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Sleep Disorders

Sleep Talking about the French Revolution

11/29/2011

Question:

Last night I got a bit intoxicated and after I went to bed my husband said I woke up (I was in fact asleep) and was speaking very clearly about the French Revolution. What confuses me is that I don`t know a thing about the French Revolution and when I read up on it I was right about everything I was saying.

I don`t understand how I would know this and was wondering if you`ve heard of this before?

Answer:

That's a very interesting story. Without further information regarding your sleep habits, sleep history and physical examination, I cannot provide you with a definitive answer to your question. However, I can discuss what we know about sleep talking and thus what is the likely explanation for the episode you describe.

Sleep talking, also known as somniloquy, is not an uncommon problem, especially in children. While we don't know exactly how common talking in sleep is, it is estimated to occur in about half of all children and in about 5% of adults.

Sleep talking can range from infrequent quite sounds to full spoken sentences to singing and shouting. Often, the speech cannot be understood and may sound like mutterings or gibberish. The cause of talking in sleep is not entirely known. Most of the time, the cause of this sleep behavior cannot be linked to any identifiable underlying problem or disease. And in most cases, the problem is not serious and tends to resolve over time or with aging. For some individuals, sleep talking only occurs in certain situations, such as when under stress, after a period of sleep deprivation, or after alcohol use. However, in some cases, it has been found to be associated with other sleep-related disorders, such as sleep walking, REM behavior disorder (an unusual disorder in which individuals tend to act out their dreams while asleep), sleep-related epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep apnea, and the nighttime sleep eating syndrome. In addition, in adults who begin sleep talking in adulthood (in other words, they did not do this as a child), there may be a higher rate of psychiatric disorders. However, most adults who talk in their sleep do not have these problems.

Oftentimes, the most serious consequence of sleep talking is social embarrassment from unintentionally verbalizing subconscious thoughts or dream content. It is possible that the information spoke of in your sleep may be something you had learned previously and was stored deep in your subconscious, only to be verbalized due to the alcohol and sleep.

If this was an isolated incident, then you probably do not need further medical evaluation from a sleep disorder standpoint. However, if these types of behaviors are recurrent, then it might be a good idea to discuss them with your primary care doctor, who can place a referral to a Sleep Specialist to help sort out whether further testing is needed.

If you would like additional information regarding sleep and sleep disorders, you can obtain it on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. This website also contains a list of Sleep Centers across the country so you can locate one near you if need be. Good luck!

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Response by:

Dennis   Auckley, MD Dennis Auckley, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University