Sleep Talking

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Wikipedia.
Related to Sleep Talking: night terrors

Sleep Talking (Somniloquy)


Somniloquy is the phenomenon of sleep talking—speaking out loud while asleep. It is not an abnormal phenomenon, in that the majority of people have spoken in their sleep, but individuals under stress and some neurotics experience somniloquy with above average frequency. Unlike somnambulism (sleepwalking), which occurs only during the deepest levels of sleep (Stage 4), sleep talking occurs with apparent equal frequency during both rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. People awakened while in deep, non-REM sleep are unable to recall dreams that might conceivably be connected with their talking episode, or with any part of the actual somniloquy. This pattern changes during lighter sleep; when subjects in REM stages are awakened during or after a somniloquy, they are often able to connect dream segments with their sleep talking.

People sometimes fear revealing their deepest secrets via sleep talking. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (pp. 64–65—see Sources), for example, Tom secretly witnesses a murder:

Tom’s fearful secret and gnawing conscience disturbed his sleep for as much as a week after this; and at breakfast one morning, Sid said:

“Tom, you pitch around and talk in your sleep so much that you keep me awake about half the time.”

Tom blanched and dropped his eyes.

“It’s a bad sign,” said Aunt Polly gravely. “What you got on your mind, Tom?”

“Nothing. Nothing’t I know of.” But the boy’s hand shook so that he spilled his coffee.

“And you do talk such stuff,” Sid said. “Last night you said, ‘It’s blood, it’s blood, that’s what it is!’ You said that over and over. And you said, ‘Don’t torment me so—I’ll tell.’ Tell what?”

Sleep talking can vary from single-word utterances to extended, comprehensible discourses. One of the more unusual examples of a sleeping monologue (spoken by a sleeper who is a professional writer of lyrics), which has appeared in several psychological publications, is the following:

Attention! Attention! Let me stand on that table, they can’t hear me. Attention! Now this is a scavenger hunt. You all got your slips.

First one there: a yellow robin’s egg! Second one: a wolf’s dream! Third: a Welsh shoelace! Fourth: a dirty napkin used by Garbo! Fifth: a tree trunk! Sixth: Valentino’s automobile hubcap! Seventh: one of the swans in Swan Lake! Eighth: a Chattanooga choo-choo! Ninth: a bell from the “Bell Song” in Lakme! Tenth: Myrna Loy! Eleventh: the Hudson River! Twelfth: a teller from the San Francisco Bank of America! Thirteenth: a witch’s tail! Fourteenth: David Susskind’s mother! Fifteenth: nobody and his sister: That’s it! That’s it! Now everybody disperse, disperse. Meet back here—three-quarters of an hour, three quarters of an hour. (Cited in Empson, pp. 132–33—see Sources)