Sleep Talking – Why do we do it?

November 12, 2012

Sleep Talking – Why do we do it?

Do you know someone who talks in their sleep? Have you ever wondered what is happening in their brain when someone is sound asleep and talking?

Somniloquy is a word that not many people have heard of. Yet it is the medical term for a condition which everyone knows, that is sleep talking.

Generally sleep talking is not something to cause you concern in the vast majority of causes. It is classed as a disruptive sleep disorder called a parasomnia. Other common parasomnias are bedwetting, night terrors and sleep walking.

Often the first time someone becomes aware that they have been talking in their sleep is when their partner tells them. It may come as a surprise but generally it’s nothing to worry about.

Statistics tell us that in our lifetimes about 60% of us will have at least one bout of sleep talking.

Russell Rosenberg, PhD, is the chairman of the National Sleep Foundation in Atlanta, and he points out that, “Sleep talking is benign for most people”. He also notes that, “No one knows exactly what causes it”.

It’s possible that you might feel tired the next day because of your sleep talking but unless you are continually over tired then it’s not some to be concerned about.

Sleep Talking can happen in any phase of sleep

Someone sleep talking when they are in the R.E.M. (rapid eye movement) phase is experiencing active dreams too and can easily be awoken from sleep at this time. Even though this person is talking and dreaming the words may not have any association with what the dream is. However in the second stage of sleep the person sleep talking is not dreaming and is much harder to waken, and if they are awoken they will almost certainly not remember anything about their dream.

An expert on sleep related conditions is William Kohler, MD, who is the medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Tampa, and he says, “With sleep talking, we may have active dreams – we may be speaking about what we’re dreaming. On the other hand, we could be dreaming one thing and speaking something completely different”.

Sleep talking can be caused by many factors, such as drinking too much alcohol, it might just run in families or it can come into your life once for some unknown reason never to return. The intensity and frequency of the episodes are totally variable in different people too. Kohler identifies some factors when he says, “Having a high fever, being under emotional stress, taking certain medications, and having underlying sleep problems like sleep apnea can all cause a person to talk in their sleep”. To date research has not identified any specific medication thought to cause sleep talking.

Talking in your sleep can be devoid of meaning

Even if your partner is saying things in their sleep which you may find upsetting, the experts recommend that you shouldn’t take much notice. Rosenberg explains it as, “It’s not a reflection of what’s going on in your life”. Another expert William Kohler says, “There’s a myth that secrets can be revealed with sleep talking, but that’s not really accurate. The things people are talking about can potentially have nothing to do with reality”.

Many parents have seen their children grow up sleep talking only to grow out of it as they develop. It’s a very common occurrence according to Rosenberg, who says, “This is more of a brain development issue in children” and then he reassures “most kids will grow out of it”.

The best advice if you have a family member who talks in their sleep is to, “let it play itself out – just observe and make sure they are safe,” according to Rosenberg.

Sleep talking in itself isn’t a cause for concern however if it starts to leave you feeling too tired to cope with everyday life, or you are continually disturbing your household then the issue must be addressed. Your doctor will be able to refer you to a sleep specialist if he cannot help. Another situation which may require professional medical intervention is when the sleep talker starts to ‘act out’ the dreams and then begins to sleep walk. Again sleep specialists know the best form of treatment for each scenario.

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