Why do people talk in their sleep, anyway—and what can they do about it? thumbnail

Why do people talk in their sleep, anyway—and what can they do about it?

For many (lucky) people, sleeping entails closing their eyes, drifting off, and waking up rested, ready to take on the day. For others, though, the nighttime routine involves walking around in their sleep, or even chatting up a storm while soundly snoozing. The National Sleep Foundation defines sleep talking—also known as somniloquy, if you want to get fancy—as talking during your sleep and waking up with absolutely no recollection of it, until your significant other or bedmate or roommate points it out, that is. But still, why do people talk in their sleep in the first place? And can anything be done to stop the practice from happening?

Well, most pressing to note is that although sleep talking may seem like a bit of a strange habit (and probably not one that’ll endear you to any bedmates), it’s nothing to worry about from a health perspective. “Sleep is the most important thing for the mind and should be considered a mental vital sign, like blood pressure and pulse are for the body,” says psychiatrist and sleep-medicine specialist Alex Dimitriu, MD. “Any disturbance in sleep is worth looking into, but sleep talking, alone, is quite normal.” Cue: Sigh of relief. Also of note, says Petra Hawker, PhD, sleep psychotherapist and author of A Little Book of Self Care: Sleep, is that sleep talking is more common in men and young children, and the chatter can range from complete gibberish to crystal clear (albeit strangely composed) sentences.

So, if you’re a sleep talker (or perhaps you live with one who’s cramping your snoozing style), check out four reasons to explain why it can happen in the first place, plus potential strategies to help it stop.

Why do people talk in their sleep? These 4 reasons help explain:

1. Stress and anxiety

Although not a lot is known about what causes sleep talking, Dr. Hawker says it often occurs when the person is stressed, anxious, or suffering from symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

“Described by Freud as ‘day residue,’ [dreams are] the leftover, unprocessed material of the day that we work through in our sleep,” says Dr. Dimitriu. And when stressed or anxious, it makes sense that dreams can get intense and vivid, sometimes leading to sleep talk.

2. Life disturbances

Although stress and anxiety are noted for being the most common causes of sleep talking, really anything that disturbs your sleep can also amp up the rate of chatter.

Although stress and anxiety are noted for being the most common causes of sleep talking, really anything that disturbs your sleep can also amp up the rate of chatter.

Dr. Dimitriu says such sleep disturbances can include irregular sleep schedules, exhaustion, and alcohol. Other sleep disorders—like sleep apnea, nightmares, or REM behavior disorders—can also factor in and be the cause of your nighttime conversations with no one, says dental sleep expert Jeff Rodgers, DMD.

3. Dreams

According to integrative psychotherapist Rosie March-Smith, author of Dreams, the goings-on in your dreams, themselves, can also contribute to sleep talking. “The veil between our conscious and unconscious mind is, for some people, so thin at times that the physical body joins in the dream action,” she says. “Snatches of a dialogue can sound like mumbo jumbo, but they’re part of a scenario going on for the dreamer.” So, vivid dreamers? You might simply be predisposed to REM-time discussions.

4. Sleep cycles

Where you are you in your sleep cycle can also determine whether sleep talking is more or less likely to take place—and to what level of intelligibility. “In lighter sleep stages, people may make more sense in their sleep, with short intelligible utterances,” Dr. Dimitriu says. “As people enter deeper stages of sleep, like deep sleep and REM sleep, the speech may become less clear, with moaning and sounds at times.”

Possible treatments for sleep talking

Because sleep talking isn’t a totally normalized behavior, isn’t super-common, and usually doesn’t indicate serious underlying health conditions, official treatment is generally regarded as not quite necessary. “In most patients, it happens sporadically and is nothing more than a nuisance,” Dr. Rodgers says of sleep talking. There’s no need to wake up a sleep talker, either, unless, of course, they’re disturbing you from getting your own precious beauty rest.

But, while formal interventions may not be necessary for curbing a sleep talking behavior, several lifestyle shifts can help keep the chatting to a minimum. “If sleep talking is a regular and recurring pattern, emphasis should be placed on getting on a good, regular sleep schedule, getting enough sleep, and avoiding substances or heavy meals before bed,” Dr. Dimitriu says.

That said, if the habit ever becomes a persistent or even daily problem, and other symptoms are involved—like snoring, gasping for air, waking up several times during the night, sleep walking, or bedwetting—it might be time to investigate whether other issues are happening simultaneously. Since those supplemental symptoms may, in fact, benefit from professional help, this is the case, he says, when seeing an expert in order to get to the bottom of the situation, may be recommended.

Now that the answer to “why do people talk in their sleep?” isn’t such a mystery, let’s talk about other sleep issues: Here are the most common reasons you wake up in the middle of the night, according to a sleep doctor. And here’s the deal with insomnia—all six types of it.

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