Are you a chatty Cathy when you’re sound asleep? Find out about the mystery of sleep talking, and what those sweet nothings you utter really mean.
Has your partner ever referred to a conversation that occurred the night before — and you can’t remember a thing you said? Unless it’s after a wild night out, the cause may be somniloquy, better known as sleep talking.
Sleep talking falls under the category of parasomnias, which are disruptive sleep disorders. Other parasomnias include sleepwalking, bedwetting, and night terrors. Although it can be startling, sleepwalking is generally nothing to worry about.
“Sleep talking is benign for most people,” says Russell Rosenberg, PhD, who is the chairman of the National Sleep Foundation in Atlanta. “No one knows exactly what causes it.” A lot of nighttime chitchat can cause you to feel tired the next day, but it’s generally not a cause for concern. It’s also quite common: although statistics vary, about 60 percent of us will have at least one episode of sleep talking, according to William Kohler, MD, the medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Tampa.
The When and How of Sleep Talking
Sleep talking tends to occur during two different stages of sleep: During stage two, when it’s just a stream of thoughts not accompanied by a dream, and during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when it’s accompanied by active dreams. During REM sleep it’s easy to arouse a person out of sleep talking, but during stage two, it’s very hard to wake someone up, and they likely won’t remember what they were talking about. And even during REM sleep, what a sleep-talker is saying may not be related to what’s happening in their dream.
“With sleep talking, we may have active dreams — we may be speaking about what we’re dreaming. On the other hand, we could be dreaming one thing and speaking something completely different,” says Dr. Kohler.
Sleep talking can vary in frequency and intensity, and can be caused by a variety of factors, which may be as simple as drinking alcohol before going to sleep. “Having a high fever, being under emotional stress, taking certain medications, and having underlying sleep problems like sleep apnea can all cause a person to talk in their sleep,” says Kohler. Sleep talking may also run in families, he says. There aren’t any specific medications that have been singled out to cause sleep talking.
What Does All That Chitchat Mean?
Although you may be tempted to read a lot into what your partner utters in their sleep, experts don’t recommend taking too much stock in those sweet nothings. “It’s not a reflection of what’s going on in your life,” Rosenberg says. Kohler agrees: “There’s a myth that secrets can be revealed with sleep talking, but that’s not really accurate. The things people are talking about can potentially have nothing to do with reality.”
And as many parents know, sleep talking is common in kids. “This is more of a brain development issue in children,” says Rosenberg. “Most kids will grow out of it.”
If your partner or child is chattering away in their sleep, “let it play itself out — just observe and make sure they are safe,” recommends Rosenberg.
So when would sleep talking actually be a cause for concern? Only if you feel overly tired during the day, if your nocturnal chatter is disturbing your partner, or if your sleep talking is accompanied by any other “acting out,” such as sleepwalking. If you’re feeling sleepy all the time, a sleep specialist can help determine the best course of action to ensure you get better sleep.
By Erica Patino