The Baffling Science Of Adult Sleep Talking

PHOTOGRAPHED BY BIANCA VALLE.
Most sleep talkers are blissfully unaware of their condition. We’re deep in dreamland and apart from the odd sleep-scream that wakes us up from our slumber, it’s mostly a harmless quirk. I’m a sleep-talking veteran — I never grew out of the childhood habit and it has followed me for two decades. 
Sharing a room with siblings and travelling with friends opened my eyes (after I rattled their ears) to the fact that I often yap away when I’m unconscious. Curious, I paid for a sleep-tracking app for half a year that recorded night-time audio movements. Each morning, I eagerly played the audio tracks collated in the hours prior, like it was some personalised podcast.
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Sometimes, I’d be frustrated and grunting short angry sentences. Other times, I’d be holding a decent conversation. Once, I was even overly apologetic while making excuses to cancel plans. “I’ve got to go but I so appreciate this. Thank you, thank you, so, so much,” I said at 1:19am. Awake me feels seen.

Why do we sleep talk?

Scientifically speaking, sleep talking’s medical name is somniloquy. It falls under the umbrella category of sleep disorders, parasomnia. It’s estimated that almost 70% of adults sleep talk at some stage in their lives, but many experts agree that this number may be higher since it typically takes another person to point out the practice. 
Sleepwalking, teeth grinding, nightmares and sexsomnia are also forms of parasomnia. Moira Junge, the CEO of Sleep Health Foundation, shares that these are abnormal behaviours that occur during REM sleep (the dreaming state) or non-REM sleep and may or may not be related to dreams or real-life scenarios.
“We still don’t know entirely why adults sleep talk! It can also occur more frequently with people experiencing PTSD and other mental health conditions, but it’s generally not related to poor mental health,” Rachel Beard, Sleep Wellness Manager of A.H. Beard’s Sleep Wellness Centre, tells Refinery29.
Koala’s Sleep Expert Olivia Arezzolo agrees. “[It] happens to most people from time to time and is usually related to stress. This may be an acute stressor, such as a breakup or change in jobs, or underlying, subconscious stress that has been triggered, often without your conscious awareness,” she tells Refinery29. Arezzolo suggests that abnormal sleeping behaviour and poor sleep hygiene may contribute to someone’s propensity to sleep talk.
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Can you stop yourself from sleep-talking?

Sleep talking is harmless in the way that it doesn’t hurt the performer, though I’d argue that there are consequences associated with the act.
“There’s usually no reason to treat or stop sleep talking as it generally has minimal consequences. However, it can disturb the sleep of others and sometimes be embarrassing which often drives the desire to stop or reduce the frequency of sleep talking,” Junge says.
Another nail-biter is the fear of letting slip something inappropriate or becoming an unconscious potty mouth. For people who do want to get a grasp of their sleep-talking habit, sleep experts recommend facilitating healthy sleep hygiene. Yes, reducing stress and getting more sleep may not be the most groundbreaking answers, but they work for a reason.
“One of the first things to keep in mind is keeping a regular sleeping schedule to avoid becoming over-tired or sleep deprived. Factors like stress and worry can also contribute to sleep deprivation and external factors can also inhibit unlocking a good night’s rest,” Junge says, adding that things like getting seven-to-nine hours of sleep, and creating a before-bed ritual in a sleep-inducing bedroom can help.

What’s the meaning behind different types of sleep-talking patterns?

When I was a pre-teen, my sleep-talking persona was super angsty and pent-up. My older sibling would relay my screams and annoyed huffs and puffs to my sheepish morning self. Over time, my sleep talking has ranged from gibberish to speaking in a different accent. Another time, I sat up in bed and asked my friend for a banana, to which she promptly gave me her pillow (and I gave her mine).
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There’s a lot about sleep we don’t know and sleep talking is one of them. “Unfortunately there’s no reliable research to differentiate between the various types of sleep talking. The way someone sleep talks can relate to information processing of the previous day,” Junge explains.
“Other theories suggest that the more bizarre the sleep-talking content, the more sleep-deprived, stressed and overstimulated the individual is. But, it can also simply just be related to whatever the person happens to be dreaming about at that time.”
For any fellow sleep talkers, know that your night-time chinwags are perfectly safe, no matter what nonsensical sentences you’re stringing together.

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