Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Sleep talking: Do you talk in your sleep?

Sleep talking is one of a group of sleep problems known as the parasomnias (which includes sleepwalking and night terrors). Many of us occasionally mutter or grunt in our sleep, but it's not that common to speak at any length or frequently (and very rare to talk night after night as your partner does). However, some people seem to be more prone to talking at length during their sleep.

Variability of Sleep talking

All sleep talking episodes vary but typically the person starts while in deep sleep (level 3 and 4 sleep) but not necessarily just during rapid eye movement sleep, as has been suggested.

Although they often appear to talk quite lucidly, as if part of a dream, only in extreme cases does the talking appear to be acting out a dream. Most of the time it appears to be a separate phenomenon.

The person often appears animated or distressed about whatever they're saying, and may be moving around in the bed at the same time, sometimes actually getting up and sleepwalking. Sometimes they wake with a sense of deep anxiety or unease, but the next morning the person usually has no recollection of what happened during the night.

Harmless except for partners

Sleep talking is quite harmless - except of course for all the worry it causes the person's partner - and sometimes the shock of being woken in the night by a voice.

The cause isn't clear but it seems to be more common when a person is experiencing high levels of stress, or is ill for another reason. It may also be linked to sleep terrors in children, and sleep apnoea in adults (does your partner snore, is he middle aged, overweight and excessively sleepy during the day?).

Treat the stress

There may be little you can do to stop the talking but:
  • Help your partner to identify and deal with the stress in his life.
  • Suggest he checks with his doctor that he doesn't have sleep apnoea.
  • Help to ensure he's getting all the sleep he needs, with good sleep 'hygiene', such as regular hours and a cool peaceful environment.

Try not to focus too much on what he's actually saying. We tend to search too hard for the meaning of dreams but it's a mistake to take too literally what a sleep talker says. Despite the theories of the various psychoanalysts and dream interpreters over the decades there's still little evidence that what we dream about, or talk about in our sleep, in any significant way reflects what is going on in our conscious mind.

Some of the things in our dreams (such as people or places) ARE connected to what's going on in our waking hours, but the events rarely are. Making your own theory to link them together could be dangerous.

Explain that you hear him talking (and what he says) and that you're upset or worried by it. It may surprise him, or he may be able to explain it.

References: Somniloquy
Tags: sleep talking disorder

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