Sleep Talking and Your Health

Sleep talking is known in the medical world as somniloquy. What is the cause of talking in your sleep? It is classified as a parasomnia; a sleep disorder. While not dangerous, it may be indicative of an illness, for example talking in your sleep may occur as the result of a fever, or it could be the symptom of another parasomnia.

Unlike other parasomnias, which usually occur during specific stages of sleeping, talking in sleep can occur in REM or any of the non-REM stages. REM is the rapid eye movement stage in which dreaming occurs.

Normally, our bodies are in a state of partial sleep paralysis during our dreams, which is why we don’t act out the activities that are going on in our mind’s eye. For unknown reasons, we are sometimes able to overcome the paralysis and the sleep talking that occurs is actually what we are saying in our dreams.

Observational studies in sleep-clinics have shown that talking in your sleep can also occur when your brain is transitioning from one non-REM stage to another. Currently, there are three recognized non-REM stages that may occur over and over again throughout the night.

Researchers say that talking in sleep usually occurs when one is making the transition to a deeper stage of sleep, but becomes partially aroused during the transition. People rarely remember the incident. It is usually reported by a sleep-partner.

Woman sleeping with head resting on handsPhoto: Jocilyn Pope

As with other parasomnias, sleep talking may be genetic, as it seems to “run in the family”. It is most common in young children, affecting approximately 50% of our kids, while only affecting about 4% of us adults.

This is probably due to neurological development. Parasomnias such as sleepwalking and night terrors are much more common in children, too. Doctors assume that they are due to neurological immaturity, because the kids seem to “grow out of it”.

Loud talking in your sleep or using profane language may be a symptom of rapid eye movement disorder (RBD). People with RBD do not have the normal paralysis that occurs during REM and dreaming.

Because of this, they act out what is going on in their dreams. Regretfully, the scenes they are most likely to act out are the violent ones. So, there may be kicking or punching. Jumping out of the bed is not unusual, but that will usually bring the dreamer to full consciousness. It’s different from sleepwalking, which typically occurs during non-REM stages and is not actually a person acting out a dream.

No one knows why talking in sleep, sleepwalking and similar behaviors occur in some people, but not others. It likely has something to do with brain chemicals, such as serotonin and melatonin.

If sleep talking is having a negative effect on your life or interfering with your partner’s sleep, it’s a good idea to seek help. While there is no treatment specifically for this parasomnia, it can be treated in the same ways that others are treated. Low-dose antidepressants or herbal sleep aids, such as valerian, chamomile or 5 HTP may be beneficial.

Underlying stress or nutrient deficits could be the problem. Taking a good multi-vitamin and practicing relaxation therapies may help you stop talking in your sleep.

Doctors talk a lot these days about nighttime or sleep-hygiene. We tend to have too much light in our bedrooms and leave the TV on too long. Darkness cues the body to produce melatonin. So, simply turning off the lights could help reduce talking in sleep.

Caffeine could also be the problem. It is a mood altering drug, even though it is relatively safe. Too much caffeine causes anxiety, which is not conducive to sleeping deeply.

Sleep talking might occur once and never happen again. So, don’t worry about it too much. Besides, too much worry makes it harder to fall asleep.

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