Talking in Your Sleep: What Does it Mean?

Sleep talking, formally known as somniloquy, is a sleep disorder affecting roughly half of all children and about 5 percent of adults. Somniloquy is characterized by talking while asleep without the person affected being aware of that they’re doing so.

Talking in your sleep can affect anyone at any time, but certain biological and external factors can increase the likelihood that someone experiences episodes of somniloquy. External factors can be controlled to prevent sleep talking, but biological factors are out the control of the person affected.

Episodes of somniloquy can be avoided by being mindful of several healthy sleep habits such as, following a regular sleep schedule, practicing proper sleep hygiene, and getting an adequate amount of sleep each night.

Are You a Sleep Talker?

Have you ever been fast asleep and suddenly your partner or maybe your sibling as a child, has woken you by shouting random nonsense? Or perhaps you’ve woken yourself up with the sound of your own voice?

Personally I’ve experienced both. As a child I was a big sleep talker, regularly waking myself up by physically shouting due to a dream I was having. Now as an adult, my husband wakes me by muttering some random comment.

Talking in your sleep is incredibly common, but what causes it and is there anything we can do to stop ourselves talking in our sleep to ensure a peaceful night? Let’s look further at the topic and find out.

What is Sleep Talking?

Talking in your sleep (somniloquy) can vary from person to person, and can be quite complex, including bouts of yelling and clear sentence structure. Somniloquy can also be very simple, consisting of only incoherent mumbling and gibberish.

You may have seen movies or read books where people sleep talk and appear to adopt new personalities in their sleep. This can actually occur in people who are affected by sleep talking. Sleep talkers are completely unaware of their surroundings or behaviors during an episode of somniloquy, which can cause them to adopt new tones and use words they’d not normally use in their conscious state.

Sleep talking can be comical, annoying, and sometimes even scary for bedmates or roommates sharing a room with a sleep talker. Talking during one’s sleep can also be extremely embarrassing for the person affected by the condition, as they have no control over what they say while asleep and no memory of it when they wake up in the morning.

Somniloquy has been a long time source of fascination in the world. Many experience sleep talkers first hand or hear stories of people who assume new personalities during the night and narrate magnificent tales without appearing to remember any of it upon waking.

It’s natural to wonder if it could possibly be an elaborate prank or even some kind of dark magic, but the truth is, somniloquy is a common sleep disorder that affects many people. It can be caused by certain external factors, such as stress or substance abuse, or by biological factors, like age and genetics.

Overall, talking in your sleep is fairly common and typically is no cause for alarm or need for advanced medical treatment. Here we’ll address some of the common questions and concerns associated with somniloquy.

Who Talks in Their Sleep?

The simple answer is: anyone!

Sleep talking can affect people of all ages, genders, races, and nationalities. It can also come and go throughout your life.

There are, however, a few biological factors that can make you more prone to chit chatting while you’re dozing off. Firstly, children are more likely to sleep talk than adults. Experts estimate that half of all children talk in their sleep at some point during childhood. Most children do grow out of it eventually, with only about 5 percent of people experiencing some form of sleep talking during their adult life.

Somniloquy is also thought to be genetic, meaning it can run in families and be passed down from parents to children. Finally, men on average are more likely to experience episodes of sleep talking than women.

Why Do People Talk in Their Sleep?

In addition to age, gender, and genetics, other external factors can also affect how likely someone is to talk in their sleep. Sleep talking has been linked to unhealthy physical and mental states such as stress, depression, fever, sleep deprivation, and daytime drowsiness.

Consuming certain substances can also increase the likeliness that someone talks in their sleep. Particular medications, alcohol use, and excessive caffeine are all examples of consumables that can cause somniloquy.

Episodes of sleep talking can also result from the presence of other more serious sleep disorders like nightmares, sleep apnea, REM sleep behavior disorder, and confusional arousals.

In rare cases, sleep talking that begins over the age of 25 can be an indicator of a more serious medical issue that should be checked by a licensed physician.

Evaluating Symptoms of Sleep Talking

For the most part, symptoms of sleep talking are fairly straightforward and easy to diagnose. Any mumbling, shouting, or talking while asleep is considered sleep talking.

You can’t evaluate on your own whether you have somniloquy or not, as you’re unaware of what goes on while you’re sleeping. Most people find out that they talk in their sleep from a partner or roommate.

Specifics about the quality of the speech itself can be used to distinguish during which stage of sleep the sleep talker is prone to somniloquy.

Stages one and two are characterized by light sleep where your eyes are closed, but can still easily be woken up without feeling disoriented.

Somniloquy during these stages is marked by intelligent speech that can include entire conversations, and in some cases, be highly complex.

Stages three and four of sleep are considered deep sleep where it’s hard to wake the person sleeping and, when woken, the person often will feel disoriented for a short period of time.

