Talking while sleeping: signs, causes and treatment

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Talking while sleeping is a fairly common phenomenon. But is it completely harmless or could it be a sign of an underlying condition?

Have you ever woken up talking in your sleep?

Talking during sleep is quite common among children, about 50% of them experience it at some point in their lives. It may be a little less common in adults, with around 5% talking while sleeping.

Talking in sleep can be sweet for some people — in fact, you might not even realize it. But for others, talking in sleep can disrupt sleep, both for you and your partner.

Episodes of talking during sleep can vary from person to person, lasting for a short time or continuing for years.

Although there is no specific treatment for talking during sleep, it may be necessary to see a sleep specialist or doctor to help rule out underlying conditions.

Talking while you sleep is exactly what it sounds like: talking while you sleep. It is also called “somniloquy”.

You might not even realize you’re talking in your sleep until a partner points it out to you. Talking in sleep can become problematic if you sleep with a partner or loved one.

While sleeping, you don’t necessarily form coherent words or sentences. In fact, others might not understand what you’re saying if they notice you talking in your sleep.

It can also be common to speak loudly and, in some cases, to swear or say rude things.

Sleep conversation stages

Non-REM sleep (NREM) involves light sleep and deep sleep and can help identify specific types of talking sleep:

  • Stages 1 and 2 (light NREM) tend to involve words that others can understand and can almost sound like a monologue.
  • Stages 3 and 4 (deep NREM) involve words that make no sense to anyone listening.

If sleep talk occurs during REM sleep (dream sleep), you are talking directly about what you are dreaming of.

Rankings

Talking sleep is also categorized based on the severity, duration, and frequency of episodes:

  • Benign: less than once a week
  • moderate: more than once a week
  • strict: episodes can occur every night

In terms of length, the classifications range from:

  • acute: up to one month in total
  • subacute: less than 1 year, but at least 1 month
  • chronic: has been going on for at least a year

The frequency and duration of talking episodes during sleep can be different for each person. Some people may talk in their sleep once a week, but experience similar episodes for many years. Others might sleep talking every night, but in episodes that only last a month.

As with many conditions, the signs and symptoms of sleep talking can vary from person to person. In general, sleep symptoms can include:

  • mumble
  • saying only one word
  • say many intelligible words

Again, you might not even realize you’re talking in your sleep until someone mentions it. This can make it harder to tell if you’re talking in your sleep.

Experts have not yet pinpointed the exact cause of sleepiness, although the causes generally vary from person to person.

Contributing causes of sleep talking can include:

  • stress
  • heredity
  • certain medications
  • mental health problems
  • substance use, especially alcohol
  • eat a large meal before bed

Some conditions may be linked to talking in your sleep.

Mental health problems

Mental health issues that could cause trouble sleeping include:

Other terms

Talking during sleep is usually linked to other conditions, such as:

  • stress
  • Sleep Apnea
  • somnambulism
  • sleep-related eating disorder or rapid eye movement (REM)
  • rapid eye movement behavior disorder (RBD), which may include movements as if someone is acting out a dream in addition to talking
  • sleep behavior disorder (RBD)

Some light sleepers may not need treatment.

However, talking in sleep can disrupt the quality of your sleep and that of your partner. In this case, seeking help from a sleep specialist can be a great step towards treating sleep episodes.

Your doctor can find and treat any underlying conditions that may cause you to talk in your sleep. In more serious situations, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants or sleeping pills to help reduce sleep talking.

They can also refer you to a therapist to help you with any related mental health issues. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be a particularly useful preventive tool over time to talk about stress-related sleep.

Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption before bedtime can also be helpful in avoiding talking during sleep.

If you or someone you love is having sleep talking episodes, it can be a little upsetting. However, in many cases formal treatment is not necessary and prevention is possible.

If you find that the quality of your or your partner’s sleep is being disrupted due to sleep talking, seeking help from a doctor or sleep specialist can be a good first step.

Your doctor can first check for underlying conditions before working with you to create a treatment and prevention plan. In some cases, they may refer you to a therapist to address any mental health issues or concerns.

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