Sleep is different for everyone. Some of us are peaceful sleepers. Some of us snore (and force our partners to wear earplugs 🙃). And, some of us are chatty in our sleep (also familiar with earplugs).
If you’re a sleep talker, chances are it’s totally normal. But, sleep talking can be extremely disruptive to getting some Zzz’s and be pretty startling in general.
So, why exactly are you talking in your sleep? Here’s everything you need to know about sleep talking.
Sleep talking is a sleep disorder known as somniloquy. There’s not much research behind why people sleep talk, or what happens in a person’s brain during sleep talking.
The only apparent symptom is, well, talking while you snooze. You usually don’t know you’re even talking in your sleep unless someone tells you. You also normally don’t remember what you said.
Sleep talking can sound like complete gibberish, but sleep talkers can also talk in full sentences or in a different voice or language than they’d speak while awake.
Sleep talking can happen in any stage of NREM sleep or REM sleep. And we still don’t know if it’s linked to dreaming. Other symptoms might include sleepwalking, REM sleep behavior disorders, or night terrors.
The good news is that sleep talking looks like it’s totally harmless.
Sleep talking can occur in both Non-REM (NREM) and REM sleep.
- NREM: This has 3 stages: N1, N2, and N3. Sleep taking is most common during N3, which is the deepest stage of sleep. This is also known as slow wave sleep or delta wave sleep.
Sleep talking can also happen during a “confusional arousal.” This is when a sleeper becomes half-awake while transitioning from one stage of NREM to another. Talking during NREM sleep sounds like gibberish with mumbles and moans.
- REM: This is the stage where we have vivid dreams. Sleep talking happens via a motor breakthrough of dream speech since the mouth and vocal cords are usually paralyzed and inactive during REM sleep. The words spoken in your dreams are spoken out loud and are usually understandable.
Sleep talking also varies in severity by how frequently it happens.
- Mild: Less than once a month.
- Moderate: About once a week, and usually it doesn’t wake up or bother anyone else.
- Severe: Every night and it may wake up or disturb others.
Anyone can sleep talk, but studies have shown it might be genetic and it tends to occur more in children (about 50 percent!). So if your folks are chatting it up at night, you might too. But, most kiddos grow out of it, and only an estimated 5 percent of adults talk in their sleep.
Some things that may increase sleep talk include:
- sleep deprivation
- drinking alcohol before bed
- taking certain medications
- being stressed
Sleep talking usually isn’t anything to worry about, or something that requires treatment. But it can be annoying if it’s disturbing your partner or your roommates.
It may also occur more often with other sleep disorders such as:
- night terrors or nightmares
- REM sleep behaviour disorder
- sleep apnea
In rare cases sleep talking can be associated with a mental health disorder or nighttime seizures.
Unfortunately there’s no tried and true treatment for sleep talking. But, getting a sleep study or scheduling an appointment with a sleep expert might help you get to the root cause of your nighttime talks.
But if you don’t think it’s time (or necessary) to visit a doc, there are some self-help methods that might help decrease your sleep talking.
- Have a set nighttime routine. Be diligent about prepping for those Zzz’s to help your brain get ready for bedtime.
- De-stress before bed. Try listening to some soothing music or try a mindfulness or meditation app to help switch into “off mode.” Also try to work on managing your stress levels in the morning.
- Go to bed earlier. Allowing yourself to sleep longer can help you avoid sleep deprivation, which might make your sleep talking worse. Get those 7 to 8 hours in each night.
- Avoid or reduce your alcohol intake. It’s preferred to avoid drinking completely, but staying away from booze before bed may help, too.
- Avoid heavy meals in the evening. Eating right before bed is controversial, but some experts believe it can mess with your sleep.
What about your partner? (or other members of your sleep talking audience)
The only real options for your sleep partner to block out your p.m. gabbing is to try some earplugs or sleep in a different room. A fan or a white noise playlist on apps like Spotify or Calm may also help. If you’re desperate for deep sleep, taking a sleep supplement or other methods to make yourself extra tired might help, too.
Sleep talking usually isn’t a big deal. You really only need to see a doctor if your sleep talking is so severe it’s negatively affecting your sleep (and your life). If you just started sleep talking out of the blue, it’s also possible you have an underlying condition that needs medical attention.
Your doctor may refer you for a sleep study to see if you have an issue causing the sleep talking. A sleep study allows doctors to monitor you while you sleep to see what’s happening in your brain and body while you snooze. Typically this happens in a sleep lab at a hospital or a sleep center.
From there, your doctor can potentially diagnose what may be causing your sleep talking or come up with some alternative treatments like medication or therapy to help.
No need to stress. Sleep talking isn’t usually harmful to your health, and is merely something that’s pretty annoying (especially for your sleep partner). In terms of treatment, it’s mainly a case of trying to practice self-care and managing the main stressors in your life.
If your p.m. chattiness seems to be a problem and is hurting your sleep or well-being, see your doctor. They may find that you have an underlying condition that can be treated.