Sleep talking — what am I saying?

Originally Published: February 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: January 28, 2011
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Dear Alice.

For the past two weeks, my roommate has been noticing that I talk in my sleep. It's not that it bothers him, because he's usually up at night anyway, but it bothers me. I wonder what I say while I am unaware (he never seems to remember) and I wonder why I just started doing this. Things were quiet around here first semester. Is this kind of thing stress-related? (I've got plenty of that recently...) Is it random? Am I losing my mind?

Mumbles.

Dear Mumbles,

First, you are not losing your mind! Second, the sleep-talking could be stress-related. Whether you're singing opera, rambling about the weather, or speaking a mystery tongue, the exact causes of sleep talking are difficult to pinpoint. Sleep talking, also known as parasomnia or somniloquy, is seldom considered to have any medical or psychological consequences. Many people do not even realize that they are talking in their sleep until a bed partner, roommate, or somebody else who happens to be nearby, tells them.

Sleep talking is often a short-term issue for many people. Certain underlying factors such as stress, lack of sleep, not eating enough, or heavy meals just before bedtime, are thought to be common catalysts for sleep talking episodes. For more information on ways to address sleep talking, see Sleep Talking.

If your roommate usually cannot remember what you say in your sleep, it is likely that your sleep talking either makes no sense at all or that you are not making any substantive speeches. In any case, keeping the lines of communication open (while you're wide awake) is a great starting point for a conversation about how you feel regarding your sleep talking. If it bothers you that your roommate can hear you sleep talking, it may be helpful to talk about why you are uncomfortable, as well as possible solutions. Perhaps a different ambience in your shared space may facilitate a better nights rest for you and, subsequently, decrease your sleep talking incidences.   

From clear monologues to gibber-jabber, a sleep talker's speech may be completely unrelated to anything in his or her life. Whether or not the sleep talker is clear in their words mostly depends on his or her stage of sleep, and any underlying heath conditions. Sleep talking is generally harmless, with no bearing on a person's medical or mental status.However, should a person's sleep talking become loud, dramatic, emotional, or offensive, it may be a symptom of an underlying disorder, such as:

  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD)
  • Sleepwalking
  • Sleep terrors
  • Confusional arousals
  • Somnambulism
  • Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome
  • Sleep related eating disorder
  • Non-sleep related issues, including a medical condition, medication use, or substance abuse

If you are concerned about the origins of your sleep taking, it may be a good idea to speak with your health care provider. They may be able to refer you to a sleep specialist. Columbia students can make an appointment through Open Communicator or by calling Primary Care Medical Services at x4-2284. If you are having more general troubles sleeping or just want more information on getting adequate zzz's, visit Columbia University's A!sleep site to complete a personalized sleep assessment and for sleep information, resources, and tools to help you achieve a good night's rest.

Whether or not you slumber without a sound, you can still sleep tight and don't let the bedbugs bite!

Alice