Vol.1, No.4

Talking in your sleep

Somniloquy is a sleeping disorder commonly called sleep talking.

Sleep talking
Photo Credit: Jente Kasprowski
We spend a third of our lives sleeping. Sleep is very important for the human body and the mind to function properly. Each night while we sleep our bodies do amazing things. They heal themselves from the activities of the day and release growth hormones into our system. Our brains use this time to sort through the information that we have gathered during our waking hours. It is thought that we don't actually learn anything until we fall asleep and our brains have time to process and store the information.

There are many disorders associated with sleep including sleepwalking, sleep apnea, night terrors, and sleep talking. Sleep talking is pretty harmless to the talker but can be very annoying to the person sleeping next to them. Episodes of sleep talking can range from small mutterings to long winded conversations. Most sleep talking is calm and monotone. Though it is rare, some sleep talkers have been known to yell out and frighten those around them.

The medical term for sleep talking is somniloquy. Children are more apt to talk in their sleep than adults. The reason for this is the immature state of the brain and incomplete sleep cycles. Though a child's sleep talking may scare parents, it is most often harmless. Most children will eventually grow out of this behavior. Children and adults that talk in their sleep never remember doing so, and are often quite shocked to be told of the things they said while sleeping.

Sleep talking is a part of the sleeping disorder parasomnia. This is caused by non-restful or unfulfilled sleep stages. People with parasomnia often display activities in their sleep such as sleepwalking, sleep talking, teeth grinding, and night terrors. They also may experience body jerking and they may thrash about in their sleep. The person is usually unable to fall fully asleep. This can cause drowsiness during the day and overall poor health.

Each night the body transitions between the five stages of sleep. There are four stages of non-REM sleep and one stage of REM sleep. When the body cannot move smoothly from one stage to another they become partially aroused from sleep. This is often found in people with fibromyalgia. When the stages are interrupted parasomnia episodes can take place. Parasomnia can also be an inherited condition.

Sleep talking happens in any stage of sleep. Most people associate sleep talking with REM sleep. REM or "rapid eye movement" is the stage of sleep in which we have our most vivid and memorable dreams. The truth is most of sleep talking occurs in non-REM sleep. When we are in the REM stage of sleep, our bodies are in a state of partial paralysis. This is believed this happens to stop a person from acting out their dreams and possibly injuring themselves. Sleep talking tends to happen as sleep transitions from on stage to another.

People who suffer from sleep apnea are more prone to sleep talking. Sleep talking that happens at a light sleep level tends to be more understandable. Talking during deep sleep is more likely to be mutterings or gibberish. A person with sleep apnea suffers from breathing problems while sleeping and they don't always attain the deepest level of sleep. This in turn makes them more likely to talk in their sleep.

Somniloquy can also be triggered by stressful situations or occur in times of poor health. Stress and illness cause poor sleep cycles. A lack of proper sleep and eating near bedtime can also trigger sleep talking. To reduce sessions of somniloquy, take time to relax and de-stress each day. Make sure you are getting the proper amount of sleep you need each night.