If you’re prone to sleep talking, or share a bed with someone who is, you’ll know how odd it can be to be woken by the sound of voices - but what does it actually mean? For some, sleep talking is a nightly occurrence, while others only do it occasionally. Some can hold entire conversations with people while they sleep, and others might talk gibberish.
But is sleep talking a reflection of what’s going on in your everyday life, or purely an extension of nonsensical dreams? We spoke with the experts to decode what your sleep talking really means...
Why do some people sleep talk?
“Sleep talking is a type of parasomnia - which is abnormal behaviour during sleep,” explains Ori Leslau, founder at Kally Sleep. “The main symptom of parasomnia is the audible expression that occurs during sleep without the person being aware of it happening."
And you shouldn't be worried if you do talk in your sleep; it happens to the best of us.
“Sleep talking can happen to anyone, is free of known medical risks in most cases (different to breathing conditions like sleep apnea, or catathrenia for example) and some research has found that it is more common in children between the ages of 3-10.
“Experts are not sure why people exactly why people talk in their sleep although there is evidence that it may have a genetic component.”
What triggers sleep talking?
So, if sleep talking is normal, does that mean it's caused by external factors? Sometimes yes. “Sleep talking can be triggered by a range of external variables such as stress, illness, alcohol consumption, sleep deprivation and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression," says Ori.
"Sleep talking can also occur as part of night terrors, sleep waking or sleep apnoea (which would require help of a sleep specialist).”
Is there meaning behind what we say when we’re sleep talking?
While there are whole websites and books dedicated to decoding your dreams, it's not quite so clear what your sleep talking could mean - particularly as it's usually hard to even decipher what's being said. However, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, Silentnight's sleep expert, says we often talk about what's going on in our daily life.
"Sleep talking is about expression - expressing things that we're trying to make sense of or haven't been able to say in our waking hours," Dr Nerina tells Cosmopolitan. "In the case of the latter, repressed emotions, stress and feelings can spill out as sleep talking and might even be accompanied by teeth grinding or bruxism. One way to overcome sleep talking is to simply learn how to express in your waking hours so they don't spill over into your sleep."
So if you're going through a stressful time, it could be coming out as you sleep, in which case talking things through with a therapist could help.
It's not always related to real-life, though. "When we sleep deeply, our unconscious mind has an opportunity to create and roam and make up stories, so not all sleep talking means something specific - it might simply be the creative unconscious mind simply playing," says Dr Nerina. "However, some of the nonsensical or fantasy-type sleep talking might be a desire to do something totally different, to break away from discipline and control and explore new realms.
"If you're talking about your past or childhood and there are some unresolved issues related to your childhood, then it might be a case of unpacking the emotional upsets or traumas through journalling or talking to a therapist. The key thing is whether the outpourings are upsetting or emotional. If they aren't then they are simply insignificant and really nothing to worry about.
"On a practical note, sleep talking can also happen if your nervous system is over-stimulated by excessive exposure to technology before going to bed, excess caffeine, alcohol and sugary snacks or even watching upsetting television programmes before going to bed."
Having quiet time, meditating or reading before you sleep could help solve the issue. But Dr Nerina says if all else fails it could be time to seek help.
"If sleep talking persists and the person starts to become exhausted or stressed then therapeutic support or practising relaxation techniques could be helpful."
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