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Sleep Tips

The Science Behind Sleep Walking and Talking

Most of us have been there before one way or the other – your spouse, roommate or parent tells you all the strange gibberish you rambled in your sleep, or maybe they even had to help you back to bed in the middle of your sleepwalking adventure. Although sleepwalking is more common among children, it can still happen in your adult stages, and could be a sign of a bigger health issue. Sleep talking, however, is more prevalent and can happen during any stage of sleep. Have you ever thought about why we experience these phenomena? We decided to take a look into the science behind these sleep oddities.

Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking is a behavior disorder that typically originates during the stages of deep sleep, most often during the first half of the night and can result in walking or performing complex behaviors while still asleep. These behaviors can be as complicated as cooking, cleaning and even driving a car.

Sleep deprivation, chaotic sleep schedules, fever, stress, vitamin deficiency or alcohol intoxication can all trigger sleepwalking.  Another factor that seems to increase the likelihood of sleepwalking is how long someone is in the deepest stage of sleep. Although there are several “triggers,” scientists still aren’t positive what exactly causes someone to sleepwalk.

Some scientists speculate that it is caused by the brain attempting to directly transition from deep NREM sleep to wakefulness, rather than going through the subsequent stages of the sleep cycle.

Medical Daily explains that the first four stages of sleep are divided into light sleep, consolidated sleep and two stages of slow wave sleep periods. These stages together make up non-rapid eye movement or NREM phases. After that comes REM sleep, the rapid eye movement phase. These cycles each last about an hour and a half. Sleepwalking tends to happen at the tail end of the NREM phases as your body has fallen into a semi-conscious state.

According to WebMD, there is no known way to prevent sleepwalking completely; however, there are several steps you can take to lessen the chance of it happening:

  • Make sure you’re getting adequate sleep
  • Limit stress by meditating or doing relaxation exercises
  • Avoid any kind of stimulation (auditory or visual) before bedtime

Sleep Talking

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep talking is a sleep disorder that happens when someone unknowingly talks during their sleep. Sleep talking can involve intricate dialogues, total nonsense, or quiet mumbling. For most, it’s rare and short-lived and anyone can experience it. It can last as little as a few seconds.

Sleep talking is typically caused by stress, depression, sleep deprivation, day-time drowsiness, alcohol or fever. The behavior can be hereditary, but can also be triggered by outside factors.

Rare examples of sleep speeches have been recorded. They're typically gibberish, but even fluent sleep talk — confessions of wrongdoing, for example — shouldn't be taken literally. According to the National Sleep Foundation, doctors and lawyers agree that sleep speech is not the product of a conscious or rational mind, and it is therefore inadmissible in court.

Generally, no treatment is necessary unless the behavior causing a disturbance to one’s sleep. However, sleep talking can be the result of a bigger problem such as sleep apnea, nightmares or REM sleep behavior disorder.

If you find that sleepwalking or sleep talking is disturbing yours or a loved one’s ability to get a good night sleep, talk to your doctor to make sure it’s not part of a bigger issue. 

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