Somniloquy: The Sounds of Sleep Talking

Written by Tyler Jamison with contributions from Kevin Morton & the Stanford Sleep Book

Who Sleep Talks? | Cause For Concern? | When Does It Happen? | Treatment

Somniloquy, or sleep talking, is the production of speech or sounds during sleep without the person being aware. The sleep talking can range from basic sounds to lengthy sentences and can occur infrequently or multiple times throughout the same night.

The content of somniloquy can range from being totally harmless to very offensive language with vulgarity, as humourously demonstrated recently by Adam and his wife Karen on their blog Sleep Talkin' Man.

Episodes of somniloquy can range from a few utterances to much longer episodes of several minutes. Most last around 30 seconds.

Somniloquy is a kind of parasomnia, which is defined as an abnormal behavior that occurs when an individual is sleeping. It is extremely common and it is not deemed to be a serious medical threat.

Dr. Dement

Dr. D's Sleep Book Says...

Sleep talking is almost always a benign phenomenon and seldom represents a significant sleep disorder.... [It] typically becomes a problem only when it is sufficiently frequent or loud enough to disturb the sleep of others. Occasional episodes are almost universal.

Who Sleep Talks?

There are a lot of people who talk in their sleep throughout the world. About 50% of children between the ages of 3 and 10 and 5% of adults talk during sleep, with wide ranges in the frequency of episodes.

A poll that took place in 2004 showed that roughly 10% of children talk in their sleep at least a few nights per week. Researchers believe that somniloquy might run in families and that it occurs in females just as much as in males. In addition, a recent study showed that about 80% of toddlers talk in their sleep.

Sleep talkers are not aware that they are talking in their sleep and usually speak in a very dry tone without much emotion.

Do you sleep talk? Share your experience with us!

Is Sleep Talking Something To Be Concerned With?

Sleep experts do not consider somniloqy a major problem unless it is accompanied by other disorders, such as sleep apnea. Chronic sleep talking can be related to intercurrent sleep disturbances, which apnea creates. So in this light, while sleep talking itself is not harmful, it could be a warning sign of a greater problem if it occurs chronically.

Additionally, REM sleep behavior disorder and sleep terrors can cause some individuals to shout in their sleep.

Children who have sleep terrors often demonstrate somniloquy and/or somnambulism (sleepwalking) as well. In this light, sleep talking can again be viewed as a possible sign that something else may be going on if other abnormal behaviors during sleep warrant that thinking.

Somniloquy can also occur in people who possess nocturnal sleep related eating disorder, take specific medications, have emotional problems, or have a fever. Furthermore, anxiety and stress make people more prone to talk in their sleep. This said though, researchers still have little idea why somniloquy actually occurs.

As mentioned in Dr. D's Sleep Book above, sleep talking should be addressed if it disturbs the sleep of a partner or roommate. You can explore some possible treatments of somniloquy here.

When Do Sleep Talking Episodes Take Place?

The occurrence of somniloquy often takes place during NREM sleep transitory arousals during NREM stages 1 and 2, but can take place at any stage of sleep. These arousals take place when an individual does not move efficiently from one NREM sleep stage to the next, resulting in a partial arousal that can trigger an episode.

Somniloquy also may take place in REM sleep, where words and sentences that are spoken in dreams are actually spoken out loud.

While talking during sleep can happen during any sleep stage, people tend to speak clearer and more intelligible during lighter sleep (NREM stages 1 and 2).

How Is Sleep Talking Treated?

If the frequency of sleep talking is bothering the family and disrupting sleep for others, there are some things you can keep in mind that may reduce the frequency and severity of episodes:

  • Make sure the sleep talker gets plenty of sleep every night, someone who is sleep deprived is more likely to sleep talk than someone who is well rested.
  • Reduce the stress and anxiety levels of the individual, as stress can strengthen the likelihood and severity of episodes.
  • Keep to a regular schedule of going to bed and getting up at the same time.
  • Don't eat a heavy meal right before bedtime.
  • If an episode occurs, make sure the sleep talker is safe, and gently soothe them if necessary.

There is no one method to stop or increasingly reduce sleep talking. However, as stated in the bullet points above, avoiding things that cause anxiety and stress as well as reducing one's sleep debt can make an individual much less likely to talk during sleep.

In addition, recording a sleep diary can also be helpful. It may allow an individual suffering from somniloquy, or his or her doctor, to identify sleep patterns; this, in turn, may reveal problems that cause the sleep talking. If you have somniloquy and would like to keep a sleep diary, should keep a sleep diary for two weeks and should record the times that he or she goes to bed, when he or she falls asleep, and when he or she wakes up. Also, the medicines a person takes and the time of day that he or she takes them, what drinks a person has each day and at what time, and when you exercise should all be recorded.

If somniloquy occurs as an adult or if it involves violence and screaming than it would be in a person's best interest to see a sleep specialist. If sleep talking is interfering with a child's sleep then his or her parents should contact a pediatrician. While no tests are required to diagnose somniloquy, a doctor may order a sleep recording if symptoms of another sleep disorder seem like they could be present. Even though somniloquy doesn't usually need treatment, extreme sleep talking has the possibility of being a side effect of another sleep disorder that should be treated.


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Do You Have A Sleep Talking Story or Question?

Do you talk during your sleep? Do you have a story about your sleep talking or that of a friend, spouse, or roommate? We would love to hear about it!

Share your story, thoughts, and questions about somniloquy with the world by writing in the form below. Once you have, your submission will be able to be commented on by us and our visitors.

Read Other Sleep Talking Stories

Click on the links below to read other stories, thoughts, and questions about sleep talking. They were all written by other visitors to this page, just like you.

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Where to go from here:

Go from Somniloquy to Somnambulism

Learn more about the various Types of Sleep Disorders

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