Sleep Talking in Children

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

Sleep talking is fairly common in children and is often harmless. Learn all about sleep talking in this lesson including the definition, cause, when it occurs, and treatment techniques if needed. You will also learn about other sleep disorders that can cooccur with sleep talking.

Definition of Sleep Talking

Most people have witnessed a family member or friend talk in their sleep. It's sometimes comical to listen to what he or she is saying. Only a handful of adults talk in their sleep (about 5% according to research); it's much more common for kids to sleep talk. In a survey of just over 2,000 children from the ages of 3 to 10, about half of the children in the study talked in their sleep; only 10% of these children did so on a nightly basis.

Sleep talking, or somniloquy, is when someone talks in their sleep or produces meaningful sound without being cognizant that they are doing so. In Latin, somnus means 'sleep' and loquy means 'to speak' or 'speech.' Sleep talking is often harmless and does not warrant treatment.

Why Do Children Sleep Talk?

Some children are simply just more likely to sleep talk than others. Sometimes the cause is attributed to genetics, but sometimes the cause is just not clear. With this being said, it appears that children who are in the following conditions have a higher likelihood to sleep talk:

  • A child who is sick or has a fever
  • A child on some kinds of medication
  • A child who is sleep deprived
  • A child who is emotionally or mentally disturbed

When Does Sleep Talking Occur?

It appears that sleep talking can occur any time of the night, even when a child is not dreaming. This also means that sleep talking can happen during any of the four sleep stages. In sleep stages 1 and 2, sleep talking will be more clear and understandable because the child is in lighter sleep. In sleep stages 3 and 4, sleep talking will be more unintelligible due to the child being in a deeper sleep.

Treatment for Sleep Talking in Children

Sleep talking does not usually warrant treatment due to the fact that it does not typically negatively impact a child's life. It's when sleep talking accompanies another sleep disorder that it might warrant treatment. These disorders include:

  • Night terrors: Night terrors are when a child screams, yells, and/or thrashes about in their sleep in a frightened state. Only a handful of children suffer from night terrors, and even if children do they often don't need treatment unless they're hurting themselves or someone else during their night terrors, or not sleeping well at night due to them.
  • Sleep walking: Sleep walking can make things a bit more tricky because safety is often a concern when a child is roaming the hallways and rooms at night while still asleep. Sleep walking affects almost 20% of children. It generally warrants treatment due to safety matters.
  • REM (Rapid eye movement) sleep behavior disorder: This disorder is when children physically act out their dreams. This could also be a safety issue, as children could hurt themselves (or someone sleeping nearby) when moving their head, body and limbs about during sleep.

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