Talking in Your Sleep

Have you been told that you whisper sweet nothings in your sleep -- unaware that you ever spoke a word? Or, maybe your child shouts out streams of babble late at night -- only to fall right back to sleep. Have you been hoping your sleep-talking spouse will spill a long-time secret? Go ahead. Pose a question while he or she is sleeping, and don't be surprised if you get a single-syllable answer! But be warned: A sleep talker usually doesn't remember anything that's said during sleep.

Talking in your sleep can be a funny thing. Perhaps you chitchat unconsciously with unseen associates at the midnight hour. Or maybe a family member unknowingly carries on nightly conversations. Here are answers to your questions about talking in your sleep -- what you need to know about sleep talking, from causes to treatments.

What is sleep talking?

Sleep talking, or somniloquy, is the act of speaking during sleep. It's a type of parasomnia -- an abnormal behavior that takes place during sleep. It's a very common occurrence and is not usually considered a medical problem.

The nighttime chatter may be harmless, or it could be graphic, even R rated. Sometimes, listeners find the content offensive or vulgar. Sleep talkers normally speak for no more than 30 seconds per episode, but some people sleep talk many times during a night.

The late-night diatribes may be exceptionally eloquent, or the words may be mumbled and hard to decipher. Sleep talking may involve simple sounds or long, involved speeches. Sleep talkers usually seem to be talking to themselves. But sometimes, they appear to carry on conversations with others. They may whisper, or they might shout. If you share a bedroom with someone who talks in his or her sleep, you might not be getting enough shut-eye.

Who talks in their sleep?

Many people talk in their sleep. Half of all kids between the ages of 3 and 10 years old carry on conversations while asleep, and a small number of adults -- about 5% -- keep chit-chatting after they go to bed. The utterances can take place occasionally or every night. A 2004 poll showed that more than 1 in 10 young children converse in their sleep more than a few nights a week.

Girls talk in their sleep as much as boys. And experts think that sleep talking may run in families.

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What are the symptoms of talking in your sleep?

It's hard to tell if you've been talking in your own sleep. Usually, people will tell you they've heard you shout out during the night or while you were napping. Or maybe someone might complain that your sleep talking is keeping him or her up all night.

What causes sleep talking?

You might think that sleep talking occurs during dreaming. But scientists still are not sure if such chatter is linked to nighttime reveries. The talking can occur in any stage of sleep.

Sleep talking usually occurs by itself and is most often harmless. However, in some cases, it might be a sign of a more serious sleep disorder or health condition.

REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) and sleep terrors are two types of sleep disorders that cause some people to shout during sleep. Sleep terrors, also called night terrors, usually involve frightening screams, thrashing, and kicking. It's hard to wake someone having a sleep terror. Children with sleep terrors usually sleep talk and sleepwalk.

People with RBD yell, shout, grunt, and act out their dreams, often violently.

Sleep talking can also occur with sleepwalking and nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder(NS-RED), a condition in which a person eats while asleep.

Other things that can cause sleep talking include:

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How is talking in your sleep treated?

It is a good idea to see a sleep specialist if your sleep talking occurs suddenly as an adult or if it involves intense fear, screaming, or violent actions. You might also consider seeing a doctor if unconscious chatter is interfering with your sleep -- or that of your roommates.

If you think your child has sleep problems, make an appointment with your pediatrician.

A sleep specialist will ask you how long you've been talking in your sleep. You'll have to ask your bed partner, roommate -- even your parents -- this question. Keep in mind, you may have started sleep talking in childhood.

There are no tests needed to diagnose sleep talking. However, your doctor may order tests, such as a sleep study or sleep recording (polysomnogram), if you have signs of another sleep disorder.

Sleep talking rarely requires treatment. However, severe sleep talking may be the result of another more serious sleep disorder or medical condition, which can be treated. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

How can someone reduce his or her amount of sleep talking?

There is no known way to reduce sleep talking. Avoiding stress and getting plenty of sleep might make you less likely to talk in your sleep.

Keeping a sleep diary can help identify your sleep patterns and may help your doctor find out if an underlying problem is causing your sleep talking. Keep a sleep diary for two weeks. Note the times you go to bed, when you think you fell asleep, and when you woke up. You'll also want to write down the following:

  • the medicines you take, and the time of day you take them
  • what you drink each day and when, especially caffeinated drinks such as cola, tea, and coffee, as well as alcohol
  • when you exercise
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on August 01, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Sleep Medicine: "What Is Sleep Talking?"

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Sleep Problems in Children."

National Sleep Foundation: "Sleep Problems in Children."

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