Sleep-talking, also known as somniloquy, is a relatively common sleep disorder that affects around 5% of adults; however, it’s more prevalent in children and adolescents.
Most of us will experience at least one bout of sleep-talking during our lives. Still, thankfully, it’s a relatively harmless disorder with no negative health outcomes. That being said, it can be extremely disruptive to your bedmate. In some cases, it can be a symptom of an underlying condition or other sleep disorder.
If you talk in your sleep and you’d like to put a stop to it, the good news is that most of the time, sleep-talking episodes resolve themselves quickly. In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to help reduce your nighttime chattering. The most important thing is to address the underlying cause so that you (and your partner) can enjoy a more silent night.
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep-Talking?
The main symptoms of sleep-talking are verbal expressions that occur during sleep, usually without the person being aware of it. This ‘talking’ can come in the form of various audible expressions, from whispers to shouts, from incomprehensible gibberish, to normal-sounding, clear speech.
One study, published in the Oxford Academic Journals (OUP), recorded test subjects’ vocalizations while asleep and found that around 50% of all sleep-talking was either incomprehensible mumbling or so quiet it was impossible to detect what was being said.
But the other half of the sleep-talking test subjects spoke clearly and comprehensively, with correct grammar and syntax and conversational pauses, allowing for another party to speak.
Interestingly, a large proportion of the comprehensible dialogue was conflict-driven and negative, with many test subjects raising their voices and using exclamations and profanities.
No matter the content of sleep-talking episodes, most of them tended to be short, with just a few words or sentences rather than extended, drawn-out conversations.
The Impact of Sleep-talking
Sleep talking is considered to be a relatively harmless sleep disorder with no known physical side effects. It doesn’t appear to hurt a person’s depth or quality of sleep, and most of the time, the person is completely unaware that they are doing it.
That said, sleep-talking can often bother bed partners and, if loud enough, even roommates, causing them to miss out on sleep or wake up frequently during the night.
Sleep-talking can also be embarrassing for the person doing it, and depending on the content of the verbalizations, it can even cause problems in relationships.
So, although sleep-talking isn’t dangerous to your health, it can still be problematic in some circumstances.
What are the Causes of Sleep-Talking?
Hence, to tackle a sleep-talking problem, the first step is to figure out the underlying cause of the issue. There’s still a lot that scientists don’t know about why people talk in their sleep, but some commonly observed associations are:
Research suggests that sleep-talking may be hereditary, with some people more predisposed than others due to their genetic makeup.
Sleep-talking episodes appear to be more frequent during periods of sickness, particularly when a person suffers from a fever.
3. Drugs and Alcohol
Drinking alcohol and taking certain recreational drugs can increase the frequency of multiple sleep disorders, including sleep-talking, in both men and women.
4. Depression, Anxiety, and Stress
Those suffering from common mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression are more likely to experience bouts of sleep-talking. External factors such as stressful life events can also increase the prevalence of sleep-talking, along with other sleep disorders such as nightmares and insomnia.
5. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Although most cases of sleep-talking aren’t linked to mental illness, there is a clear correlation between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and episodes of sleep-talking.
This is thought to be due to increased nightmares and night terrors that frequently plague people with PTSD.
6. Sleep Deprivation
If you aren’t getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep your body needs each night, you could be more likely to experience episodes of sleep-talking.
This is because a sleep-deprived brain takes longer to pass between the slow wave and lighter stages of sleep, which increases the chances of somniloquy. Unfortunately, it also leads to less time spent in the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep, which, in turn, leads to more sleep deprivation.
If you or your partner has noticed you are talking in your sleep, and it’s not just a one-off event, consider any prescription medication you may be taking. Certain prescription drugs have been shown to increase somniloquy, so check the label to see if this side effect is listed, or speak with your doctor to see if this could be the cause.
How Can I Stop Talking in My Sleep?
Since sleep-talking is a relatively benign disorder, there is not much research on the condition and how to treat it. But if sleep-talking negatively impacts you or your bedmate’s quality of life, there are several things you can try that may improve the situation.
