Why Do We Walk and Talk in Our Sleep?

Most of us have rambled strange gibberish in our sleep at some time or other. And some of us may find out in the morning that we’ve been roaming the house while still unconscious to the world.

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Sleepwalking is most common among children, though adults have been known to have sleepwalking adventures as well. In adults it could be a sign of a bigger health issue. Sleep talking is far more common than sleepwalking, and can happen to anyone and in any stage of sleep.

Why do we wander or jabber in our sleep? Here's a look into the science behind these disorienting behaviors.


Sleepwalking usually happens during deep sleep, most often in the first half of the night. Sleepwalkers typically walk around, but they’re also apt to perform complex behaviors while still asleep, going so far as to cook, clean and even drive a car.

Although there are several triggers for sleepwalking, scientists still aren’t positive what causes someone to pop out of bed without waking first. Sleep deprivation, chaotic sleep schedules, fever, stress, vitamin deficiency and intoxication can all trigger sleepwalking.

A sleeper who has been in the deepest stage of sleep for a particularly long time may be prone to sleepwalking. Accordingly, scientists believe that sleepwalking happens when the brain tries to go directly from deep NREM sleep to waking without completing a full sleep cycle.

The sleep cycle lasts about an hour and a half, and is made up of four stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, followed by rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. NREM sleep comprises four stages: light sleep, consolidated sleep and two periods of slow-wave sleep. Sleepwalking tends to happen at the end of the NREM stages of sleep.

No one knows how to stop nighttime roamers from sleepwalking altogether, though there are ways of reducing its likelihood:

  • Get adequate sleep
  • Limit stress and relax by meditating
  • Reduce the amount of stimulation you’re exposed to before sleep

Sleep Talking

Sleep talking is a sleep disorder in which a sleeper unknowingly talks while slumbering. Sleep talk can be as simple as a cry or whimper, or can involve intricate dialogues, total nonsense, or sustained mumbling. Sleep talk is generally rare, and most sleep talk episodes are brief.

Anyone can sleep talk, though its likelihood can be hereditary. Factors such as stress, depression, sleep deprivation, alcohol consumption and fever are the most common triggers for a bout of late-night babbling.

Most sleep talk is gibberish, although on occasion sleep talkers speak fluently and cogently. Comprehensible sleep talk shouldn't be taken literally. Mid-sleep confessions of wrongdoing, for example, are unlikely to be based in reality. In fact, they are inadmissible in court, since this type of talk is considered to be produced not by a rational mind operating on conscious thought, but an irrational unconscious.

Generally, no treatment is necessary for sleep talk unless your outbursts are disturbing your or a partner’s sleep. However, sleep talking can spring from a problem for which treatment might be necessary, such as sleep apnea or REM sleep behavior disorder.

If you find that sleepwalking or sleep talking is disturbing your sleep or keeping others awake, talk to your doctor to make sure you’re not experiencing an issue that’s part of a bigger problem.

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