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Dear Dave: What’s the Deal with Sleep Talking?

Scranton, PA — How common is sleep talking? What causes it? Can it be treated? I was motivated to answer all these questions when Jasmine, a loyal reader of my blog, sent me a Dear Dave question of her own.

Dear Dave,

After seven months of marriage, my husband dropped a disheartening bombshell on me – apparently, I “sleep talk” quite regularly. This is the first time I’ve heard about it, but, apparently, I’ve talked about everything – from asking why there are shoes on the ceiling to complaining about a coworker from the office. What gives? Is there anything that I can do to limit my midnight chatter?



What’s the Deal with Sleep Talking?

To address Jasmine’s concerns, I looked to the National Sleep Foundation for information and advice.

Sleep talking is formally known as somniloquy, and it’s considered a sleep disorder. The act of sleep talking is defined as “talking during sleep without being aware of it.” Just as Jasmine described, sleep talking can range from complicated conversations to complete nonsense. In some cases, if an awake individual talks back to someone who is sleep talking, they can carry on a conversation. Maybe, just for fun, Jasmine and her husband should try that!

In all seriousness, though, sleep talking is usually caused by stress, depression, fever or illness, sleep deprivation or alcohol consumption. External factors (like the noises and environment in your room) can stimulate somniloquy as well as sleep apnea, sleep interruptions and dreams. Sleep talking can be associated with mental illness, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who talks in their sleep has a psychiatric disorder.

Jasmine mentioned that “shoes on the wall” and an unruly coworker have been subjects of her chatter.

The National Sleep Foundation states that, “While little is known about the content of the sleep talking, some of it may relate to past events, experiences, and relationships that no longer have current relevance or emotional impact.” Translation? Perhaps Jasmine heard something about shoes on a wall a while back and just doesn’t remember it.

Is There a Treatment Option?

Sleep talking is not harmful, but it can cause embarrassment and can annoy a bed partner.

There is no treatment for sleep talking, though The National Sleep Foundation offers several tips that could possibly help sleep talkers like Jasmine – and their bed partners – get a peaceful night’s rest. Here’s the advice I found:

  • Follow a regular sleep and wake schedule
  • Get an adequate amount of sleep each night (7-9 hours)
  • Practice proper sleep hygiene
  • Refrain from alcohol and heavy meals before bed
  • Assess your stress level and manage it (work out, write in a journal, etc.)

Still Talking?

Fortunately, most sleep talkers don’t wake up or ever realize on their own that they talked in their sleep. It’s the bed partners and roommates that are bothered. If sleep talking is still an issue after the suggestions above are addressed, couples can always resort to earplugs or a source of white noise (like calming music or a fan).

Good luck to Jasmine and to sleep talkers everywhere!


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Photo by Wendy.

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