Why Do People Walk or Talk in Their Sleep?

Sleepwalking (somnambulism) and sleeptalking (somniloquy) are very common conditions.

Growing up, my younger brother’s bedroom was next to mine. I remember like it was yesterday, walking down the hallway for a late night bathroom break and stopping to listen as my toddler brother spoke to friends in the playground or mumbled nonsense and who-knows-what while he was fast asleep.

Fast forward ten years and I am sitting in my friend’s college dorm listening to stories about her roommate who sits up and walks around in her sleep. Imagine waking up to that!

This begs the question, and it is one that I’ve heard many times before, why do people talk or walk in their sleep?

© Science Photo Library

© Science Photo Library

Experts believe that the reason for this is due to a lapse in a function commonly known as sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is something that our body does every night–it is essentially the switch that gets flipped when we sleep that separates the movement we do in our dreams with our physical body. This is why sleepwalkers and talkers act out what is happening in their dreams, whether it’s heading down to the kitchen for a late night snack or swinging an invisible sword at a foe only they can see.

There is an old belief that waking a sleepwalker is dangerous, and could result in the person having a heart attack or some other bold claim. However, waking a sleepwalker is not necessarily dangerous, and in fact in some cases it could be more dangerous to allow the person to continue wandering around (if, for example, they have the stovetop on high and are trying to cook an unopened box of spaghetti, or have opened the front door and made their way outside). Think of waking a sleepwalker like being woken suddenly from an intense dream, except instead of being in your bed, you are in your dining room. While it won’t send the walker into a coma, it will certainly be a distressing wake-up! A much kinder solution for your sleepwalker is gentle guiding back to their bedroom.

While sleepwalking is common in children (1 in 4 have done it at least once), most grow out of the act by the time they reach adulthood. Sleeptalking is another story, although listening to a one-sided dream conversation is certainly great entertainment!

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stephsteth

Steph here! Do you have a question for the Doc? Leave your question in the comments here, and remember that there is no such thing as a silly question!

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