Sleep Talk Often? Your Stress Levels Could Be to Blame
Plus, experts explain the preventative steps you can take.
I'll never forget the first time my college roommates heard me talk in my sleep. It was our sophomore year, and the four of us had just moved into our house off-campus. At some point during the wee hours of the morning, my two roomies living on the second level with me began loudly pounding on my locked door, saying my name—or so they told me the following morning. When they recalled what had happened the night prior, my knee-jerk reaction was to laugh it off with my rehearsed, "Oh yeah, I didn't tell you guys? I talk in my sleep!" However, it didn't dawn on me until a few minutes later that they weren't laughing with me. They were scared.
The thing was, I grew up knowing that I occasionally talk in my sleep. Friends would poke fun at me during sleepovers. My family would tell me they heard me murmuring random words throughout the night. I honestly didn't think anything of it, because, to me, it wasn't any different than a snoring habit. But for someone who isn't familiar with this abnormal sleep behavior, it can be frightening to witness. And that's when I realized, my roommates weren't bringing it to my attention for a good laugh, but because they were genuinely concerned for my well-being.
Since then, I've learned my sleep talking is a topic of conversation I need to have with any future roommate or partner. But, it also egged me to seek out advice from a sleep professional, who can help me better understand what triggers my sleep talking and what, if anything, I can do to prevent it from happening again. Below is what they said.
What is sleep talking?
According to Meredith Broderick, MD, a triple board-certified doctor in neurology, sleep medicine, and behavioral medicine in Washington, sleep talking—scientifically known as somniloquy—is essentially any type of vocalization during sleep. "Sometimes, people can also express emotions like laughing or crying," Dr. Broderick tells HelloGiggles. "I have even had patients whose primary language is sign language and they sign in their sleep."
Since sleep talking can be expressed in so many ways—full dialogue, mumblings, gibberish, sign language, half-sentences—Dr. Broderick says, "There isn't a clear delineation." And unfortunately, sleep talkers don't have the capability of knowing they talk in their sleep unless there's a witness.
Why do people talk in their sleep?
There are several reasons as to why someone may be sleep talking. External factors such as stress, medication, medical conditions, substance, or other sleep disorders (i.e. insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy, for example) are some of the most popular. Dr. Broderick also noted that research suggests that there are genetic predisposing factors; albeit, being overly tired or sleep-deprived can contribute just the same.
In terms of frequency, there really is no way to tell. "The frequency with which someone will experience varies quite a bit," she says. "For some, it may be very infrequent and others may experience it all of the time." Should you see an improvement with one of the external factors listed above, sleep talking may become less frequent. On the flip side, if you find yourself stressing more than usual, your sleep talking patterns may increase or become more regular.
Is sleep talking preventable?
Whether you've never talked in your sleep before, have for years, or are brand new to the sleep talker community (hi, welcome!), it's important you know that sleep talking alone is not harmful, and there are preventive steps you can take.
"Being overly tired or having poor sleep hygiene—having too much caffeine or alcohol, having an erratic sleep schedule, or spending an excessive amount of time in bed—can lead to more arousals or sleep stage transitions, which increases the chances of sleep talking," Dr. Broderick explains. "Working on improving sleep hygiene, sleep quality, and minimizing those exacerbating factors is the first step." If sleep quality issues or daytime symptoms persist, Dr. Broderick recommends speaking with a sleep medicine physician to help get to the root of your sleep talking.
Don't be too hard on yourself! Sleep talking is totally normal and more common than you think. Plus, making small adjustments to your sleep schedule such as skipping late night caffeine, less screen time, and having a structured bedtime routine, can make all the difference.