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Sleep Disorders

Sleep talking (Foreign language)

12/07/2005

Question:

Hi. All my life I have been told that I talk in my sleep. Sometimes I speak in what appears to be a foreign language. I am told it sounds vaguely French/Italian although neither one specifically. The words are very clear, conversational in quality and I have no memory of this when awake.

Where can I find out more about this? Thank you for your time.

Answer:

Sleep talking, also known as somniloquy, is not an uncommon problem, especially in children. While we don't know exactly how common talking in sleep is, it is estimated to occur in about half of all children and in about 5% of adults. Sleep talking can range from infrequent quiet sounds to full spoken sentences to singing and shouting. Often, the speech cannot be understood and may sound like mutterings or gibberish.

It is not clear to me in your question if you have confirmed you are indeed speaking a foreign language and if so, whether or not you can speak this language when awake. If the case is that you are speaking a foreign language in your sleep that you know how to speak, then this would not be particularly surprising as, at times, sleep talking can be related to dream experiences (though this is not always the case).

However, if you feel you are speaking a foreign language in your sleep that you do not otherwise know how to speak, then I would wonder if you are confusing mutterings or partial words with a foreign language. The ability to speak a foreign language only in sleep while being unable to speak it when awake would be highly unusual. It may be worthwhile tape recording your sleep talking and try to confirm what it is you are saying.

The cause of talking in sleep is not entirely known. Most of the time, the cause of this sleep behavior cannot be linked to any identifiable underlying problem or disease. And in most cases, the problem is not serious and may resolve over time or with age.

However, in some cases, it has been found to be associated with other sleep-related disorders, such as sleep walking, REM behavior disorder (an unusual disorder in which individuals tend to act out their dreams while asleep), sleep-related epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder and the nighttime sleep eating syndrome.

In addition, in adults who began their sleep talking in adulthood, there may be a higher rate of psychiatric disorders, though most adults who talk in their sleep do not have these problems.

To determine if there is an identifiable cause for your problem, a thorough history and physical examination are needed. A referral to a Sleep Specialist by your primary care physician may be necessary to help sort out whether further testing is needed.

Once a history and physical examination have been performed, the Sleep Specialist will decide if further evaluation by a sleep study is necessary. This may be required to determine the presence or the absence of the conditions mentioned above. Specific treatments for each condition are available and will depend upon the results of the evaluation, though as mentioned, most cases of sleep talking do not require any treatment.

If you would like additional information regarding sleep and sleep disorders, you can obtain it on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. This website also contains a list of Sleep Centers across the country so you can locate one near you if need be. The website SleepEducation.com also contains some information regarding sleep talking

Good luck and here's to better sleep!

 

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Response by:

Dennis   Auckley, MD Dennis Auckley, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University