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Sleep Disorders

My husband`s sleep talking

09/13/2007

Question:

When my husband is out drinking and then he talke a lunesta to sleep at night, he talks in his sleep. He was talking one night a lot and one of the things he said very clearly was an affair he was having with a woman. I would like to know if this was just a dream or was he actually living this affair out that he had that day!!! He was talking a lot of what happened that day in his sleep and he denies it and said he must have been dreaming because he did not do anything wrong. I am curious on your opinion on this. Thank you.

Answer:

Well, that’s some question! Unfortunately, I don’t think I can provide you with a definitive 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. Certain situations, such as sleep deprivation, alcohol use and some medications, may precipitate sleep talking in some individuals. In adults who begin sleep talking during 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. How the sleep talking is to be interpreted and how this relates to your husband’s vocalizations in his sleep is unclear. In his case, the use of alcohol and a sedative further complicates the picture.

You and your husband should be aware that THE COMBINATION OF ALCOHOL AND SEDATIVES IS DANGEROUS AND SHOULD BE AVOIDED AT ALL TIMES. The sleep talking aside, this combination carries serious risks (such as depression of breathing, lethargy, confusion and even death) and the 2 should not be taken together.

It might be a good idea to have your husband discuss his sleep talking with his Primary Care Doctor. If there is concern for an underlying sleep disorder, then referral to a Sleep Specialist may be necessary to help sort out whether further testing is needed. If you cannot settle the relationship issue, then counseling may be a good idea.

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