Children frequently talk in their sleep. While it’s a habit that’s assumed to only arise in the young, some adults – or rather, some adults’ bed partners – have reported that sleep talking is a more common occurrence than you may initially believe.
If you or someone you know talks in their sleep, there’s no need to fret. Sleep talking is normal, harmless, and can be ‘cured’ – though it’s not a sickness.
Let’s dive into these nighttime conversations, why they happen, and how you can limit them.
- 1 Understanding Sleep Talking
- 2 What Do I Say When I Sleep Talk?
- 3 Is Sleep Talking Bad For You?
- 4 Who is Most Likely to Sleep Talk?
- 5 Why Do I Talk In My Sleep?
- 6 How to Stop Sleep Talking
- 7 When to Visit a Doctor
Understanding Sleep Talking
Before you can learn how to stop talking in your sleep, it’s important to identify what, precisely, sleep talking is.
Sleep talking falls under a broader category of behaviors, referred to as “parasomnias.”
Parasomnias are unusual or unwanted behaviors that are typically exhibited when a person is in between sleep stages. Parasomnias include nightmares, sleepwalking, and sleep enuresis (or bed wetting).
If you experience a parasomnia, you’ll likely feel unrested during the daylight hours. However, most people who experience parasomnias do not remember their nighttime behaviors during the day.
Some parasomnias can be treated with behavior adjustment therapy. Others are symptoms of broader conditions.
That said, sleep talking is referred to as “somniloquy” and is considered a parasomnia.
Sleep talking is most likely to occur when a person is in between light sleep and REM, or the stage of sleep in which a person experiences rapid eye movement and, subsequently, dreams.
Sleep talking, it should be noted, is not the same as a person murmuring in their sleep. People who sleep talk can yell, whisper, or speak at any volume in between.
These episodes tend to last for 30 seconds or less, but the words a person uses are typically understandable, if nonsensical.
What Do I Say When I Sleep Talk?
There are no set conversation points that typically arise in sleep talkers.
What a person says while sleep talking depends on their experience of the most recent day, factors that may have caused them stress, or a dream that they’re experiencing.
Occasionally, sleep talkers can hold coherent conversations with their bed partners. Other times, when a person talks in their sleep, nothing they say will make sense.
For example, the words they speak are in their native language, but the sentence structure is unusual or the context is unrelated to anything at all.
A few patterns have arisen, though, over the course of a number of sleep studies. Thus far, it seems as though sleep talkers most commonly say the word “no” or speak negatively, suggesting that whatever is causing them to sleep talk is distressing.
Sleep talkers are also likely to use profanity while they speak.
Is Sleep Talking Bad For You?
That said, sleep talking is generally not bad for you. Only under extreme circumstances is it a sign of an ongoing and concerning medical phenomenon.
At most, infrequent sleep talking can be a sign you’re experiencing an unusual amount of stress or restlessness.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)
Sometimes, sleep talking is accompanied by violent behaviors. When paired with kicking, punching, or shouting, it’s often a symptom of REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (or RBD).
RBD occurs when your brain fails to paralyze your muscles during REM sleep. This normally occurs in order to keep you from acting out the physical activity that occurs in your dreams.
When this mechanism fails, a person is more likely to strike a bed partner or shout while not being aware of their surroundings.
There is no treatment for RBD, nor a workable cure beyond general behavioral changes, which may settle a person before they go to bed.
Sleep talking can also be a symptom of consistent night terrors.
Night terrors differ from nightmares in that they are far more severe – not in terms of content depicted, but rather in the victim’s violent and physical reaction.
A night terror wakes a sleeper and fills them with fear and confusion. These emotions express themselves through an elevated heart rate, sweat, and rapid breathing, all of which result from the shock a night terror sends through your nervous system.
That said, people who experience night terrors, much like those who sleep talk, tend not to remember their experiences in the morning.
These night terrors can come as a result of a person’s high levels of stress or external stimuli, which breaks through the gauze of sleep.
Other conditions related to sleep talking, which may indicate a more serious problem, include:
- Sleep-related eating disorders.
- General anxiety disorder.
This video goes into more detail on talking in your sleep.
Who is Most Likely to Sleep Talk?
That said, not everyone who experiences daily stress will sleep talk or exhibit more severe parasomnias. Young kids are, in fact, significantly more likely to sleep talk or lash out in their sleep than adults.
Typically, sleep talking and other parasomnias lessen as a child ages. However, five percent of adults sleep talk on a consistent basis.
Of this population, more men than women report that they talk in their sleep, with their language consisting far more of profanity than actual conversation.
Why Do I Talk In My Sleep?
We’ve already touched on a few potential causes for sleep talking. However, it’s worthwhile exploring these causes more thoroughly before moving on to potential sleep talking treatments.
Few people can claim to go about their average day without experiencing some form of stress. Higher levels of stress, though, can trigger difficulty sleeping and, in turn, sleep talking.
Since most of the reported conversations held by sleep talkers are in some way negative, it has been assumed that sleep talking can find a cause in the brain’s processing of daily stress.
