Talking in your sleep is usually harmless for most people, but it can be a significant disturbance to your sleep partner. It might even get you in trouble if you say the wrong thing! In some cases, talking in your sleep can be a sign of an underlying sleep disorder.
Most people are unaware of their mindless sleep chatter until someone brings it up. If your sleep talking is accompanied by other symptoms or keeps your partner up at night, you might want to do something about it. Here is why you talk in your sleep and how to tone it down.
The medical term for sleep talking is somniloquy (1). It is a sleep disorder characterized by unconscious chatter while you sleep. Sleep talking can take on different forms such as mumbling words that don’t make sense to speaking entirely coherent sentences. Some sleep talkers may only whisper while others shout at the top of their lungs, which can be a pretty scary thing for your partner to wake up to!
People who sleep talk may be speaking to someone in their dream, or they may be provoked by someone else who talks to them while they are asleep. A person who sleep talks may even sound different than they do when they are awake. Sleep talking can be harmless, or it may turn violent. Some sleep talkers only mumble for about 30 seconds or so before returning to sleep while others may talk all night long (2).
Anyone can talk in their sleep. Research shows that about 50 percent of all children between the ages of three and ten sleep talk (2). Only 5 per cent of adults talk in their sleep (2). Sleep talking can occur occasionally, or it can be a nightly problem. According to a 2004 poll, more than one in ten younger children talk in their sleep at least a few nights a week (2). Some research shows that young boys and girls sleep talk the same amount while adult men sleep talk more than women (1)(2).
Sleep talking is a symptom of a parasomnia sleep disorder or abnormal sleep behavior that includes confusional sleep arousals, sleepwalking, sleep apnea, night terrors, and REM behavioral disorders. Adults tend to start sleep talking spontaneously after the age of 25. It may be accompanied by other psychiatric or medical conditions, including nocturnal seizures. Sleep experts believe that people who talk in their sleep may have a family history of sleep talking or another sleep disorder (2). Sleep talking may also be caused by the following:
Sleep talking can be completely random, or it can be related to a person’s daily experiences. It can be hard to detect the meaning of what a person says when they sleep talk. Some people may even laugh or cry in their sleep. In most cases, a person doesn’t know what they are saying when they sleep talk, and the context has no real meaning. Because it is done outside of a person’s conscious awareness, sleep talking cannot be used against the person in a court of law (1).
Although sleep talking can occur during any stage of sleep, it tends to be more prevalent in the deeper sleep stages such as N3 and REM sleep. Sleep talking may also change as a person enters different stages of sleep. For example, a person may speak clearly during lighter stages of sleep but then start mumbling or become incoherent when they reach deep sleep. If you were to wake an individual who is sleep talking, they usually have no memory of it.
In most cases, sleep talking is not dangerous or harmful, but it can be an annoyance to your bed partner or anyone who shares your sleeping quarters. In some cases, sleep talking may be a sign of an underlying sleep disorder. According to the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, there are more than 100 different sleep disorders (3).
Talking in your sleep may increase your wake time during sleep, which can leave you feeling sleepy during the day. It can also cause excessive sleepiness in your partner. Anything that disrupts your sleep cycle is worth getting checked out by a health professional. Sleep deprivation is associated with the following side effects (4):
Some people may talk about violent things or become visually upset when they talk in their sleep. They may also sleep walk at the same time. It might be a good idea to see a sleep specialist if violent talk persists or if it accompanies sleepwalking to prevent the person from getting hurt.
Sleep talking is usually treated by addressing underlying issues, such as sleep apnea or insomnia. There are currently no medications available to help you stop talking in your sleep. You can decrease your sleep talking by changing your sleep habits and reducing stress. Here are some tips for how to stop talking in your sleep.
You’re more likely to talk in your sleep or have sleep disturbances when you’re stressed. Some people believe they sleep talk because they have a pent up frustration or need to get something off their chest. Although there is no scientific research to prove that stress causes sleep talking, it helps to find a healthy outlet to deal with your problems before going to bed.
Exercise is a great way to deal with stress. It has also been shown to help you sleep better. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, regular exercise can help you sleep better by reducing stress and boosting your mood (5). Exercise also strengthens your circadian rhythm or internal sleep cycle by promoting daytime alertness and helping you feel sleepy at night.
