Rita Thomson, a banker, spent sleepless nights many a times due to her husband John’s habit of talking in his sleep. John would blabber about his day and even touch upon some of their conversations. While this was an innocent case of talking in sleep, it did have an effect on her health and even on their relationship. Says Rita,

“Finally we decided to seek help and now we have managed to bring it under control. It wasn’t a serious problem but it kept me awake at night!”

What’s sleep talking?

The medical term for ‘sleep talking’ is ‘somniloquy‘. The causes could range from harmless to serious health disorders and research also points towards genetics. The ‘talk’ can be a conversation with self, or at times addressed to someone. It’s either mumble or at times, articulate speech. According to clinical psychologist, Dr Kanan Khatau Chikhal,

“Sleep is a time for rest and rejuvenation. It is the time our body and mind takes to process, digest and recalibrate. While the conscious mind is resting, the subconscious is awake. During sleep, voluntary activities of the body, like walking, stop, but involuntary activities, like the beating of heart, continue.”

The main causes

There are many reasons why this happens…

  • Sleep deprivation: When you haven’t slept enough, you need deep sleep to make up for the lost hours and this can lead to talking in your sleep.
  • Health issues: Long term illness, especially fever, makes you more prone to it.
  • Emotional problems: An introvert nature combined with loneliness increases anxiety levels, raising the possibility of expressing thoughts while being asleep.
  • Stress: It could be work-related or personal but immense stress can trigger this problem.
  • Weight: Those who suffer from obesity-related sleep apnoea or those with nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (where the sufferer might eat whilst in a state of sleep) show high incidences of sleep talking.

How to deal with it

Talking in sleep is a natural way of cleansing negative thoughts or suppressed emotions trapped in the subconscious mind, say experts. “It would help if the person experiencing this can talk to a partner or friend about their feelings without any risk of negative consequences,”.

Doctors also suggest maintaining a sleep diary which helps in treating the condition. The diary should have details like time of going to bed, time of drifting off to sleep, the time when you wake up. Apart from this, things like medicines taken, fitness activities through the day and food and drinks consumed in the evening should also be noted. After maintaining this diary for at least 2-4 weeks, a sleep pattern can be interpreted. A family member can help with the sleep talking pattern and an expert can guide you to take corrective measures if you want to reduce incidences of talking in your sleep.

When kids talk in their sleep

It is disturbing for many parents to find their children talking in their sleep and they are eager to find out the causes and remedies for the same. Dr Kanan, who also coaches children on life skills for enhancing their leadership and emotional quotient for performance, says,

“There is a gateway in the brain that shuts down when we sleep. We don’t walk, talk or eat in our sleep. This gateway closes by the time a child is 3 to 4 years old. However, if the brain for some reason keeps this gateway partially open, it is receiving input that the mind and body are awake. A child experiences this if he is in a hyper active state of mind or has not been able to express certain emotions during the day. However, parents should know that sleep talking is not a medical or abnormal condition. Anyone, be it a child or a grownup, can go through this.”

However, for parents who are anxious about their children being affected by this, here are a few tips:

  • Reduce intake of sugar for the child post 7 pm, since glucose makes them more energetic and alert.
  • Give the child your time, focus and energy through the day. Talk to them beyond academics, so that they can express themselves.
  • Expressive mediums like art, dance and drama can help a child emote, express, speak up and stand up for himself if he/she is being bullied at school.
  • Teach children to clear their mind before going to sleep by throwing emotions in an imaginary waste basket.
  • Under an expert’s guidance you can teach them to use techniques like diaphragmatic breathing and walking meditation to calm the mind before they sleep, which signals the brain to shut down the gate way.
  • If the sleep talking is accompanied by night terror, then therapy by an expert might be needed.

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