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The Voices of our Sleeping Minds

Ever go to sleep one night, wake up and be told the next day you supposedly spoke in your sleep? According to experts, up to 66% of people experience talking in their sleep (myself included) so this is a fairly common phenomenon within the population. There are 80 different types of sleeping disorders, the most common ones being: insomnia, sleep apnoea, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy. Despite being a quite familiar issue, doctors surprisingly don’t understand much about the mechanisms behind the sleep disorder of sleepwalking (otherwise classified as somniloquy).

For me, the sleep talking tends to appear during the build-up to finals. The combination of intense stress and lack of sleep creates the perfect scenario for talking gibberish, random words or to even start singing off-tune mid-sleep. My flatmates recall the next day they could hear something resembling English being spoken (most likely sung) by me. I can’t recollect anything I say during these episodes so, during one of these times, my flatmate went to the extent of recording me for evidence. Besides from embarrassment and a red face, my sleep talking has no negative consequences.

Generally, the habit of sleep talking is much more common among children and men. During the 1960s, researchers found evidence which indicated that sleep talking is an inheritable trait. Research has proven that sleep talking is a more frequent habit for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders. I’m not concerned in my case as thankfully, for most people sleep talking isn’t associated with mental illnesses.

Genetic components play a much smaller role in sleep talking in comparison to our existing environment. Environmental factors which affect our sleep include stress, anxiety, depression, alcohol consumption etc. Sleep talking can coexist with other sleep related disorders, which can then present as worrisome. Sleeping disorders range from the usual nightmares to sleep apnoea to REM sleep behaviour disorders. Sleep apnoea is where a sleeping person breathing unnaturally starts and stops as they breathe. REM sleep behaviour disorders include sleepwalking which is where sleepers physically act out their dreams. The more extreme conditions are usually the ones physicians worry about and have treatments (Estazolam, Clonazepam) recommended for.

Luckily, in the majority of cases sleep talking is harmless and has no major negative consequences (aside from the occasional embarrassing words heard). Only in the situation of the talking occurring alongside other disorders, it may be linked to larger issues that could cause fragmented or insufficient sleep. Experts recommend focusing on sleep hygiene to aim to limit or completely eliminate sleep talking episodes. Most instances of sleep talking are thought to be due to when normal sleep patterns are disturbed. Examples of this for me include a lack of sleep leading up to semester finals and a week of one too many double expressos. Sleep hygiene involves the person’s environment where they sleep and general habits surrounding sleep. Even those who don’t sleep talk certainly benefit from these practises. These guidelines include keeping a consistent sleep schedule 7 days a week, avoiding caffeine or alcohol during late afternoons or evenings, dimming lights and avoiding electrical devices at least 30 mins before bedtime and to aim to reduce unnecessary stress. I personally saw a noticeable difference in my sleep talking once I established a routine and regular sleep schedule.

Healthy sleep is an essential component of our overall well-being. Without regular sleep, we become easily tired and irritated and these emotions can negatively affect our daily lives. Hopefully, this advice can help us all achieve the beauty sleep we all deserve!

Sanojha is a 3rd-year medical student at Charles University - 2nd Faculty. She is an Alumni Officer at UIMS and is interested in the speciality of Palliative Care.

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