Sleep Talking: What Does It All Mean?

We humans value our power of speech. We say that words have power. Words have consequences. And yet the truth is that most of us have a hard time understanding each other when we speak. Anybody who is or has been married knows what I’m talking about. We search for meaning in the things other people say that the speaker never intended. This is especially true, for some reason, with sleep talking.

The aptly-named 1980’s New Wave band The Romantics seemed to think so. They even wrote a song about it.

When you close your eyes and you go to sleep
And it’s down to the sound of a heartbeat
I can hear the things that you’re dreaming about
When you open up your heart and the truth comes out

You tell me that you want me
You tell me that you need me
You tell me that you love me
And I know that I’m right
‘Cause I hear it in the night

I hear the secrets that you keep
When you’re talking in your sleep
I hear the secrets that you keep
When you’re talking in your sleep

What’s So Special About Sleep Talking?

I have bad news for The Romantics. The truth does not really come out. Most of the talking that people do in their sleep is gibberish. If people do make sense when they speak, the words almost never have any meaning that is useful to the wide-awake listener. Courts won’t admit testimony about utterances spoken during sleep talking episodes.

Sleep talking, or “somniloquy” as it is called officially, is another type of parasomnia, in the same class as sleepwalking and sleep eating. It is more common in males, and of course, in children.

Sleep talking is very common. The highest estimates I found put the number at 60% of all individuals at some point during life. Like many of these sleep behaviors, sleep talking tends to run in families. If one or both parents sleep-talked, the chances are greater that the child will sleep talk as well.

I know that I’m right, ’cause I hear it in the night

The triggers for sleep talking are obscure, but we know some factors that make it more likely to happen.

  • Sleep deprivation: Exhausted children who fall into very deep Stage IV sleep can have sudden partial awakenings which will cause them to talk in their sleep.
  • Stress: Even though we do not believe that sleep talking and the other parasomnias signal psychic distress, we know that stressed people are more likely to do things in their sleep.
  • Sleep apnea or other disruptions of the sleep cycle will make sleep talking more likely.
  • Medications like antihistamines are known triggers as well.

You tell me that you love me

sleep talking 3
What shall we talk about?

Is there anything parents need to worry about? If the sleep-talker shares a room, and annoys his roommate, this may present a problem. Some parents have tried a white noise machine to drown out the sound of the human speaker. Others have tried ear plugs.

In adults, there have been reports of people who have awakened exhausted by all the speaking they have done in the night. I suspect these cases are very rare and probably do not affect children.

I can hear the things that you’re dreaming about

Much sleep talking occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. In these cases, it’s quite possible that the sleep talker’s speech might be related to his dreams. There are no good studies to back up this claim. However, there are now smart phone apps designed to record sleep talking. Reviewers  did not say specifically that they remembered dreaming about what they recorded themselves saying. It’s more useful for amusement purposes, and to self-monitor one’s own snoring!

The bottom line is that sleep talking is absolutely nothing to worry about, and doesn’t require any therapy. If, on the other hand, there is an underlying sleep disturbance that is leading to this behavior, I can help you sort through it. Feel free to contact me!

I’ll let The Romantics take us home.

Published by

Rob Lindeman

Rob Lindeman is a sleep coach, entrepreneur, and writer living in Massachusetts. Ready to Get Rid of the Pacifier? Sign up for our FREE Video eCourse: The Paci-Free Method

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