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May 3, 2024/Living Healthy/Sleep

Why Do People Talk in Their Sleep?

Many factors can contribute to sleep talking, like stress or anxiety, lack of or low-quality sleep, or even more serious sleep-related conditions

Person asleep in bed, talking in their sleep

If you’ve ever woken up because of someone else talking in their sleep, you’re not alone. Whether they speak in full sentences or garble out a bunch of nonsense, about 2 out of 3 people talk in their sleep. And truth is, you may have talked in your sleep at some point and not even realized it.

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Pop culture and common folklore might have you believe that people are more prone to sharing their deepest, darkest secrets when they talk in their sleep. But what’s more likely is that people can sometimes act out their dreams depending on where they are in their sleep cycle.

In most cases, talking in your sleep may sound more like unintelligible noises than full-on monologues. And though it can be entertaining or irritating for those who hear it or embarrassing or perplexing for those doing the talking, sleep talking is likely not something to be concerned about.

But according to behavioral sleep medicine specialist Michelle Drerup, PsyD, DBSM, occasionally, it can be a sign of a more serious sleep disorder or underlying health condition.

Dr. Drerup delves deeper into sleep talking, and when it’s a cause for concern.

What is sleep talking?

Sleep talking, also known as somniloquy, is the act of speaking out loud during sleep. While you’re sleeping, you can:

  • Talk in whispers.
  • Speak at regular volume.
  • Shout whole words or responses.
  • Say full, intelligible sentences and conduct entire conversations.
  • Have garbled, nonsensical speech mixed with grunts and other noises.

No matter which version, chances are you won’t know that you’re talking in your sleep unless you wake yourself up while speaking or someone else informs you of the occurrence later on.

Talking in your sleep is a kind of parasomnia, or a disruptive sleep-related disorder that happens while you’re sleeping. Unlike other parasomnias like sleepwalking or sleep-related eating disorder that can carry significant risks to your health and well-being, sleep talking usually has little to no risk. If anything, your disruptive discussions might wake those around you and make it difficult for others to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Why do people talk in their sleep?

Sleep is a delicate process that affects our health and well-being in a variety of ways. An average sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes, and we need about four to five of those cycles every 24 hours to feel fully refreshed and rested. In each cycle, our brain moves through four stages of sleep — and if our brain is even partially disrupted or distracted during any of those stages, our quality of sleep can be affected.

“Since most parasomnias are thought to be a mixed state between wakefulness and sleep, sleep talking may be more likely to happen when sleep patterns are disrupted or disturbed,” Dr. Drerup explains.

That means anything that’s known to disrupt your sleep could be contributing to sleep talking, including:

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“There’s some evidence that at times, sleep talking may be related to dreams, but this is not always the case,” Dr. Drerup continues. Most dreams happen when you’re in the deep, rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep. But sleep talking can happen during any stage of sleep, including both REM and non-REM sleep.

Sleep talking can also be a side effect or symptom of other parasomnias. With REM sleep behavior disorder, for example, people tend to unknowingly act out their dreams. They’re able to speak, shout, punch, thrash, walk or run with purpose because the part of their brain responsible for paralyzing their muscles during sleep isn’t functioning as it should. Similarly, people can talk in their sleep when they’re sleepwalking and when they’re having night terrors.

“If your sleep talking occurs suddenly as an adult, or if it involves intense fear, screaming or violent actions, you should consider seeing a sleep specialist,” Dr. Drerup advises.

Can you stop talking in your sleep?

As so much involving parasomnias involve sleep disruption, the best thing you can do to stop sleep talking is to focus on improving your quality of sleep and limiting distractions wherever possible. This is especially important when you consider that those who talk in their sleep have significantly lower sleep quality than those who don’t. Over time, as your quality of sleep improves, hopefully, your ability to talk in your sleep declines.

“Focusing on healthy sleep habits and improving your sleep environment may eliminate potential sleep disruptions and improve the quality of your sleep,” Dr. Drerup says.

Building better habits around your sleep can include factors like:

When to seek help

If focusing on improving your sleep doesn’t reduce the number of times you talk in your sleep, or if you continue to have concerns about any behaviors you exhibit while you’re sleeping, it might be a good idea to get an overnight sleep study. Doing so will give you and healthcare providers a lot of information about what’s happening with your brain and your body when you doze off.

“Your doctor may order a sleep study to rule out contributing sleep disorders, like sleep apnea or periodic limb movement disorder,” reiterates Dr. Drerup.

“During a sleep study, your brain waves, heart rate and breathing are monitored, as well as arm and leg movements. The sleep study is video recorded, so movements and behavior can be reviewed to observe any unusual or disruptive behaviors.”

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