parasomnia and sleep disorders.
Interestingly, sleep talking has been linked to sleepwalking. Research has even shown that genetics may play a role in the condition.
One study, in particular, found a strong “genetic covariation” in sleepwalking and sleep talking. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source
Night terrors are a parasomnia marked by kicking, and thrashing, and terrifying screams. They are more prevalent in kids than adults, and during these episodes, the individual may sit up with their eyes open, and they may even talk.
The stunning part about night terrors, though, is that while the person may be screaming or talking, they are most definitely not in a wakeful state. Any attempt to communicate with them will fall on deaf ears, and they will not remember the episode when they wake up.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is a sleep disorder where the person’s body fails to become paralyzed during the REM sleep stage, leaving the person open to acting out intense or violent dreams.
Psychiatric Disorders and PTSD
Overall, it’s not difficult to see the link between sleep and mental health, and sleep talking is no exception. Research has not only shown that sleeptalking occurs twice as often in people with psychiatric disorders, but those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to talk in their sleep as well.
Should You Be Concerned About Sleep Talking?
Sleep talking is usually nothing to worry about. Occurrences of sleep talking are often brief (30-second bursts) and typically sporadic. If you are talking in your sleep, the good news is it doesn’t interfere with your sleep.
For your bed partner, however, it may be a different story. More often than not, sleep talking disturbs the sleep of bed partners more than sleep talkers themselves.
Current Treatments for Sleep Talking
Sleep talking is considered a benign condition (which incidentally may be the reason there is so little research on the topic), so it typically doesn’t require any type of treatment per se. If you are concerned about your sleep talking and its effect on your bedmate, then lifestyle changes and a few tweaks to your sleep hygiene are more likely the best courses of action. When done concurrently, these changes may work to improve your sleep quality and curb your nighttime chatter.
How to Stop Sleep Talking
Tweak your sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene is all of the things you do to create an ideal sleeping environment, and they are crucial to a good night’s sleep. If you find that you’re not sleeping as soundly as you like or if your partner tells you as much, you might consider a few strategic changes to your overall sleep hygiene.
For a better night’s sleep, you may want to:
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
- Invest in quality mattresses, pillows, and bedding
- Lower the temp of your bedroom (60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal) and use any hacks to cool down your bedroom
- Maintain and calming and consistent bedtime routine
- Keep your bedroom dark
- Remove clutter and other disturbances
- Promote a noise-free sleep environment
- Shut off screens (including smartphones, computers, and TV’s) at least 1 hour before bedtime to minimize sleep-disrupting blue light exposure
Stress is a part of life, and while it always gets a bad rap, it may surprise you to learn that a little stress can actually be a good thing—emphasis on the quantifier “little.” A little stress has been shown to improve cognitive function and improve resilience. Excessive stress, however, can lead to anxiety, irritability, and physical pain, And those are just a few drops in the bucket.
Stress can have a huge impact on your overall quality of sleep, and that in itself has a lot of legs. It’s not a far reach to understand reducing your stress can lead to better, more sound sleep.
To that end, try some deep breathing exercises, take up a hobby, add some exercise to your day or seek professional help if need be.
Caffeine is a stimulant, and caffeine’s effects on sleep quality are well documented. So if your goal is to get a good night’s sleep, drinking caffeine into the evening hours would be pretty counterproductive. If possible, try to avoid caffeine after 2 PM.
Keep a Sleep Diary
On the surface, keeping a sleep diary may not seem like a helpful way to curb your sleep talking in your sleep— but you may be surprised. By keeping track of your sleep patterns and habits, including when you go to bed, when you wake up, foods that you’ve eaten, or drinks you’ve consumed before bed, you may begin to notice a pattern that can help determine a causal relationship to your sleep talking.
Sleep diaries have the potential to shed light on things that you’re not consciously aware of. Who knows, your sleep diary might reveal that you tend to sleep talk after a particularly stressful day or maybe that you sleep talk when you have caffeine late into the evening. Who knows what you may uncover?
When to See a Doctor
Sleeptalking is rarely harmful and does not require treatment; however, you may want to see a doctor if it’s accompanied by other behaviors or parasomnia. As we mentioned earlier, sleep talking has been associated with REM sleep behavior disorder and night terrors. So, if there’s any indication of an underlying condition, it may be best to seek help and treatment for the other issues which may be more pressing.
It’s also worth noting that there are no tests that can diagnose sleep talking, and it’s unlikely that your doctor would press for a polysomnograph or a sleep study without good reason. For most people, corroboration of the symptoms usually comes from bed partners or parents who observe the condition in their children.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can stress cause you to talk in your sleep?
Sleep talking can be linked to emotional stress in your life, particularly if that stress is also causing intense dreams at night. If stress is the cause, your sleep talking may stop once the stress factors in your life are under your control. However, if your sleep talking continues or even worsens, it may be worth it to speak with a sleep specialist and rule out any potential underlying medical conditions.
What medical conditions can cause sleep talking?
Sleep talking is typically linked to mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). REM sleep behavior disorder can also have sleep talking as a symptom, along with violent arm and leg movements as a person dreams. REM sleep behavior can come on gradually but escalate, and this sleep disorder is linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
Sleep talking can also be a symptom of sleep apnea.
How do I stop talking in my sleep?
There’s no known way to directly treat sleep talking, but you may be able to manage it by addressing the underlying medical condition or stressor that’s causing it. Talking to experts at a sleep center can help you put together an action plan for treatment.
But as a general rule of thumb, it’s important to have a consistent sleep schedule that allows you to get a full night’s rest every night. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and a low-stress bedtime are also key components for healthy sleep.
Why do I laugh in my sleep?
Laughing in your sleep is typically as harmless as talking and can be as simple as a response to a dream. Sleepers may even find it difficult to explain why they were laughing at a dream that seems less amusing when they’re awake. However, in rare cases, sleep laughter can suggest a neurological disorder.
Is it bad to wake up a sleep talker?
As sleep talking is usually harmless, you shouldn’t need to wake up a sleep talker for their own sake. However, you might feel tempted to wake a sleep talker if their words wake you and keep you from falling back asleep. If you do wake them, they will likely be groggy and disoriented from being stirred out of deep sleep.
Sleeptalking is a relatively common condition, but the good news is it is also harmless. It is marked by mumbling, yelling, and nonsensical chatter. More often than not, sleep talking doesn’t disturb the sleep talker themself, but it’s usually more of an issue to that person’s bedmate.
While there’s still relatively little known about sleep talking, researchers believe that sleep talking may be linked to other parasomnias or an indicator of more serious sleep disorders. There are no medical treatments for sleep talking, but if it becomes an issue for your bedmate, you can make a few lifestyle changes and tweak your sleep hygiene a bit to help you curtail your nighttime chatter.
If your sleep talking is accompanied by other nighttime anomalies or disturbs you or your partner to the point of excessive daytime fatigue, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source you may want to see your doctor to rule out anything more serious.
About the author
Sharon Brandwein is a freelance writer specializing in beauty, lifestyle, and sleep content. Her work has also appeared on ABC News, USAToday, and Forbes. When she’s not busy writing, you might find her somewhere curating a wardrobe for her puppy.View all posts