Sleep talking is one of the more common sleep disorders and is more widespread among children and adolescents than adults. However, according to another study, there is no difference in the frequency of occurrence between males and females. It can also occur during rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.
There is little research to explain why sleep talking occurs. This might be because it has few health or adverse health consequences other than disturbing the sleep of others.
Keep reading to learn more about possible causes, side effects, and some prevention tips for sleep talking.
Experts are not entirely sure why sleep talking occurs in some people and not in others. Generally, those who talk in their sleep do not have any underlying health conditions.
While sleep talking is generally a harmless and random event, sometimes it has associations with serious illnesses, such as Parkinson’s disease. A study found that people with Parkinson’s were seven times more likely to experience REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD).
RBD is a sleep disorder that involves physically acting out vivid, sometimes unpleasant dreams with vocal sounds and sudden, often violent arm and leg movements during REM sleep
Research also shows that the frequency of sleep talking among those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other psychiatric conditions is twice as high as for those without such disorders. For example, PTSD increases the odds of REM sleep behavior disorder and other parasomnias in veterans.
Typically, sleep talking is harmless, but it can disrupt the sleep of others. This can lead to outcomes such as increased daytime sleepiness due to a lack of restful sleep.
Furthermore, a person does not know what they are saying while they are sleeptalking, and sometimes, they may say personal things that might adversely affect relationships.
Recurrent episodes of sleep talking in addition to other parasomnias, such as sleepwalking, teeth grinding, or nightmare disorder, in adults might indicate an underlying sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea.
If people are worried about their lack of sleep, or quality of sleep, a medical professional or sleep specialist may be able to help.
Sleep talking episodes are typically brief. However, a doctor or sleep specialist may be able to help if:
- an adult with no know previous history starts sleep talking
- sleep talking accompanies violent movements and dream reenactment while still asleep, also known as REM movement disorder
- recurrent sleep talking interferes with a person’s or their partner’s sleep
If sleep talking happens more often, becomes a problem, or accompanies other parasomnia behavior, taking part in a lab sleep study, or polysomnography, might help rule out other sleep disorders that could contribute to sleep talking.
Management strategies for parasomnias, such as sleep talking, vary according to the type of movement or behavior a person experiences, the frequency and severity of the episodes, and the presence of an underlying sleep or other medical or neurologic disorder.
Infrequent sleep talking does not usually require treatment. Effective pharmacologic therapy is available for certain disorders, such as RBD. In all cases, counseling on common triggers, such as sleep deprivation and alcohol use, can often help. It is also important to establish a safe sleeping environment.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
One type of therapy that might help is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on changing behaviors and thoughts patterns, improving emotional regulation, and strengthening coping mechanisms.
CBT targets sleep talking by helping people employ relaxation skills, leading them through instruction that they can then use to reduce their anxiety.
Research from 2013 shows improvement in parasomnia disorders for 6 out of 6 people who underwent CBT or hypnosis treatment. However, it is important to note this is a very small sample size, and the study did not look specifically at sleep talking but sleep disorders in general.
A 2015 literature review suggests similar findings but acknowledges that far more studies into the efficacy of CBT for the treatment of parasomnias must take place before researchers have definitive evidence to support these early findings.
While the data shows that CBT may help to reduce parasomnia activity, there is no definitive solution to stop sleep talking.
Avoiding stress and getting enough restful sleep each night may help reduce sleep talking occurrences. Keeping a sleep diary may also help people notice patterns in their bedtime habits that may contribute to sleep talking tendencies.
Abnormal movements and behaviors during sleep, such as sleep talking, are part of a larger group of nocturnal events that may occur during wakefulness, the transition into or out of sleep, or during sleep itself.
Sleep talking is a relatively common manifestation of parasomnia that primarily affects children and adolescents. It may resolve on its own, but it is always important to look for and address an underlying cause, particularly when it occurs in adults.
CBT could be one way of preventing sleep talking, but research is in its early stages.
Sometimes, improving the quantity and quality of sleep may help to prevent episodes of sleep talking.
If a person is concerned about their sleep and that sleep talking may have links to another sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea, a doctor or sleep specialist can help.