Why Do People Talk in Their Sleep?

Talking in your sleep can be embarrassing for you and irritating for your listener, but it's not all that uncommon, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Children are especially prone to a nocturnal chit-chat, but some people carry the habit into their adult lives. What's actually happening in your brain when you do it—and should it worry you? Newsweek asked the experts why people talk in their sleep.

he behavior becomes less common as we
The act of talking in our sleep is thought to become less common as we age. nd3000/Getty Images

What Is Sleep Talking?

Dr. Greg Potter, co-founder and chief science officer at Resilient Nutrition and a specialist in sleep, circadian rhythms and metabolism, suggests the phenomenon, which can vary greatly, is surprisingly widespread.

He told Newsweek: "Sleep talking—'somniloquy,' to use the scientific jargon—is a type of parasomnia, a category of sleep disorders made up of unusual behaviors during sleep.

"Please note, however, that sleep talking isn't 'disordered'—it's actually very common.

"Most of us have talked during our sleep, especially in our youth, and sleep talking is usually of no concern. It's just vocalizations that take place during sleep, many of which are gibberish and most of which are forgotten on waking."

A peer-reviewed WebMB article called Talking in Your Sleep also states that many people experience it.

The report adds: "Half of all kids between the ages of three and 10 years old carry on conversations while asleep, and a small number of adults—about 5 percent—keep chit-chatting after they go to bed."

Such nocturnal chatter can commonly be graphic and even X-rated.

Potter said: "The contents of what people say during sleep talking episodes are often quite negative—the word 'no' is often uttered, as are profanities—and the speech tends to have pauses that mimic speaking to someone else.

"This is in line with the idea that sleep talking occurs during interactions in dreams, but sometimes sleep talking might be uncoupled from dreams."

sleep talking
As sleep-talking occurs during momentarily overlapping states of consciousness, it usually lasts mere seconds. LuckyBusiness/Getty Images

What Causes Sleep Talking?

Lloyd Ripley-Evans, a psychologist at workplace mental wellbeing platform Plumm, believes many interrelated reasons could play a role in triggering nighttime ramblings.

He told Newsweek: "Your mental and emotional state can interfere with your sleep and could play a significant role in increasing your chance of experiencing sleep talking episodes.

"Stress, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, high levels of anxiety or schizophrenia have all been found to be prevalent in those experiencing sleep talking episodes.

"Generally, sleep talking should not cause concern; however, if it becomes more frequent or is causing disruption to yourself or others, it may require more attention.

"Talking with your doctor or therapist will help you understand why it's happening and can help you manage your mental health condition, aiming to reduce the instances of sleep talking by treating the cause."

Potter adds there may be even more serious causes. "In rare instances, sleep talking might occur because of something that is not benign."

He said: "For example, there's a sleep disorder named REM sleep behavior disorder, in which people act out their dreams.

Why Do People Talk in Their Sleep,
Experts remain unsure if sleep talking is linked to dreaming as the often surreal chatter talking can take place in any stage of sleep. Prostock-Studio/Getty Images

"This can be quite dangerous, because of both acute safety concerns and the fact that people who have this disorder are prone to certain diseases, such as Parkinson's.

"Distress and some mental health problems, such as a PTSD, also seem to associate with increased sleep talking."

"For the most part, however, sleep talking is of most concern to bed partners who have to put up with being disturbed by the nonsensical utterances of sleep talkers."

The National Library of Medicine journal Genetics of Sleep and Sleep Disorders also suggests there is potentially a genetic link to sleep talking. As a result, people with parents prone to the condition may also be at risk.

Fortunately, although no treatment for sleep talking exists, there are easy ways to help you manage your condition.

Potter said: "For people whose sleep talking is not fueled by something pathological, having good sleep hygiene—limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, sleeping in a cool, dark bedroom, etc—will support sleep health, but there aren't any well-proven antidotes to sleep talking.

"Bed partners of sleep talkers might benefit from using earplugs. In some cases, sleeping in a separate bed might be the best solution."

Why Do People Talk in Their Sleep,
No treatments for sleep talking yet exist, but a sleep expert or a sleep center can possibly help manage the condition. Prostock-Studio/Getty Images