Why do some people walk and talk in their sleep?

By The Health News Team | January 16, 2024
Socks on feet getting out of bed

Most people think of sleepwalking as a gag in a cartoon. They imagine a sleeper clumsily walking with arms outstretched, narrowly avoiding humorous hazards — such as a misplaced garden rake.

While it isn’t extremely common, sleepwalking does happen in real life, confirms Dr. Ari Laliotis, a board-certified internal medicine and sleep medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “Sleepwalking is a typically harmless disorder that usually occurs during the first few hours of sleep and happens outside of the rapid eye movement — or REM — stage,” he says.

According to Dr. Laliotis, sleepwalking happens most frequently in children. Although, it usually goes away as they approach adolescence.

During the night, a sleepwalker may get out of bed, appear confused and walk slowly with their eyes open. They don’t usually dream during their experience and will have no memory of it after they wake up.

It’s a good rule of thumb not to wake or yell at a person sleepwalking. Instead, Dr. Laliotis suggests gently leading them back to their bed without trying to restrain them.

Why do we sleepwalk?

A person is more likely to sleepwalk if someone in their family has experienced it. But there are other causes as well.

Sleepwalking may be triggered by conditions that increase the likelihood of waking during the night, including sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and sleep deprivation. Short-acting sleeping pills, such as zolpidem — commonly known as Ambien — alcohol, lithium or anti-psychotics can also cause episodes.

Although sleepwalking isn’t a dangerous condition, there’s a possibility of accidental self-harm. It’s important for sleepwalkers to maintain a safe sleeping environment by blocking staircases and locking windows to prevent falling.

Some people may find it helpful to place padding on nearby furniture or floors and lower their mattress to the floor. It’s a good idea to remove all dangerous objects from the bedroom, such as firearms or knives, and lock them elsewhere.

To prevent sleepwalking, Dr. Laliotis encourages patients to maintain a regular sleeping schedule and avoid sleep deprivation, alcohol and stress.

Why do we talk in our sleep?

Talking in your sleep, or sleep talking, is far more common than sleepwalking and can occur on its own or as part of a more serious sleeping disorder. Talking in your sleep can accompany sleepwalking, sleep terrors, waking up disoriented — known as confusional arousal — or REM behavior disorder, which is when someone acts out their dreams.

“Sleep talking can be caused by a number of things,” says Dr. Laliotis. “People who have erratic sleep schedules or who are sleep deprived might be more prone to sleep talking, as are people who are experiencing a heightened level of stress. Alcohol, caffeine, fever and certain medications can also make you more likely to sleep talk.”

You can reduce the chance you’ll talk in your sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene. Dr. Laliotis recommends maintaining a regular sleeping schedule, keeping the room dark and cool, and avoiding alcohol before bed.

Talk with your doctor if you experience chronic disruptive sleep talking or sleepwalking. Together, you can determine what might be the cause and how you can avoid them to ensure a good night’s sleep.

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