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Sleepwalking (somnambulism) is when an individual performs complex behaviors while sleeping. In addition to walking, complex behaviors performed by a sleepwalker can include anything from sitting up in bed to driving. Sleepwalking can occur as random isolated episodes or as recurring episodes. Recurring episodes may indicate a sleep disorder and require treatment. Sleepwalking episodes generally occur about 1-2 hours after falling asleep and usually only last several minutes.

girl in red dress sitting on a crescent moon against the night sky

Sleep talking (somniloquy) includes talking during sleep with a lack of awareness. While sleep talking, individuals can either mumble gibberish or pronounce coherent monologues or dialogues. Often the understandability of their speech is determined by the stage of sleep they are in when they begin sleep talking. Individuals in stages 1 and 2 have the ability for entire conversations and clear dialogue, while individuals in stages 3 and 4 generally mumble, moan, or speak gibberish. The tone of their voice and their language may also differ from their “normal” speech patterns due to the fact that they are entirely unaware of their speaking.

 

Sleep talking episodes are categorized by their severity and duration. For severity, mild is defined as having episodes that occur less than weekly, moderate are multiple episodes per week, but less than every night, and severe are episodes that occur nightly. For duration, acute are episodes that have occurred for a month or less, subacute are episodes that have occurred for more than a month, but less than a year, and chronic are episodes that have occurred for longer than a year.

 

Did You Know?

Only 2-3% of adults sleepwalk, while as many as 40% of children are prone to sleepwalking. In fact, 2-3% of children have sleepwalking episodes more than once a month.

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

What are the symptoms of sleepwalking and sleep talking?

In addition to walking, other symptoms of sleepwalking can include sleep talking, having little to no memory of the episode, being hard to awaken while sleepwalking, being confused upon waking, sitting up in bed and looking around, having a glazed or glassy-eyed expression, being unresponsive to others, acting inappropriately, screaming, or acting violent.

Other than speaking in one’s sleep, other symptoms of sleep talking can include sleep terrors, sleepwalking, being confused upon waking, REM sleep behavior disorder, obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, psychiatric disorders, and nocturnal seizures.

 

woman in pink plaid pajamas with a sleep mask sleepwalking

Who is at risk for sleepwalking and sleep talking?

Generally speaking, sleepwalking is common in children around the age of eight and is usually a phase that is outgrown by the time they reach adulthood. Factors such as bed wetting or childhood sleep apnea can make a child more prone to sleepwalking. Although rare, sleepwalking can also develop during adulthood and is equally seen in both men and women. However, men tend to exhibit more aggressive behavior when sleepwalking and can be more violent if awakened.

Sleep talking is also more common in children than it is in adults. In adults, sleep talking is generally more common in men than it is in women. Both sleepwalking and sleep talking have been found to have a genetic link, so if you have family members who sleepwalk or sleep talk, then you may be at an elevated risk.

 

How are sleepwalking and sleep talking diagnosed?

At Overlake Internal Medicine Associates, we will take your family history and perform a physical exam, as well as a sleep test to check you for sleep disorders that could be the cause of your sleepwalking or sleep talking.

 

What should I expect during my sleep study?

During your sleep study, or polysomnography, you will be connected to various sensors while you sleep so our sleep doctors can observe you. While you sleep, information about your brain waves, blood oxygen level, heart rate, breathing rate, sleep stages, and eye and leg movements will be recorded and analyzed by OIMA’s sleep doctors. We may also choose to videotape your behaviors during an episode.

 

boy wrapped in towel holding an alarm clock

What are the treatments for sleepwalking and sleep talking?

There is no exact treatment for sleepwalking, but practicing good sleeping habits can help. Also, some individuals have had success with hypnosis, sedative hypnotics, or antidepressants. In addition, identifying and managing your individual triggers are another way to manage your sleepwalking. Possible triggers for sleepwalking can include sleep deprivation, sedatives (medications or alcohol), having a fever, and specific medications.

Treatment is not always required for sleep talking, but it can be beneficial if it becomes a persistent problem. Persistent sleep talking can also indicate an illness that may require treatment. To reduce sleep talking episodes, it helps to identify and manage possible triggers. Possible triggers for sleep talking are similar to those of sleepwalking and can include stress, sleep deprivation, depression, day drowsiness, alcohol, and fever. Sleep talking may also have a hereditary component.

In general, good sleeping habits will help decrease the occurrence of both sleepwalking and sleep talking episodes. Good sleeping habits include implementing and following a regular sleep schedule, getting enough sleep, reducing alcohol intake, avoiding heavy meals before bedtime, and reducing or managing daytime stressors.

 

How can I make sleepwalking episodes safer?

While sleep talking doesn’t pose any major dangers, sleepwalking can be dangerous to both the sleepwalker and the people around them. In order to minimize these dangers, you can follow these guidelines:

 

  • Remove clutter. Anything that is on the floor, like shoes, toys, clothes, or any item can be a potential hazard for a sleepwalker. Keeping the floors clutter-free minimizes the likelihood of them tripping and injuring themselves.
  • Keep dangerous items out of reach. Sharp items, tools, or any item that could be potentially damaging should be kept off of counter tops and instead should be stored someplace where they are harder to access.
  • Keep windows and doors locked. Because some sleepwalkers try to escape, you will want to keep your windows and doors locked and bolted to prevent them from getting outside.
  • Set up an alarm. Another way to keep them inside is to put bells on doors so that you can hear when they open. It is especially helpful to put bells on the bedroom door to awaken you so you can get them safely back to bed.
  • Keep your car keys. Since some sleepwalkers try to drive, keep all car keys hidden in a secure location to prevent this.

 

If you’ve been told that you sleepwalk or sleep talk and it is affecting your life, don’t keep losing valuable hours of sleep. Schedule a consultation with Bellevue’s top sleep doctors at Overlake Internal Medicine Associates today!