1. Brush Up on Your Sleep Hygiene
Sleep talking is associated with other sleep disorders, such as sleepwalking, nightmares, and insomnia, all of which are more likely to occur when sleep is disturbed or disrupted.
So, by limiting sleep disturbances and altering your environment to get a longer, deeper sleep, you could reduce the frequency of your nighttime chattering.
Some key ways to improve your sleep hygiene include:
- Cutting out all screen time at least an hour before bed
- Getting regular exercise during the day
- Limiting caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening
- Creating a relaxing bedtime routine
- Keeping a consistent sleep cycle, even on weekends
- Reducing or cutting out alcohol
2. Seek Help For Your Mental Health
If you suspect your sleep-talking is linked to a mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD, talk to your doctor to see how they can help you. Poor mental health likely has a much greater impact on your day-to-day life than just sleep-talking, so seeking treatment as early as possible is crucial to healing and regaining your quality of life.
3. Talk to Your Doctor
Even if your mental health is in tip-top shape, if sleep-talking is causing you problems, consider talking to your doctor to see if they can pinpoint another underlying cause.
In some rare cases, prescription medication could be to blame, in which case, your doctor may be able to adjust the dose or recommend an alternative.
Help! My Partner Sleep Talks
More often than not, it’s a sleep talker’s partner who suffers the most from this condition.
If you have a sleep-talking bedmate, you may be woken up during the night, leaving you groggy, grumpy, and sleep-deprived in the morning.
Try to encourage your partner to follow the steps listed above, focusing on improving sleep hygiene and talking to a professional if necessary.
If the problem persists, here are some tips you can implement yourself.
1. Use Soothing Background Noise
A white noise machine, electric fan, or a soothing sleep sounds app provides stable background noise to help drown out a sleep-talking partner, as well as other unexpected noises that can cause you to wake up during the night.
2. Wear Earplugs
If your partner’s sleep-talking is loud enough to shake you fully out of your slumber, a pair of heavy-duty earplugs can go a long way to blocking out the noise.
3. Sleep in Different Rooms
If the problem persists, consider sleeping in a different room from your sleep-talking partner to give yourself a chance to catch up on lost sleep and get the restorative rest your body needs.
Unlike snoring, most episodes of sleep-talking will resolve themselves quickly, so the arrangement doesn’t need to be permanent.
4. Don’t Take it Personally
Sometimes, sleep-talking can cause more than just a restless night’s sleep. If your partner says something in their slumber that surprises you, it can cause unwanted problems for your relationship too.
But before jumping to conclusions, when your partner calls out someone else’s name or yells obscenities they’d never normally utter, consider what is going on. The vast majority of people remember nothing about what they’ve said during sleep and will likely be just as surprised and confused about the content of their midnight ramblings as you are.
Some sleep-talking has been linked to dreaming, and as we all know, dreams can be bizarre and nonsensical, feature people we don’t know, and scenarios that would never usually occur in waking life. So, try not to read too much into the content of your partner’s sleep chatter, as it is unlikely to be a reflection of their real-life or your relationship.
Also, it’s important to understand that sleep-talking can be an embarrassing phenomenon for the person who is doing it, so try to be sensitive to this when bringing it up in conversation. Reassure them they aren’t to blame and maintain a lighthearted approach.
Sleep talking is one of the more mysterious sleep disorders out there, and little is known about what causes it and why.
But the good news is that sleep-talking is also one of the most harmless sleep disorders, with no negative health consequences for the person who does it. Most people who are prone to midnight ramblings will be unaffected and enjoy a deep, restful sleep.
Of course, the same can’t always be said for a sleep talker’s partner. But rest assured that if your bedmate has been talking in their sleep, the problem will likely not last long. Most sleep-talking is resolved within a few days or weeks, and it’s unlikely to become a permanent issue that happens every night.
If you or your partner’s sleep-talking is becoming a cause for concern, speak to a healthcare professional. They can help to rule out any underlying causes and offer advice or treatment if necessary. For more information on common sleep disorders and how to treat them, visit our extensive collection of blog posts for the most up-to-date information, tips, and advice.