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Sleep Disorders

Sleep Talking

09/11/2008

Question:

For the past week or so, my husband has been complaining that I have been talking in my sleep. What I say in my sleep is leading him to believe that I am having an affair. I am not, and I don`t even remember what it was that I dreamed about. Nor do I have any recollection of saying anything. Is there a remedy for this?

Answer:

This sort of thing has been known to happen (this is not the first time we have received this type of question) and it can certainly place a strain on a marriage. I'm not sure if I can help you out with your relationship, but I can provide you with some information about sleep talking and what we understand about it.

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. When it can be understood, it is not unusual for sleep talking to be about love and sex, among other things. 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. Sleep talking may vary from time to time, depending on levels of stress, amount of sleep, use of alchol, etc.

Oftentimes, the most serious consequence of sleep talking is social embarrassment from unintentionally verbalizing subconscious thoughts or dream content. Of note, sleep talking may occur in non-dream sleep (non-REM sleep) and this may be the case in your situation. What exactly this means and how this relates to your awake experiences is unclear. In other words, I can't tell you with any degree of certainty that what you are saying in your sleep relates to an experience or simply a dream or nothing at all.

If your sleep talking is disrupting your husband's sleep, as it sounds that it might be, then further evaluation should be considered. It might be a good idea for you to discuss this problem with his primary care doctor. A referral to a Sleep Specialist may be necessary to help sort out whether further testing is needed.

In the meantime, practicing good sleep hygiene may help to eliminate or limit the amount of sleep talking that you are doing. Here are some general methods that may help control these symptoms until you can discuss your problem with your doctor:

Keep a "worry list" by the bed side, and write down your thoughts an hour or so before you get into bed, so that you can free up your mind during sleep

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 has plenty of consumer friendly information related to sleep. Good luck!

For more information:

Go to the Sleep Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

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