This is why people talk in their sleep

We’ve all got secrets, and spilling the beans when we’re fast asleep is arguably one of our worst nightmares. But studies show sleep talking or sleep speeches are normally made up of gibberish or nonsensical words instead of the deep-seated, heartfelt messages that popular culture (and our deepest fears) make them out to be. Unlike its scientific name — somniloquy — suggests, research has even shown that sleep speeches aren’t long dissertations, but a series of one-to-two second wonders. Sleep scientist Arthur Arkin says sleep talking “reminds one of a seal swimming under water, surfacing for a cordial, peremptory, or meditative bark and deftly resubmerging” (via LiveScience). 

LiveScience also notes sleep talking can happen when you’re in REM (or rapid eye movement, which is when you enter dream state) or non-REM sleep. It’s triggered by a “motor breakthrough,” or what happens when your mouth and vocal cords get switched on during a period when these parts of your body are meant to be resting. It also happens when you’re moving from one stage of sleep to another, and a moment of wakefulness cuts into sleep time. In both cases, the wakefulness might trigger a few words, so if we are in a dream we might speak in character (like we would do if we are in a movie or play), or we might come up with nonsense.

How often does sleep talk happen?

While anyone can experience sleep talking, the National Sleep Foundation says the phenomenon happens more frequently in children and in males. As with some sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep talking can be triggered by stress, depression, bad sleep habits, or illnesses (like a fever). The Foundation also says it is possible for those who sleep talk to experience episodes on a nightly basis, which is categorized as severe; weekly (or considered moderate); or less than weekly, or mild.

Sleep experts don’t think there is a need for people who sleep talk to seek out any medical treatment. But if it gets to be too much for you, the National Sleep Foundation suggests you might want to get help to ensure the nocturnal chattiness is not triggered by a sleep disorder, anxiety, or stress. And before you think sleep talking can lead to new revelations about your partner, both sleep scientists and legal experts agree that sleep talking doesn’t come from a conscious mind so it is not rational. As a result, whatever the sleep talker says can’t be used in court — which means you can’t really use whatever your partner said to pick a fight with him or her either.

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