Sleep talking is a fairly common occurrence. But is it totally harmless, or could it be a sign of an underlying condition?
Have you ever awakened because you were talking in your sleep?
Sleep talking is pretty common for kids, with about 50 percent of children experiencing it at some point in their lives. It can be a little less common in adults, with about 5 percent experiencing sleep talking.
Sleep talking might be mild for some people — in fact, you might not even realize you do it. But for others, sleep talking can cause disruptions in sleep, both for you and your partner.
Episodes of sleep talking can vary from person to person, lasting a short while or continuing for years.
While there’s no specific treatment for sleep talking, visiting a sleep specialist or doctor can be necessary to help rule out underlying conditions.
Sleep talking is just what it sounds like: talking while you are asleep. It’s also referred to as “somniloquy.”
You might not even realize you talk in your sleep until a partner brings it to your attention. Sleep talking can become problematic if you sleep with a partner or loved one.
With sleep talking, you may not necessarily be forming coherent words or sentences. In fact, others may not be able to understand what you’re saying if they notice you talking in your sleep.
It can also be common to talk loudly and in some cases, cuss or say rude things.
Stages of sleep talking
Non-REM (NREM) sleep involves light sleep and deep sleep and can help pinpoint specific types of sleep talking:
- Stages 1 and 2 (light NREM) tend to involve words that others can understand and may sound almost like a monologue.
- Stages 3 and 4 (deep NREM) involve words that make no sense to anyone listening in.
If sleep talking occurs during REM sleep (dreaming sleep), you’re speaking directly from what you’re dreaming about.
Sleep talking is also classified into categories based on severity, length, and frequency of episodes:
- mild: less than once a week
- moderate: more than once weekly
- severe: episodes may occur every night
In terms of length, classifications range from:
- acute: up to a month total
- subacute: less than 1 year, but at least 1 month
- chronic: happening for at least a year
The frequency and length of sleep talking episodes can be different for each person. Some people might talk in their sleep once every week but experience similar episodes for many years. Others might sleep talk every night but in episodes that only last for a month.
As with many conditions, the signs and symptoms of sleep talking can vary with each person. In general, sleep talking symptoms can include:
- speaking just one word
- saying many intelligible words
Again, you may not even realize you talk in your sleep until someone mentions it. This can make it more challenging to know if you do sleep talk.
Experts haven’t yet pinpointed the exact cause for sleep talking, though causes typically vary from person to person.
Contributing causes of sleep talking can include:
- certain medications
- mental health conditions
- substance use, especially alcohol
- eating a large meal before bed
Certain conditions can be linked to talking in your sleep.
Mental health conditions
Mental health conditions that might cause sleep talking include:
Sleep talking is commonly linked to other conditions, such as:
- sleep apnea
- sleep walking
- sleep-related eating disorder or rapid eye movement (REM)
- rapid eye movement behavior disorder (RBD), which can include movement as if someone is acting out a dream in addition to talking
- sleep behavior disorder (RBD)
Some people with mild sleep talking may not need treatment.
However, sleep talking can be disruptive to your sleep quality and your partner’s. In that case, seeking help from a sleep specialist can be an excellent step toward treating episodes of sleep talking.
Your doctor can check for and treat any underlying conditions that may cause you to talk in your sleep. In more severe situations, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants or sleeping pills to help reduce sleep talking.
They may also refer you to a therapist to help with any related mental health conditions. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an especially useful prevention tool over time for stress-related sleep talking.
Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption before bedtime can also be helpful in preventing sleep talking.
If you or someone you love experiences episodes of sleep talking, it can be a bit upsetting. However, in many cases, formal treatment isn’t necessary, and prevention is possible.
If you find that your or your partner’s sleep quality is disrupted because of sleep talking, seeking help from a doctor or sleep specialist can be a good first step.
Your doctor may check for underlying conditions first before working with you to create a treatment and prevention plan. In some cases, they may refer you to a therapist to address any mental health conditions or concerns.