Sleep talking during these sleep phases is typically reduced to only incoherent mumbling and gibberish or sometimes just moaning.

The National Sleep Foundation published criteria to help people evaluate the severity of their somniloquy. The criteria are based on a scale from mild to severe.

Mild somniloquy is indicated by sleep talking episodes that occur less than once per week. Moderate somniloquy is characterized by episodes of sleep talking that occur more than once per week but less than every night.

These episodes may also cause mild disturbance to a bed partner or roommate. Severe somniloquy is marked by episodes of sleep talking that occur every night, or almost every night, and can significantly interrupt a bed partner or roommate’s ability to sleep without the sleep talker waking up throughout the night.

How to Avoid Sleep Talking

In most cases no official medical treatment is necessary for those who experience episodes of somniloquy, however sleep talking can be annoying for a bed partner or roommate, as well as potentially embarrassing for the sleep talker themselves.

For these reasons, there are several measures you can take on their own to reduce the likelihood of talking in your sleep. Following a regular sleep schedule, practicing proper sleep hygiene, and getting an adequate amount of sleep are all important factors in reducing the likelihood of somniloquy and in maintaining a healthy lifestyle in general.

Following a Regular Sleep Schedule

Following a regular sleep schedule can help reduce the likelihood of sleep talking by assisting in controlling the body’s inner clock or circadian rhythm.

To do so, it’s important to consistently go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday. After a while, your body will get used to your set sleep schedule and it’ll become easier to wake up in the morning and fall asleep at night.

You may even train your body’s internal clock well enough that you’ll no longer need to use an alarm clock to wake up in the morning. Training your body this way requires time, discipline, and gradual adjustments from your current sleep patterns to successfully achieve your desired sleep schedule.

Some tips to make this easier are to ban all light from your room when you’re trying to go to sleep and to let sunlight into your room first thing in the morning to help you wake up.

Practicing Proper Sleep Hygiene

Good sleep hygiene includes several different habits people can adopt into their daily lives to help improve their quality of sleep every night.

Improving sleep quality helps reduce occurrences of sleep talking and improves general health and wellbeing. Sleep hygiene practices include avoiding naps during the day. If you must nap, sleeping only 20 to 30 minutes is the recommended length needed to regain alertness without significantly disrupting a sleep schedule.

Introducing healthy exercise habits to your daily life, such as aerobic activity, can help improve your quality of sleep each night. And exposure to natural light throughout the day is thought to help improve nighttime sleep quality.

Going for a walk or a run outside, even just for 20 minutes, is an easy way to make a big difference in your sleep hygiene. As bedtime approaches, it’s important to be mindful of avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, as well as foods that can cause indigestion, such as fatty, fried, or spicy foods, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks.

These substances can make it hard to fall asleep or cause you to wake up during the night, lowering your overall quality of sleep and increasing your susceptibility to somniloquy.

If added to a consistent daily routine, these proper sleep hygiene habits can help improve overall health and quality of sleep, which can reduce the likelihood of experiencing episodes of somniloquy.

Getting Adequate Sleep

Making sure you get enough sleep each night is a simple way to help prevent sleep talking and to improve overall health.

The Sleep Foundation sets specific recommendations for average hours of sleep needed per night based on age. These recommendations are:

  • Newborn babies 0 to 3 months old, 14 to 17 hours sleep per night.
  • Infants 4 to 11 months old, 12 to 15 hours sleep per night.
  • Toddlers 1 to 2 years, 12 to 14 hours sleep per night.
  • Preschoolers 3 to 5 years, 11 to 13 hours sleep per night.
  • Children 6 to 13 years, 9 to 11 hours sleep per night.
  • Teenagers 14 to 17 years, 8 to 10 hours sleep per night.
  • Adults over 18 years, 7 to 9 hours on average per night.

These sleep hour ranges are the recommended averages for the typical person within each age group.

Actual sleep necessities can vary from person to person based on different factors such as overall health, caffeine intake, presence or absence of sleep disorders, obesity, sleep schedule, and more.

Conclusion

Sleep talking is a fairly common sleep disorder. Chances are that at some point throughout your life you’ll come across somniloquy in some way or another, either by experiencing it yourself or sharing a room with someone who has something to et off their chest while they sleep.

If you or someone you know talks in their sleep, it may be beneficial to evaluate if there are potential unhealthy lifestyle factors that could be causing this common sleep disorder. Factors to look for are unhealthy physical and mental states such as stress, depression, fever, sleep deprivation, and daytime drowsiness, as well as consuming unhealthy substances in excess such as caffeine and alcohol.

Three easy ways to maintain healthy sleep patterns and reduce the likelihood of somniloquy are following a regular sleep schedule, practicing proper sleep hygiene, and getting an adequate amount of sleep each night.

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