Sleep Talking – Causes and Treatment

When people are sleep talking, they are often mumbling and talking nonsense, and don’t remember it the next day. Most of them are not aware that they have a problem until their partner, roommate or a family member brings it to the table.

Sleep talking is somewhat similar to drunk talking because you are not aware what you are talking or who are you speaking to, you are mumbling and talking nonsense, and you do not remember anything about it the next day. That is the case with most sleep talkers since they are not aware that they have a problem until their partner, roommate or a family member brings it to the table.  

When people find out that they have been talking in their sleep, they are usually concerned about what they might say, and perhaps reveal something embarrassing or incriminating about themselves. Sometimes it may seem like you are having a proper conversation with somebody, other times you might mumble, whisper or grunt. One study showed that the most frequent word during sleep talk is “no.” So, can sleep talking reveal secrets? Yes, it can, but, while those embarrassing secrets may cause you to blush in front of your partner, the good news is that whatever you say while you sleep, cannot be used against you in court.

Sleep talking is not as rare as you might think. It is estimated that around 50% of young children between the age of 3 and 7, and 5% of adults deal with this problem. Just like with other sleep problems that are common among children such as bedwetting, sleep talking usually goes away naturally with age. There is no difference when it comes to sex, but there are some indications that it runs in families, which means that it can be a genetic thing. Talking while sleeping is also known as somniloquy, and it is classified as a parasomnia, which is a sleep disorder. Parasomnia stands for a group of several sleep disorders, including sleepwalking, sleep paralysis, bedwetting, teeth grinding, and night terrors.

Depending on how severe sleep talking is, there are three stages:

  • Mild – sleep talking episodes occur less than once per week
  • Moderate – sleep talks occur more than once in a week, but not every night
  • Severe – sleep talking happens every night, and it disrupts the sleep of partners or roommates

When it comes to duration, we also have three categories:

  • Acute – sleep talking episodes last for one month or less
  • Subacute –  episodes last more than one month, but less than one year
  • Chronic – sleep talks last for at least a year, or longer


Causes of Sleep Talking

In a way, this is still a mystery. Scientists are working hard to narrow down the possible causes of this disorder, but it is a process, which means that it is still impossible to control this condition. A few factors have been marked as most likely to lead to sleep talking, but it is yet up to science to officially confirm them. Sleep talking can occur during any stage of NREM or REM sleep, and it is still unknown if it is directly linked to our dreams. Although the research is still ongoing, here are some of the potential causes of sleep talking.

  • Sleep terrors are more frequent among the children, hence is the percentage of children who sleep talk so high. Night terrors are very vivid episodes during which people act like they are fully awake; they are usually yelling, screaming or kicking since they are literally fighting in their dream or being in fear of something. Regardless of how awake people seem to be during an episode of night terror, they are not going to have any memory about it when they wake up in the morning.
  • REM sleep behavior disorder can also be the cause because during the REM stage our blood pressure rises, heart rate increases, eyes rapidly flutter and our brain is as active as when we are awake, but our body remains still, almost like it is paralyzed. However, people who have RBD will not remain still, and they are more likely to act out their dreams, to talk, scream, move or even get out of the bed.
  • Medications can be tricky, and you have to read the instructions and potential side effects carefully because one of them could be the somniloquy or sleep talking. If that is the case with your prescribed drugs, consult your doctor to change the dosage or the therapy.
  • Emotional stress or any unsolved emotional problem can keep us up and lead to irregular sleep patterns which are very common among people who sleep talk.
  • Nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NSRED) is not your typical eating disorder; it is a particular combination of parasomnia and eating disorder, and people who have it can eat while they are asleep. They can even go to the kitchen and prepare a meal while sleeping. If they encounter someone during this episode, or someone tries to wake them up, they can engage in a conversation which is an example of somniloquy.
  • Fever is another common cause of sleep talking. Our body and brain get drained and exhausted because they are trying to boost the immune system, and are not entirely dedicated to regulation and control of what our body is doing during the rest time, that’s why people with high fever are more prone to sleep talk.
  • Substance abuse is a harmful habit that can have multiple consequences and side effects; some drugs will cause drowsiness while others will act as stimulants and keep you awake. In both ways the effects are artificial, and they quickly wear off but they impact our circadian rhythm and sleep routine, which then leads to various sleep disruptions, and sleep talking is one of them.
  • Sleep deprivation is keeping many people unrested and drained, which is the reason why they can not process smoothly from one stage of sleep to another, and they also have problems with waking up. During that prolonged period of grogginess, they are not fully awake, so whatever they say, they are probably not going to remember it.
  • Genetics is a powerful thing, it can pass on some good stuff and some that you wish it rather skipped you. Since sleep talking runs in families, scientists are trying to find the genetic component to “blame” for that disorder.
  • Mental health disorders are numerous, and scientists are still struggling to figure out if they cause sleep disorders, or they develop as a consequence of sleep-related issues.