According to a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, exercise improves sleep in people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia (6). Another report found that people were more likely to sleep better at night when they exercised that day (6). Finally, exercise has been shown to improve the duration and quality of sleep by stimulating longer periods of slow-wave deep sleep, which is the most restorative stage of sleep (6).
If you aren’t able to exercise on any given day, make sure you aren’t stressed when you go to bed. Spend a few minutes meditating or sitting in a quiet space for a few moments to calm down. If you’re worried about what you need to do at work the next day, make a to-do list for tomorrow’s activities. Write out your agenda and tell yourself not to worry about it again until the next day. A quick walk around the block or some fresh air and deep breaths can even do the trick. Just make sure you don’t take the day’s stress with you to bed, or you may wind up talking about it in your sleep.
Is something bothering you at work or are you dying to get something off your chest? Don’t hold it in. Sleep talkers may be speaking up at night because they can’t get something off their mind. Talking out your problems to a therapist can be beneficial to your mental health, and it may even help you sleep better. If you prefer not to seek professional help, ask a friend to lend an ear and talk about whatever is on your mind.
Certain medications may cause you to talk in your sleep, especially an antidepressant or antipsychotic drug that may affect your brain chemistry and sleep cycle. Speak to your doctor if you are on medication if your sleep talking becomes a problem. Your doctor may be able to switch your medicine or adjust the dose to reduce the nighttime chatter.
If you’re overstimulated when you go to bed, you may be more likely to talk in your sleep. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to ten hours, so be sure to cut yourself off early in the day. Alcohol might make you tired eventually, but it also tends to be high in sugar, which can spike your blood sugar levels and send glucose to your brain where it evokes strange dreams or behavior, such as sleep talking.
Technology can also be stimulating. Watching a suspenseful crime show late at night before going to bed can stimulate your imagination and cause you to have highly active dreams where you may be more likely to engage in sleep talk. You may even think you're part of the act! Blue light emitted from the television and other electronics also tells your brain to stop making melatonin, which is a hormone needed to make you go to sleep.
Try to find other ways to relax at night that don’t involve electronics. As a general rule, turn off electronics two hours before bed and keep them out of your room lest you be tempted to use them.
Your circadian rhythm is your inner sleep clock. It tells you when to go to bed at night and when to wake up every morning. Disrupting your circadian rhythm may cause you to talk in your sleep or have other sleep problems.
You’re more likely to have a better sleep without distractions when your body knows what to expect next. Set a schedule for yourself by going to bed and waking up at the same time each night and day. Avoid the temptation to sleep in, even if you went to bed later than normal the previous evening.
It’s hard not to get upset by anyone who affects your sleep. If a sleep talking child or spouse keeps you awake at night, try not to get mad. Chances are they have no idea they are doing it, and it’s usually not intentional. If your spouse or bed partner is the culprit, help them deal with any potential underlying stress.
Ask them to confide in you if anything is bothering them or suggest they try to improve their sleep habits. You can even help them by making a list of healthy sleep habits and performing them together. Consider investing in a quality pair of earplugs during the transition process, so you’re able to get some rest, too. It may also help to sleep in separate rooms until the problem is corrected.
If a child is the sleep talker, offer them the same consideration and ask them if anything is bothering them. Help your child develop a healthy bedtime routine that doesn’t involve electronics. Make sure they get plenty of playtime during the day and limit their sugar intake, especially before bed. Glucose has a stimulating effect on the body and can make an overactive imagination that much more talkative.
There is nothing wrong with waking a sleep talker while they are talking but do so gently. Startling anyone out of sleep may provoke an unwanted reaction, especially someone who is actively talking. Remember that even if you wake a sleep talker, it may not correct the problem as they may just return to sleep and continue talking. Children who sleep talk may benefit from being comforted or held until they fall back asleep, but avoid making this a habit so that the child doesn’t become dependent on you for sleep.
Sleep talking is usually not harmful, but it can be an annoying habit for anyone within earshot. To kick the habit, start by improving your sleep routine starting early in the day. Exercising, finding healthy outlets for stress, and eliminating stimulants at night can help improve your sleep. If sleep talking persists or becomes violent, consider seeking professional help to treat an underlying condition.