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Sleep Disorders

Talking about people in my sleep

08/03/2007

Question:

I have been told by my wife that I talk in my sleep and call out females names that I know and tell them to come over here and I grab her closer to me. It`s like I call her their name in my sleep. What does this mean?

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 quite sounds to full spoken sentences to singing and shouting. Often, the speech cannot be understood and may sound like mutterings or gibberish. The cause of talking in sleep is not entirely known. Most of the time, the cause of this sleep behavior can not be linked to any identifiable underlying problem or disease. And in most cases, the problem is not serious and tends to resolve over time or with aging. 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, sleep apnea, and the nighttime sleep eating syndrome. In addition, in adults who begin sleep talking in adulthood (in other words, they did not do this as a child), there may be a higher rate of psychiatric disorders. However, most adults who talk in their sleep do not have these problems.

Oftentimes, the most serious consequence of sleep talking is social embarrassment from unintentionally verbalizing subconscious thoughts or dream content. This may be the case in your situation, where you may be verbalizing your dream content. What exactly this means and how this relates to your awake experiences is unclear.

If you are acting out dreams by grabbing your wife in your sleep, then that raises the possibility of REM behavior disorder in conjunction with the sleep talking. REM behavior disorder is an uncommon condition in which individuals lose the muscle paralysis that usually accompanies REM sleep (dream) and thus may act out their dreams. This tends to occur later in the night and most individuals have some recall of what they were doing. Depending on the nature of the dream state, this can lead to injurious behavior from falling out of bed, running into walls or furniture or hitting objects. It is more commonly seen in middle to older aged men, but can occur in women as well. If your sleep talking and activity during sleep are disrupting your sleep or that of your wife’s, then further evaluation should be considered.

It might be a good idea to discuss your problems with your primary care doctor. A referral to a Sleep Specialist 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 additional evaluation by a sleep study or other testing is needed.

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 Sleep Education.com also has plenty of consumer friendly information related to sleep. Good luck!

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Response by:

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