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Why do we sleep talk?

Talking in your sleep (also known as somniloquy in the medical community) is a common kind of parasomnia, or abnormal sleep activity. Two out of every three people talk in their sleep at some stage in life, and it's particularly frequent among youngsters.

Depending on which side of the sleep matter you're on, it may well be frustrating or embarrassing. It's usually harmless, but it could indicate a more significant sleep disorder or health problem. Emma’s sleep experts can help you understand why you might be talking in your sleep, and we understand it might be a difficult subject to broach.

Talking in your sleep

According to Arkin’s study on the subject, talking in your sleep appears to be more common in men than women, and a slight familial tendency is reported. Late-night tirades can be extremely eloquent, or they can be muttered and difficult to understand. Sleep talkers frequently appear to be conversing with themselves. They do, however, appear to have conversations with people on occasion.

Sleep talking occurs in all stages of sleep, including REM and non-REM sleep, with incidents ranging from single speech to whole discussions with no recall. Sleep talking, on the other hand, is usually easier to understand in the early phases of sleep, such as non-REM stages 1 and 2. Sleep talking usually sounds more like moaning and groaning in later stages of the sleep cycle, such as non-REM stage 3 and REM sleep.

The origins of the content during periods of sleep talking has been the subject of conflicting research. Speech may or may not be related to a person's life, recent events, or previous talks. Although some research suggests that it is sometimes linked to dreams, not all sleep talking appears to be tightly linked to dream activities.

What causes sleep talking?

Researchers aren't sure what causes someone to talk in their sleep. However, sleep talking almost certainly indicates a lack of sleep. This can sometimes include a disruptive sleep environment such as the temperature of the room being too warm or too cold, or too much light entering from the outside. 

Sleep talking seems to be more common in those with underlying mental conditions. It is thought to occur more frequently in those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The majority of cases of sleep talking, however, are not thought to be linked to mental illness. Sleep disorders such as REM sleep behaviour disorder (RBD) and sleep terrors lead some people to yell while sleeping. Sleep terrors, also known as night terrors, are characterised by terrifying screaming, writhing, and kicking. It's difficult to wake someone who is suffering a sleep terror. Sleep-talking and sleepwalking can be  common in children who have night terrors. 

Random isolated occurrences of sleep talking are rarely problematic. If it happens regularly, or if other symptoms appear, such as insomnia, waking up many times per night, or being sleepy during the day, we recommend consulting with your doctor and requesting a sleep study. Other risk factors include stress, sleep deprivation, alcohol, and other primary sleep disorders, such as sleep-disordered breathing. That being said, seep talking is usually a transient occurrence for most people, and no therapy is required.

How to stop talking in your sleep

If your sleep talking starts suddenly as an adult or involves significant anxiety, screaming, or violent actions, you should visit a sleep specialist. You'll be asked how long you've been talking in your sleep by a trained professional - this is a question you'll have to ask your bed partner, roommate, or perhaps your parents. It is important to keep in mind that you may have started talking in your sleep as a child.

Sleep talking can be diagnosed without the use of any testing. If you have symptoms of another sleep problem, your doctor may request testing such as a sleep study or sleep recording (polysomnogram).

Here are some effective sleep hygiene tips which could help:

  • Maintaining a continuous sleep schedule on a daily basis, even weekends
  • Avoid caffeine in the late afternoons and evenings
  • Create a distraction free environment for sleeping, for example dimming the lights and turning off electronic devices.
  • Try to do some form of physical activity everyday

Sleep soundly with Sunrise by Emma

You can find a plethora of other helpful articles across our website that provide advice, tips and guidance on building a higher quality sleep routine. Whether you would like information on the impact of certain conditions on sleep health, or top tips for awakening your best, you can find it all here.

Alternatively, you may wish to explore the range of high-quality mattresses, pillows and other sleep products over at Emma Sleep.

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