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

Sleep Disorders

Sleep Talking. Reflection of Real Life?

11/24/2009

Question:

The other night I had a bizarre experience. My wife started a conversation with another man while sleeping. In the conversation she was at the office where she works. And she was asking him not to go to see her in that moment. Then she would say: Please not now! Do not complicate things. You are going to complicate things now. Ok, Tuesday at the office, at 6 pm. She mentioned the real location of the office and other things that are real. The conversation was like she was having an affair. All this happened as she was sleeping. Then she got aroused and started to have sex with me. But I realized that, based on what she was saying, in her mind, or dreams she was having sex with another man.

When she finished, she realized it was me, and reacted scared and left the bed and went to the wahsroom. I felt weird. Did not know how to react. I do not want to be unfair, but I`m confused. I told her about it and she said that she does not recall anything. That it has no relation to real life at all. That she was totally in her sleep.

Could this situation be a reflection of a situation that is happening in real life?

Thank you very much.

Answer:

That’s quite a story and sounds like a difficult situation. I’m not sure if I can help you with your relationship, but I can provide you with some information about sleep talking and sleep-related behaviors (also known as parasomnias) and what we understand about these.

Sleep talking, also known as somniloquy, is not an uncommon problem, especially in children. While we don’t know exactly how common talking in sleep is, it is estimated to occur in about half of all children and in about 5% of adults.

Sleep talking can range from infrequent quite sounds to full spoken sentences to singing and shouting. Often, the speech cannot be understood and may sound like mutterings or gibberish. The cause of talking in sleep is not entirely known. Most of the time, the cause of this sleep behavior can not be linked to any identifiable underlying problem or disease. And in most cases, the problem is not serious and tends to resolve over time or with aging. However, in some cases, it has been found to be associated with other sleep-related disorders, such as sleep walking, REM behavior disorder (an unusual disorder in which individuals tend to act out their dreams while asleep), sleep-related epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep apnea, and the nighttime sleep eating syndrome. In addition, in adults who begin sleep talking in adulthood (in other words, they did not do this as a child), there may be a higher rate of psychiatric disorders. However, most adults who talk in their sleep do not have these problems.

Oftentimes, the most serious consequence of sleep talking is social embarrassment from unintentionally verbalizing subconscious thoughts or dream content. This may be the case in your situation, where your wife may be verbalizing dream content. What exactly this means and how this relates to her awake experiences is unclear. In other words, I can’t tell you with any degree of certainty that what she is saying in her sleep relates to an experience or simply a dream.

Now, on to the issue of a possible parasomnia. There are a number of different parasomnias, ranging from sleepwalking and sleep terrors to behaviors associated with dreams to a number of other sleep-related behaviors (such as eating during sleep, bedwetting, etc). The behavior you describe, having sex while still asleep, could suggest a possible parasomnia. Most parasomnias occur during either slow wave sleep or REM (dream) sleep. Slow wave sleep (or deep sleep) disorders often occur early in the night (when most slow wave takes place). It is very difficult to awaken individuals from slow wave sleep and they often have little recall of their behaviors. On the hand, REM behavior disorder is an uncommon condition in which individuals lose the muscle paralysis that usually accompanies REM sleep and thus may act out their dreams. This tends to occur later in the night and most individuals have some recall of what they were doing. Depending on the nature of the dream state, this can often lead to injurious behavior from falling out of bed, running into walls or furniture or hitting objects. It is more commonly seen in middle to older aged men, but can occur in women as well.

The cause of most parasomnias are not entirely known. In some cases, a change in medication, new medications, sleep deprivation, stress, or medical illness may bring on a parasomnia. However, in many cases, these conditions are idiopathic, meaning we don’t know for sure what causes these behaviors. It’s also possible that the symptoms you describe may also be the result of another primary sleep disorder that is mimicking a slow wave sleep parasomnia or REM behavior disorder. These might include obstructive sleep apnea, sleep-related epilepsy (seizures), and sleep-related dissociated disorders.

If this was an isolated incident, then your wife probably does not need further medical evaluation from a sleep disorder standpoint. However, if these types of behaviors are recurrent, then it might be a good idea to discuss them with her primary care doctor, who can place a referral to a Sleep Specialist to help sort out whether further testing is needed. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you if what happened was related to a real-life occurrence or not.

If you would like additional information regarding sleep and sleep disorders, you can obtain it on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. This website also contains a list of Sleep Centers across the country so you can locate one near you if need be. Good luck!

For more information:

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

Response by:

Dennis   Auckley, MD Dennis Auckley, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University