Home HealthTopics Health Centers Reference Library Research
Join us on Facebook Join us on Facebook Share on Facebook

Sleep Disorders

Sleep Talking

09/05/2008

Question:

My boyfriend talks in his sleep saying violent things. I know he would not hurt me, but I do worry that this is affecting his sleep. He doesn`t talk every night. Is there any help for him?

Answer:

Parasomnias are undesirable events that occur during sleep or during the transition between wakefulness and sleep. Sleep talking is one of the most common parasomnias. Depending on their context, parasomnias may be disturbing to people having them, or may appear scary to those observing people having them.

During sleep talking episodes, it is not unusual to voice nonspecific violent words that are not necessarily related to dream content. This may affect trust in any relationship. Although people with parasomnias may appear awake during their odd episodes, they rarely remember these events. This is why complaints about sleep talking are usually reported by bed partners of those who sleep talk, and not by the sleep talkers themselves.

Most people who sleep talk do so during non-REM (non dream) sleep. During non-REM sleep we retain our ability to move and talk, as opposed to during REM sleep (or dream sleep), where we are practically paralyzed. There are a few people, however, who have a different sleep problem called “REM behavior disorder” or RBD. In RBD, the acting out of dreams may result in moving and making sounds that correspond closely to dream content. If a dream is vivid, involving a fight-or-flight situation, the person may move in a like manner during their sleep, that is, they may attempt to fight or run away during their sleep. These episodes are sudden, sharp, and short lived, resulting in an arousal with clear memory of the dream sequence.

I understand how this can be stressful to you. Since these episodes don’t occur nightly, you may be able to identify any precipitating factors. Usual factors include stress, a lack of adequate sleep, certain medications or drugs, use of certain substances (especially alcohol), and the presence of particular medical conditions that affect sleep (such as obstructive sleep apnea).

If you are unable to identify a specific lifestyle issue that may be leading to the sleep talking (such as lack of sleep or alcohol use), then further evaluation should be considered and an appointment with a sleep specialist would be reasonable, as many conditions may mimic parasomnias. Primary sleep disorders that have been associated with sleep talking include sleep disordered breathing, RBD, nocturnal seizures, and psychogenic dissociative disorders. To exclude some of these conditions, testing, including a video recorded sleep study, may be needed.

Here are some general methods that may help control parasomnia symptoms that you could try at home:

Additional information regarding sleep can be obtained on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. This website contains a list of Sleep Centers across the country so you can find one if you need it. I wish you best of luck.

For more information:

Go to the Sleep Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Ziad  Shaman, MD Ziad Shaman, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University