When that stress extended to physical acts like sleepwalking or sleep kicking, though, it’s concluded that stress pairs with a neurochemical imbalance in the brain to cause this.
It results in the body remaining active during REM sleep, as opposed to appropriately and safely paralyzed.
Similarly, fevers can result in a person sleep talking. Fevers strain a body’s immune system and redirect bodily processes so that you can better process the contracted illness.
As such, the stress of illness and neurochemical imbalance within the body can result in temporary sleep talking.
Likewise, certain mind-altering drugs can influence whether you sleep talk. Again, stress serves as the most common denominator.
Use of mind-altering substances will deliberately change the way a body works, producing stress related to the social and physical consequences of this behavior.
Pair this with the deliberate altering of a brain’s chemical composition, and the body may no longer be able to perform its necessary paralyzing tasks while the user is asleep.
Sleep Deprivation or Insomnia
Sleep deprivation and insomnia present a non-stress related cause for sleep talking.
In these circumstances, it’s been proposed that some part of the sleeper’s brain remains active, as though the body was awake, while the rest of a person is asleep.
In these cases, sleep talking may occur because neurotransmitters are firing when they otherwise wouldn’t or shouldn’t be.
In these cases, sleep talking will most likely occur during REM sleep, when a person would normally dream.
Other causes of sleep talking may include:
- Sleep apnea.
- Taking unfamiliar medications.
- Sleeping in unfamiliar spaces.
How to Stop Sleep Talking
With all this in mind, we can move on and learn how to stop talking in your sleep. It’s worth remembering that causes may be highly individualized.
If your bed partner has only reported that you sleep talk and don’t kick, punch, or otherwise act out, you may not have a reason for concern.
Even so, if you’re interested in learning how to stop sleep talking, consider making the following lifestyle changes:
Reduce Your Stress Levels
To start, try reducing the amount of stress you experience on a daily basis. This is, of course, is a tall order, especially in the age of technology.
It’s far too easy to check our phones and the news before we go to bed or wake up. Likewise, with the availability of phones, you can look at work emails during all hours of the day.
If you don’t have anyone to talk with about your daily, stressful experiences, then it’s natural for your body to express that stress via sleep talking.
Even still, there are concentrated steps you can take to reduce daily stress. Limit your amount of screen time, especially before going to bed.
Try and take 30 minutes before bedtime to set your phone on the charger and decompress with a book, bath, or shower.
Deep breathing exercises have also proven helpful when it comes to reducing the number of times a person has been reported to talk in their sleep.
During the day, you can take moments to yourself to address your stress levels and actively lower them. If you’re in the midst of a high-intensity meeting, schedule time to decompress afterwards, either with a healthy snack or time alone doing something physical, like taking a walk.
Avoid Unfamiliar Drugs and Alcohol
Do what you can, as well, to limit your alcohol consumption if you want to quit sleep talking.
As mentioned, alcohol or other mind-altering substances can lead to neurological confusion in your brain.
This disruption can, in turn, impact the way you sleep and your body’s response to stimuli, which would otherwise be ignored during the night.
Exercise and Rest
Try and wear yourself out over the course of a day. Schedule time to go on consistent walks, move your body, or otherwise keep yourself busy in a way that’s low-stress.
When you do this, you’ll not only improve your physical health, but you’ll tire yourself out and fall asleep more quickly. As a result, you’re more likely to stay asleep.
It’s also important that you schedule enough time to sleep. On average, as an adult, you should get between six and eight hours of rest each evening.
If you’re sleeping for longer or for less time, see if you can adjust your schedule. The change may be the trick you need to limit the number of times you wake between sleep cycles, holding strange conversations with your bedmate.
Engage in Daily Rituals
Establishing firm rituals can also help you manage your stress levels and train your body to respond to daily activities more calmly.
This doesn’t mean that you have to live a boring life, of course. Rather, establish habits that tell your body “it’s time to calm down,” which you can act out before bed or during the middle of the day.
By falling into healthy habits, your body will learn to associate certain behaviors with a calm attitude. As such, when you go to bed at night, your brain won’t have to work through numerous stressors.
Instead, it can focus on ensuring you wake up refreshed and ready for a new day.
This video explains more about the causes of sleep talking.
When to Visit a Doctor
If you or a child in your care experience frequent bouts of sleep talking, which prove disruptive to a partner or parent’s sleep, and those bouts are accompanied by physical violence or night terrors, then you may want to visit a doctor.
While traditional medicine can help you overcome sleep talking causes like fevers or nutritional imbalances, talking with a doctor or therapist may also help you or a child overcome underlying emotional stress.
Stress, after all, seems to be at the core of an adult sleep talking epidemic. Limiting that stress is likely to result in a more restful night’s sleep for more reasons than one.
Typically, sleep talking isn’t something to be afraid of. It may annoy your bed partner and could lead to funny situations, but it isn’t harmful to your physical health.
However, it can be a sign that something more serious is going on in your daily life that needs addressing. If you find yourself asking, “why do I talk in my sleep?” consider looking outward.
There may be a behavior you can change, which will make it easier for you to sleep at night.
What have you tried as a sleep talking treatment?