Somniloquia: Symptoms And Causes Of This Parasomnia

Although it does not usually cause severe problems, talking while sleeping can cause discomfort.

Most people know someone who talks in their sleep. Be it a simple emission of meaningless sounds, single words or even entire conversations in which the subject is even capable of answering questions. 

It may seem like a strange phenomenon, but although it is understood as a sleep disorder, somniloquia or somniloquy is highly frequent and is not usually linked to severe problems. In this article we briefly explore the concept and what it entails.

What is somniloquia?

Somniloquia or somniloquio (both forms are correct) is a parasomnia, a disorder or alteration in which abnormal behaviors appear during the sleep period. Specifically, in somniloquia the subject utters words during sleep with a complete absence of willfulness on his part.

The intensity with which it is spoken can vary greatly, ranging from whispers to authentic screams. They can also show signs of emotion, such as laughing or crying. These episodes in which the subject speaks do not usually last more than a few seconds or minutes, with no subsequent memory of having spoken.

The content of speech is usually not intelligible, although words and even phrases with meaning can sometimes be emitted. Sometimes small monologues are established or it may even appear that they are talking to someone in a dream. And although in some cases people who perceive such speech may try to ask something to the sleeping subject and this seems to respond, it is unlikely that it responds directly to stimulation.

Somniloquia is a very frequent phenomenon in children, being something normal even though it may seem worrisome. It also happens in adults in an equally innocuous way, although in some cases behind it there may be some kind of problem or disorder (for example, anxiety).

What produces it?

Although the process that causes people to speak during sleep is not fully understood, and can appear during any phase of sleep, it can be speculated that the mechanism by which somniloquism appears is similar to that which causes other parasomnias : a mismatch in the activation / inhibition of brain areas that occur during the different phases of sleep, especially in phases 3 and 4 of REM sleep and in the REM phase (times when somniloquia usually appears).

For example, during REM sleep muscle tone greatly decreases as physiological activity rises, but in people with somniloquism, the brain areas that control orofacial muscle activity remain active and allow the subject to speak in dreams. Something similar happens during deep sleep: muscle tone rises and sympathetic activity is reduced.

In what situations does it usually appear?

Somniloquia is very common throughout development, in children and adolescents. As we grow, however, it is less and less frequent.

Somniloquia is often associated with other sleep disorders, such as night terrors and sleepwalking. It can also appear in the presence of substance use intoxication, in febrile states and in times of high stress, as well as in mental disorders such as mood, anxiety and some dissociative states.

Somniloquy effects

Somniloquy by itself is not harmful, but it can generate alterations at the social level in those who sleep with someone else. For example, it can cause the partner or companion to not sleep properly or words, names or comments that can be misinterpreted may appear. Or it can generate fear or concern in the environment (especially when crying, laughing or screaming appears).

Both this and the idea that something inappropriate may be said can cause some of the people who experience it to avoid contact with the partner during the night or sleep in the same room, which can lead to problems in the relationship.

Is treatment required?

Although it is considered a parasomnia or sleep disturbance, somniloquy is not considered a pathology and does not usually pose any real problem in the subject itself (although it can become a nuisance if the person sleeps with someone else). In general, then, it is not necessary to apply any type of treatment.

Despite this, in cases where it occurs persistently or is bothersome , the use of relaxation and sleep hygiene is recommended, as well as creating habits that allow efficient rest. A good preparation of the environment before sleeping is usually useful, as well as avoiding the consumption of stimulants during the hours before the sleep period.

It must also be taken into account that sometimes sleepiness is derived from the existence of affective or anxious problems, in which case the problems that cause them should be specifically addressed. It is also possible that the patient fears sleeping with others due to the possibility of being a nuisance or saying something that causes problems with his partner, which may require treatment.

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