Is There a Sleep Talking Treatment?

It can be hard to quit something that you are not even aware that you are doing and have completely no control over it, but there are some things that you can try to enhance your sleep and check if they will resolve the sleep talking problem. Since this problem occurs occasionally and it can go away on its own, it does not have to represent such a big issue. But, if it becomes more frequent then there is either something about your lifestyle habits that should be changed, or you have some type of disorder that has not been diagnosed properly.

There is no such thing as a proven treatment for sleep talking because it is usually considered that sleep talking occurs as a consequence of something else, not as a primary cause. You can try and follow some of these tips to see if they will help you.

  • The first and probably the best advice that we can give you is to get a medical opinion from your doctor. Doctors can help you understand your condition and start the journey of finding the cause. In some cases, other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea can trigger sleep talking, but sometimes the conversation with a therapist can be beneficial especially if the sleep talk is related to any upsetting content or anxiety.
  • Like with many other things in life, reducing the stress can be the cure. Stress impacts us on so many levels, and our sleep pattern is one of them. When we are not able to rest properly, our body will struggle with shifting between sleep cycles and increase our chances of developing sleep disorders such as somniloquy.
  • One way of ensuring a night of good rest is to take care of sleep hygiene. That implies maintaining healthy sleep habits, waking up and going to bed at the same time, sleeping for 8 hours, etc. An adequately nurtured sleep routine should keep you away from most sleep disorders.
  • Writing it all down in some form of a bedtime sleep diary is something that will require the help from your partner or a recording app; that will tell you how your night went through. Besides that information you should write down everything that could help you recognize a specific pattern, including the time when you went to bed and woke up, what you ate, any stressful events from that day, and so on.
  • When it comes to children, they are the dominant group affected by this disorder, but parents should not worry too much, because it will usually stop on its own as they age. Children talk during their sleep because they are overexcited or worried about something, like a birthday celebration or a test at school. The best thing that a parent can do is to calm down, wait for their child to wake up, talk with the child about a certain topic and be supportive. If you have two or more kids sharing a room, you might need to consider a different sleep arrangement for a while because other kids can be scared or rude to their sibling because they cannot understand what is happening. Sleep talking cannot harm a child in any way, so it is up to parents to decide whether they are going to tell their child about the fact that he/she is sleep talking, or are they going to try and solve the underlying problem first.


What to Do When Your Partner is Sleep Talking?

You have to work tomorrow morning, but your partner suddenly starts chatting in the middle of the night, you are instantly annoyed, stressed, and it is disrupting your sleep, so what can you do now? Wake him or her up and hope that it will not continue once your partner falls asleep again, or move to the couch in the living room? Here are a few tips for those who have to listen to their partners or roommates talking in their sleep.

  • First and probably the best option is to buy earplugs. If the sleep talking occasionally occurs than these small buds should always be on your nightstand so that you can quickly put them in and continue snoozing as if nothing happened. Most sleep talks do not last longer than 30 seconds, but in some severe cases, those conversations can stretch throughout the entire night.
  • Since your partner is not aware what is going on or what he/she is saying, you are the one who will know all about it, so you are the only one who can help your partner to get to the core of the underlying problem and help him/her get rid of sleep talking, which will be beneficial for both of you. Try talking them through the things they said while they were sleeping so that they become aware of what perhaps subconsciously bothers them.
  • Believe it or not, one wife was creative enough to write down all the things her husband was speaking while he was asleep, she opened up a blog about it which quickly became viral, and the rest was history. The enormous popularity of this blog lead to a book called Sleep Talkin’ Man, and that is how Adam Lennard became the most famous sleep talker in the UK. So apparently if you are creative enough, you can even make a profit from your partner’s sleep disorder. Do not worry, you will have plenty of time to think about how to monetize it when you are up all night. However, this idea was not so innovative since Adam is not the first person whose night talks were published. In the early 60s, musician Dion McGregor, was often sleep talking, and his roommate was recording it all like any good friend would do, so they published those recordings together as an LP record called The Dream World of Dion McGregor, and a book with the same name.
  • People never know what the next topic their partner is going to sleep talk about is, but sometimes, depending on what they hear, they can find out some interesting things about them or their relationship. You can even try and ask your partner a question, something that you have been dying to know the answer to; they might answer or not, depending on how deep their sleep is at the moment. But, even though this sounds tempting, remember that the things people say while they sleep are not necessarily the bare truth, so do not jump to conclusions just because your partner mumbled something during sleep.



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