This article originally appeared in Sleep Retailer eNews on February 8, 2018
There is a commonly held misbelief that if you ask a sleep talker a deep, personal question you will likely get an honest answer. Unfortunately, this slumber-based interrogation method doesn’t work. While there’s still so much unknown about the brain-sleep relationship, there is new information from a recent French study that gives us a little more insight into those that talk in their sleep and what they’re saying.
Known scientifically as somniloquy, sleep talking is a common phenomenon, especially among children and men. According to The National Sleep Foundation, somniloquy is classified as a sleep disorder, often triggered by anxiety and stress, and is usually not indicative of a serious problem. However, those that do talk in their sleep may worry about what’s coming out of their mouths. And, as discovered by Dr. Isabelle Arnulf, a researcher at the European Sleep Research Laboratories in Paris, there’s good reason for this worry.
Arnulf and her team conducted a ground-breaking study on a “sleep-diverse” group of 232 adults, ranging in age from 20 to 49. The researchers focused on the language of the brain at rest, recording not only how often sleep talking occurred, but what was being said. It turns out that we are more likely than not to be rather mean or negative in our sleep. During the two-night experiment, scientists recorded 883 speech episodes among the participants, including 3,349 decipherable words with the most common being “no.”
Perhaps even more interesting is that nearly 10 percent of the utterings contained vulgarities, with abusive language targeting another person happening more frequently in REM sleep while swearing predominantly occurred in non-REM sleep, with the “F-bomb” reportedly appearing 800 times more in sleep than during wakefulness. Arnulf theorized that the increase in profanity and verbal abuse is reflective of the frequency of negative dreams. In an interview with Medical News Today, she elaborated: “"[S]leep talkers may face situations in dream[s] in which anybody would swear, had they happened awake — e.g., [the] need to escape a danger, and shouting, or [the] need to counter-fight, and insulting the aggressor."
On the flip side, sleep talkers tend to exhibit pretty decent grammar. Not only is sentence structure often correct, but sleep talkers pause in their conversations, allowing their unseen partners to respond. So while they might be belligerent, at least they’re considerate.
What’s the takeaway here? If you talk in your sleep, you can rest easy that you’re not professing deep, embarrassing secrets while asleep. You may, however, want to caution any sleep partners about the potential for your foul-mouthed sleep-brain to lash out with some surprising expletives.
Next up for Arnulf and her team is to delve deeper into the connection between frontal and temporal areas of the brain, looking at what she calls “co-sleep gestures.” These are the physical movements that correspond with sleep talkers’ speech. And if what’s being said is any indication, there might be a good argument for separate sleeping spaces.
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