Somniloquy (Sleep Talking): Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Do people tell you that you speak at night but you don’t remember it? Does anyone at your home has a habit of mumbling, whispering or shouting in their sleep? It is a disorder but you don’t have to worry unless it is frequent and disturbing as it is not a medical problem. But it can be very embarrassing and should be handled with care.

Somniloquy is a type of parasomnia which is generally known as sleep talking. People do not take it as a problem but sleep talking is also a sleep disorder like insomnia or narcolepsy. Somniloquy is a nervous system problem in which a person shows unusual and abnormal behavior during sleep. People with somniloquy talk aloud in their sleep. The way they talk varies and can be shouts or mumbling in small voice. Most of the times, the speech is not very understandable and coherent. The things they speak can also be offensive.

sleep talking

The person with sleep talking disorder can talk in sleep many times in a single sleep cycle mostly during the Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep stage 1 and 2 like in sleep walking and night terrors, especially if the transition between one stage to another is not smooth. When it happens during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, it takes the form of motor breakthrough or dream speech. In REM sleep, the body has a kind of temporary paralysis which does not let the person do what they are dreaming during sleep.

Sleep talking is not only a disorder in itself but also a symptom of many other sleep disorders like rapid eye movement behavior disorder (RBD), sleepwalking, night terrors, sleep-related eating disorder (SRED), etc. It usually happens to be a symptom if the talk is dramatic and profane. 

Sleep talking is not a harmful disorder but is disturbing to other people sleeping near someone who sleeptalks. Similarly, partners can also watch out for the symptoms for other sleep disorders as the sleeping person cannot do it by themselves.

Causes of Somniloquy

Sleep talking is very common in children, about 50 % children are told to have sleep talking by studies, whereas about 5 % adults are reported to have it. It becomes less common as a person ages.

Sleep talking is a hereditary problem in most cases. The children of parents who sleep talk are more likely to have sleep talking problems too. But, in some cases, children whose parents do not have sleep talking problems also have it. Some adults start the sleep talking problem in later in life too, even after they have children and they do not have previous history of talking in their sleep. This kind of sleep talking can occur due to stress, depression and some other mental disorders. It can also start due to fever or sleep deprivation. Though the disorder is hereditary, it is stimulated by external factors. Some other factors that cause sleep talking are medications, alcohol or substance abuse. The cause of sleep talking might be something serious, so the cause has to be found out. Toddlers have it more and about 80% of them talk in sleep.

Symptoms of Somniloquy

Sleep talking happens at any kind of sleep and in any stage. If the sleep is light, the speech is clearer but if the sleep is deep, then what is spoken is undistinguishable and gibberish. Some of the major symptoms of sleep talking are:

  • Any kind of speech during sleep
  • The sleep talker might not be aware about their habit when he/she wakes up
  • Other psychiatric and psychological disorders such as depression and stress
  • Different types of depressive disorders increase chances that you are a somniloquist too
  • Different medical disorders like fever, weakness
  • Other types of sleep disorders: Night terrors, Sleep Apnea, Somnambulism, etc.
  • Sudden Awakenings with confusion

The symptoms depend on the severity of the disorder. For mild somniloquy, the episodes of sleep talking happens once a week or less whereas in moderate somniloquy, it can happen more than once a week. In severe somniloquy, sleep talking happens every night and might disturb the victim's partners.

The symptoms also depend upon the duration of somniloquy episodes. In acute somniloquy the duration is less than a month, in sub-acute it happens for more than a month but less than a year and in chronic it happens for more than a year or throughout lifetime.

Treatment of Somniloquy

sound sleep

It is good to ask about the problem in your regular doctor check-up just in case it might be a symptom of something else. If the disorder is not chronic and severe, no treatment is needed. Doctor must be consulted if there is fear and violence involved in speech. It is also necessary to treat if the disorder is affecting your partner or parents or others. If the condition is too disturbing, the problem might be severe or it might just be a symptom of other sleeping or psychiatric disorders. You can also tell a doctor if you or your partner does not get good sleep and feel fatigued and sleepy during the day. So, you must visit a doctor or sleep specialist as the underlying medical reason might be different. You should be taking a partner or someone who has witnessed it with you when you go to the doctor. The doctor can take tests such as sleep study tests or polysomnogram (sleep recording) and find out if your disorder suggests some other serious disorder.

Other lifestyle changes and home remedies might also help to reduce the problem. You should avoid stress and get good sleep if you suffer from somniloquy. You should not have heavy meals before sleeping and get enough rest. You should not have alcoholic drinks or any kind of drugs. You can even use a sleep diary to make it easy for the doctor to diagnose the problem in which you can include the time you went to bed, the time you fell asleep, the time woke up, if you had any alcoholic or caffeinated drinks, your medications and exercises. You should follow a strict sleep schedule. You should not be having sleep debt. If you say the same thing every night, you might be having nocturnal seizures. Partners can use earplugs and other white noise like that of fans.