People have different needs related to sleep. Some need 10 hours of sleep everyday, while some may feel fresh by sleeping for just 6 hours. Sleep has a very deep connection with our physical and mental states. During fevers or other infections, some may feel the need to sleep more, while some may find it difficult to fall asleep altogether, still others may sleep in fits and starts. Some people sleep more when depressed, while others suffer from insomnia.
Sleep is a basic process of our body. And disorders related to it reflect bodily maladaptations. Largely, sleep disorders are of two kinds: dyssomnias and parasomnias. While dyssomnias refer to abnormal sleeping—too many or too few hours of sleep, parasomnias cover abnormal activities done by a person during sleep and include sleep terror, nightmare, sleep talking and sleepwalking disorders.
What is sleep talking?
Somniloquy or sleep talking is a parasomnia that refers to talking in one’s sleep. The talking can be quite loud and can vary from being simple sounds to long speeches. It can even occur many times in a sleep cycle. Sufferers have no control over what they say and can say things they would otherwise not say when conscious. They often never remember doing so, and are quite shocked when informed of the things they said while sleeping. Their voices and the type of language they use may sound different from their wakeful speech. Sleep talking may be spontaneous or induced by conversation with the one sleeping beside.
Is it harmful?
Sleep talking is harmless to the talker but can be very annoying to the person sleeping close by. Though rare, some are known to yell out and frighten those sleeping around them. The worst repercussion of sleep talking is social humiliation and embarrassment. Because of this, sleep talkers are afraid to sleep away from home. A normal sleeper may suffer from insomnia in such circumstances.
Usually, children tend to talk in their sleep more than adults. The reason for this is the immature state of their brain and their incomplete sleep cycles. Though a child’s sleep talking may scare parents, it is harmless. Most children eventually grow out of this behaviour. A recent study on toddlers found that over 80 per cent talk in their sleep, a much higher percentage than kids who sleepwalk, wet their beds, or suffer night terrors.
What causes it?
Sleep talking may be brought on by stress, depression, fever, sleep deprivation, daytime drowsiness, medications and alcohol. Eating close to bedtime can also trigger sleep talking. In many instances, sleep talking runs in families, although external factors seem to stimulate the behaviour. It may also occur with other sleeping disorders like sleepwalking and nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder, a condition in which a person eats while asleep. People who suffer from sleep apnoea are more prone to talk in their sleep because they often fail to sleep soundly.
In rare cases, the adult-onset of frequent sleep talking is associated with psychiatric disorders or nocturnal seizures. Sleep talking associated with mental or medical illness occurs more commonly in persons over 25 years of age.
When to seek medical care
Sleep talking is not a relatively serious condition unless it is caused by another underlying medical condition or sleeping disorder.
In order to decide if medical intervention is required, there are factors that need to be taken into account. One is the frequency of the occurrence and another is the intensity. When sleep talking becomes very frequent, emotional, aggressive, abusive or dramatic, this may signal a need for urgent medical or professional attention.
Can it be treated?
Sleep talking rarely requires treatment. However, if it is the result of another more serious sleep disorder or medical/emotional condition, it should be treated promptly. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options. Keep a sleep diary that can help identify your sleep patterns. It will also help your doctor find out if an underlying problem is causing you to talk in your sleep. Every day for two weeks, note the time you go to bed, the approximate time when you think you fell asleep, and woke up. Write down the following:
- the medicines you take, and the time of day you take them
- the drinks you’ve had you each day and when, especially drinks such as cola, tea, coffee, and alcohol
- the time you’ve exercised
- the number of hours you worked and the stress levels of each day.
You could even seek external help recording your sleep habits. Ask someone in your family to help you make notes. You can even use an audio recording device, which remains idle until it detects a sound to record when and what you speak.
Put the problem to sleep
Some ways to help minimise sleep talking episodes:
- Get enough rest; sleep deprivation increases somniloquy.
- Develop relaxing pre-sleep habits such as having a warm bath or a light bedtime snack, drinking warm milk, listening to soft music or reading for 10 minutes.
- Go to bed, only when you feel sleepy.
- Avoid consuming caffeine and alcohol, watching TV, smoking, and having heavy meals at bedtime.
- Make sure the bedroom is quiet, cosy, and conducive to sleep. Keep noise to a minimum while you are trying to sleep.
- Reduce day-to-day stress levels by exercising, stretching or practising yoga on a regular basis.
- Keep a regular schedule for meals, medications, chores, and other activities.
- Include food that contains tryptophan in your diet like wheat germ, cottage cheese, milk, eggs, and almonds. Tryptophan increases the level of serotonin [sleep hormone] in your body, and promotes sleep.
- Avoid taking sleeping pills. Most doctors avoid prescribing sleeping pills for periods longer than three weeks.
- Help your partner or roommate sleep better by getting some earplugs or white noise [such as a fan] for him or her.
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