If you’ve ever been told that you talk while you’re sleeping, you aren’t alone. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 5 percent of adults and up to half of young children are prone to chattiness while they’re snoozing. This type of parasomnia runs the gamut from surprisingly comprehensible chatter to incoherent mumbling, though it’s rarely considered serious enough to require treatment. But what’s going on? Why do people talk in their sleep, and does it have any connection to mental health? Sleepopolis surveyed 2,000 people for insights into common triggers, associations with mental health conditions, and what kind of sleep talking people are doing. Here’s what we found.
What Is Sleep Talking?
“Sleep talking, also known as somniloquy, is a type of parasomnia characterized by talking, with variable degrees of understandability, while sleeping,” Dan Ford, Sleep Psychologist and Clinical Director of The Better Sleep Clinic, tells Sleepopolis. “In general, the parasomnias are thought to occur during periods when the brain is transitioning from wakefulness to sleep, and vice versa.”
During these shifts between being asleep and being awake, Ford says the brain can enter a state of dissociation somewhere between either end of the sleep-wake spectrum. That’s when people are most likely to talk in their sleep.
Sleep Talking Triggers
In our survey, participants reported four common triggers of sleep talking:
- Anxiety or stress
- Medication side effects
- Sleep disorders
According to Ford, these are indeed common triggers. Interestingly, he says they’re thought to be triggers for all parasomnias, not just sleep talking.
Since sleep talking is believed to take place during those transitions between being awake and being asleep, specific populations tend to be most affected. “Sleep talking will be more likely to happen to those that have more transitions — or incomplete transitions — such as those with less mature sleep systems (children) and those that may be more prone to light or disrupted sleep.”
According to Ford, that may include:
- Those under stress
- People with sleep disorders,
- Those who consumed too much caffeine or alcohol
Sleep Talking and Mental Health Conditions
There are currently no studies that directly link sleep talking to mental health conditions. “However, sleep talking frequently occurs with other parasomnias, and parasomnias in general are more common in those with psychiatric conditions as virtually all major mental health conditions come with disturbed sleep,” says Ford.
Participants in our survey who reported sleep talking were far more likely to have a history of at least one, and often multiple, mental health disorders. Roughly one third of respondents who have experienced sleep talking reported no history of mental health disorders.
Verbal vs. Nonverbal Speech Episodes
Sleep talking isn’t very well studied, which means definitions about different types can vary. “Generally speaking, studies distinguish sleep talking as explicit verbal productions that can vary in length and intelligibility,” says Ford. That means laughing, crying, shouting, moaning and sighing aren’t technically considered sleep talking. “Other studies may distinguish between ‘nonverbal utterances’ vs ‘understandable words,’ but consider both as sleep talking more broadly,” he says.
Types of Sleep Talking
Sleep talking may present in various ways. Participants in our sleep talking survey reported different types of sleep talking ranging from incoherence to outright cursing.
- Unintelligible or incoherent speech: 68%
- Nonsensical phrases: 49%
- Laughing: 24%
- Amusing or humorous comments: 23%
- A specific person or situation: 22%
- Scary comment:s 9%
- Cursing: 8%
There isn’t much in the way of research that confirms whether or not specific populations are more likely to experience a certain type of sleep talking. “However, [people with] nightmares and REM behavior disorder are more likely to have tense and angry outbursts,” says Ford, adding that these conditions can stem from post-traumatic stress disorder.
How to Stop Sleep Talking
While it isn’t medically necessary to treat sleep talking, it can be disruptive to other people. “It really depends on the level of distress the sleep talking is causing the individual,” says Ford. “If there’s no impact on others, the sleeper is unaware of their sleep talking so it’s not likely to be a problem.”
However, there are options if it’s something you want to address. “Traditionally, improving sleep hygiene and reducing stress, including using cognitive therapy for stress, has been recommended as treatments for parasomnias such as sleep talking,” says Ford. Sleep medicine practitioners have observed that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia also appears to reduce sleep talking, he says, likely because it increases sleep intensity. That may eliminate light sleep or incomplete transitions in the sleep-wake cycle.
For folks looking to improve their sleep hygiene to tamp down on nighttime chatter, that means creating a consistent routine for bedtime along with curating a restful sleep space, which may include:
- Keeping the bedroom dark, cool and quiet
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed
- Avoiding screen time at least an hour before bed
- Making the bedroom a sanctuary for sleep and sex only
- Avoiding heavy meals before bed
What causes you to talk in your sleep?
Sleep talking isn’t particularly well researched, so there isn’t a definitive cause. “In general, the parasomnias are thought to occur during periods when the brain transitions from wakefulness to sleep and vice versa,” says Ford. Triggers that can result in sleep talking may include stress and anxiety, alcohol, certain medications, or specific sleep disorders.
Is it normal to talk in your sleep?
Yes. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about 5 percent of adults and up to half of young children are prone to talking in their sleep. “Sleep talking is considered to be normal and harmless,” says Ford.
How do you fix sleep talking?
While there isn’t a medical reason to treat sleep talking, it can be disruptive to others. In that case, addressing possible triggers, such as alcohol consumption or sources of stress in your waking hours, can be helpful. Sleep talking that is associated with a sleep disorder or medication may go away once the disorder is addressed or the medication is no longer being used. Practicing proper sleep hygiene may also reduce episodes of sleep talking.
The Last Word From Sleepopolis
According to our sleep talking survey, people are most likely to mumble in their sleep when they’re experiencing stress and anxiety in their lives. That’s one of a few common causes thought to trigger sleep talking. Fortunately, this type of parasomnia is generally considered harmless. If you suspect that your episodes of sleep talking could be indicative of a health condition, including anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s worth a discussion with your healthcare provider.