This Is the Real Reason You Talk in Your Sleep

If you've ever said something utterly bizarre in your sleep before, science can explain why.

When we’re sleeping, our minds drift off to someplace far, far away—where you apparently need to set burrito traps, warn the Queen to stay away from spaghetti, and have a dedicated team of koalas do your work for you. Yes, our brains come up with some hilariously bizarre things while we’re in dreamland, but have you ever stopped to wonder exactly how those thoughts escape into reality?

Sleep talking, which is formally called somniloquy, is exactly what its nickname suggests: unknowingly talking in your sleep. An estimated five percent of adults talk in their sleep, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and men tend to sleep talk more than women. It’s also more common in children, though many of them grow out of it. Episodes of talking in your sleep can range from brief mumbling and gibberish to full-on monologues. Some people even have entire conversations with the people around them while they’re snoozing. (This is especially common if the sleep talking is onset by someone trying to speak to the sleeping person.)

“All of our parasomnias, whether it be sleep talking or sleepwalking, often occur during the transition between different stages of sleep,” explains Michelle Drerup, PsyD, Director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “We usually think of sleep and wake as an on/off switch, but it’s more like a dimmer light.” Parasomnias refer to sleep talking and a variety of other sleep disorders such as sleep walking, sleep paralysis and nightmares.

While the National Sleep Foundation notes that talking in your sleep can occur at any stage of snoozing, it’s most comprehensible during REM sleep. Most of the time, however, these spurts of sleep talking are pretty short-lived and not the product of a rational mind.

So what causes someone to sleep talk? Well, a few things have been noted, including stress, depression, sleep deprivation, daytime drowsiness, alcohol, and fever as common potential culprits. Sleep talking could also be hereditary or result from a sleep disorder like nightmares or sleep apnea. (Check out these other sleep disorders you should know about.) In rare cases, sleep talking in adults might be associated with psychological disorders or nocturnal seizures.

But sleep talking itself isn’t physically harmful, and believe it or not, it’s not even disruptive to your sleep, says Drerup. Of course, it can be disruptive to your bed partner’s or roommate’s sleep. It can also cause embarrassment when visiting family and friends or going on vacation with others.

While you can’t really stop sleep talking altogether, you can decrease its likelihood. “The best thing would be to avoid the triggers, so if it’s brought about by stress, decrease stress or find other ways to deal with the stress,” advises Drerup. “And make sure you’re getting an adequate amount of sleep because it’s more likely to occur if you’re in a state of sleep deprivation.”

Avoiding alcohol and heavy meals before bed can also cut down on your late-night chatter. If the sleep talking still doesn’t ease up after you make these adjustments, talk to your doctor about whether an underlying medical condition may be the cause.

That being said, overhearing someone sleep talk does have its humorous perks. Just take a look at these hilarious things people have said in their sleep.

Sources
Medically reviewed by Michael Spertus, MD, on August 08, 2019

Brittany Gibson
Brittany was a digital editorial intern for Reader's Digest and now contributes to RD.com as a freelance writer. Her stories have been picked up by Yahoo, AOL, MSN, INSIDER, Business Insider, Best Health, and other websites. In addition to writing for RD.com, she has also written for Westchester Magazine and uloop.com.