Sleep talking, also known as somniloquy, is a common sleep disorder. Some patients carry on conversations all through the night, whereas others have occasional nights where they mumble or speak only a few words.
Children are more likely to talk in their sleep than adults, with as many as 50% exhibiting some sleep-talking behavior. Somniloquy usually occurs in lighter stages of sleep and research shows that there may be a genetic component.1 Stress, alcohol use, fever and an irregular schedule can also induce sleep talking.
Don’t assume that Somniloquy is innocuous. If a patient reports saying the same thing each night, sleep talking could be a sign of nocturnal seizures. Talking in one’s sleep, as well as yelling, can also signify other sleep abnormalities, such as REM sleep behavior disorder.
Interestingly, some patients will speak different languages in their sleep than they do in their day-to-day lives.2 A survey of 681 bilingual children in Spain showed that most who talked in their sleep spoke in their native language. However, a small percentage (4%) used their nonnative language. Researchers had no definitive reason as to why this occurs.
Oftentimes in cases of solniloquy it’s the sleep partner who suffers the most. Some partners develop insomnia from being aroused from sleep because of the talking. Also, the partner may try to stay awake to hear and interpret what their sleep partner is saying. Using ear plugs, or a fan for white noise, can be helpful.
Sleep talking itself is not harmful, so medication is not usually needed. Getting adequate sleep and keeping a regular schedule is helpful.
I often joke with my patients telling them that they better not do anything that they are afraid that they might talk about in their sleep. However, there is no evidence to prove that what a patient says in their sleep is what they are actually thinking or contemplating.
Sharon M. O’Brien, MPAS, PA-C, works at Presbyterian Sleep Health in Charlotte, N.C. Her main interest is helping patients understand the importance of sleep hygiene and the impact of sleep on health.
- Mahowald MW. “Other Parasomnias.” Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 4th Ed. Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders, 2005; 917-925.
- Gognon JF, Postuma RB, Mazza S et al. “Rapid-Eye-Movement Sleep Behaviour Disorder and Neurodegenerative Disorder,” Lancet Neurology. 2006; 5: 424-32.