Do You Talk in Your Sleep?

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If you've got something to say, and you're saying it while you're asleep, you're a member of a select group of adult sleep talkers. Although little is understood about sleep talking, researchers and medical experts agree that it is rarely more than a fleeting disturbance in the night. Here's what they know.

It's estimated that half of all children talk in their sleep, but most grow out of the habit. Only about 5 percent of sleep talkers are thought to chatter into adulthood. Very few clinical studies have been performed to document occurrences of sleep talking and, normally, no attempts are made to treat the condition. Sleep talking is a parasomnia, a disorder that may or may not interrupt your sleep, and that may have underlying psychological or medical causes, such as stress or physical discomfort from an underlying condition, such as sleep apnea, or even a fever.

Sleep talking seems to run in families and this type of nighttime musing often occurs with other forms of parasomnia. For instance, people who talk in their sleep may also walk in their sleep, experience nightmares or grind their teeth at night.

Sleep talking usually occurs during the first two stages of non-REM sleep, which are the lighter stages in the sleep cycle that repeats itself four or five times throughout the night. So you may be talking at different times throughout the entire night. During any stage of sleep, you might also speak the words of a dream out loud.

Although you may speak loudly at times, and quite possibly give a lengthy, coherent speech, most sleep talk is really sleep mumble, so it is unlikely anyone else will understand what you are saying. Even when the words are clear, the message usually isn't. You may even wake up and hear yourself talking, but it's not likely you'll remember what you said unless you were saying it loudly and repeatedly. And then again, you may remember what you said but you won't necessarily know what it means.

In children, boys and girls sleep talk at equal rates but in adults, sleep talking is more common in men than in women. Although most children grow out of sleep talking, most adults who sleep talk started as children. Even if you've been sleep talking as long as you've know how to talk, you may go long periods of time without saying a word at night or without knowing about it even if you did. Then suddenly, you may start talking in your sleep again. There is almost never a cause for concern.

When an adult starts sleep talking for the first time, however, it is more commonly associated with another medical or psychological condition than in an adult who has always been a sleeptalker. If that's the case, and your sleep talking occurs frequently, speak with your primary health care provider, who may refer you to a specialist.

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Hublin, C. et al.; "Parasomnias: Co-Occurrence and Genetics." Psychiatric Genetics 2001 June;11(2):65-70. Web. 17 Feb 2011.

Hublin, C. et al.; "Sleeptalking in Twins: Epidemiology and Psychiatric Comorbidity." Behavior Genetics 1998 Jul;28(4):289-98. Web 17 Feb 2011.