One of the abnormal but at the same time most common behaviors in sleep is talking while asleep. Although its causes remain unclear to this day, this activity during sleep has given rise to numerous investigations, as everyone experiences a sleep talking episode at least once in their lifetime.
What is it and what causes it?
There sleep-talkig or somniloquy has its origin as a word in the Latin language: somnus (“dream”) and loqui ("to talk"), that is "sleep-talking or talking while we sleep."
Given this etymology, the speech act during sleep can go from some babbling barely noticeable to complete and complex dialogues or monologues, or even unintelligible gibberish. Despite the fact that in some cases it is possible to understand the conversation that someone sleeping is having, most of the time they are incomprehensible. These somniloquies are usually infrequent and of short duration, usually estimated at less than a minute.
Talking in sleep occurs both in REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) and in non-REM sleep (i.e. stages 1, 2 and 3). Somniloquy occurs in people who are not aware that they are talking in their sleep and often do not remember these facts.
The causes, as we mentioned above, are still unknown, although two frequent patterns have been found in people who suffer from somniloquy:
- Sleep-talking seems to be hereditary. That is to say, it is more frequent to talk in dreams if parents, siblings, grandparents, etc., also speak in their dreams.
- Talking while asleep is more common in those who have mental health problems (especially in people with post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] ). Although somniloquy is not a mental illness nor is it related to any of them, it is more frequent in these patients.
There's also certain situations that more easily promote sleep conversations, for example:
- Drinking alcohol.
- Having a fever.
- Suffering from insomnia.
When does somniloquy occur?
Talking in dreams occurs in the same percentage in phases 1 and 2 of sleep, in phase 3 and in REM sleep.
Speech during phases 1 and 2 of the sleep cycle is characterised by being more intelligible. Here, sleep is not yet deep, so full conversations are more likely. the sleeper doesn't usually remember the episode of speech upon waking up.
In the phase 3, sleep is deeper, affecting a speech more difficult to understand. Nor do they usually remember the episode of somniloquy upon awakening.
During the REM phase, speech is a lot clearer. Sometimes the content of the conversation is directly related to the dreams that are being had at that moment, so the sleeper usually remembers what they said when they wake up.
Some curiosities about talking in dreams
Several studies recorded conversations of their subjects while they slept.
In many cases, the content of these was that of profane expressions, sometimes derived from a conflict in the dream that was taking place at the time of speech.
Most of the time, the conversations were short lived and with a small number of words.
Although during REM sleep the conversation may be linked to sleep, the content of speech is not always related to that of the dream: this was tested with some patients who remembered what they had dreamed and it did not match the conversation that had been recorded.
Should I see a specialist?
Usually talking during sleep is not a serious condition. However, you should consult a specialist and try to treat it if:
- It interferes with your own rest or with that of others, causing insomnia and difficulty in falling asleep.
- If found excessively tired during the day.
- If you suspect that it may be linked to another underlying mental health disorder, since as mentioned above, despite not being a mental illness, it can be indicative of others.
Have you ever talked in your sleep?