A study conducted into sleep talking yields surprising results
Not only are men more likely to sleep talk, but they are also much more likely to swear in their sleep
It’s a question that has baffled us for years: what does it actually mean when we sleep talk? We are often compelled by the idea that we reveal our deepest darkest secrets while we sleep, but a new study suggests otherwise.
The largest ever study into sleep talking was recently conducted by French researchers, and shines a light onto what’s happening in our subconscious when we sleep. According to their results, the word most commonly spoken during sleep talking is “no”. This is followed by the French word “putain” – a profanity which loosely translates to our own ‘F-word’.
Results found that these two words combined were used “800 times more often in sleep than when awake.” Some sleep talkers even became verbally abusive.
The study found that men were both more likely to sleep talk than women and more likely to use profanities.
What happens when we sleep talk?
Somniloquy, more commonly referred to as sleep talking, is one of several parasomnias – conditions which affect us while we sleep. Others include sleepwalking and night terrors.
Sleep therapist and author of ‘Fast Asleep, Wide Awake’, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, describes what she believes is at the root of sleep talking.
Dr Ramlakhan says: “In my experience, sleep talking can be linked to the nervous system being overstimulated, which can be related to excessive use of technology before bed or too much caffeine.
“But these sorts of behaviours can happen with people who are quite hard on themselves, they’re perfectionists, but they often hold back on saying what they really want to say. When they go to bed at night, it spills out into the sleep.”
How much are we revealing when we sleep talk?
The notion of finding out someone’s deepest worries and secrets by listening to their sleep talking is definitely compelling. In fact, there are popular technologies dedicated to listening in to what people are mumbling subconsciously. These includes apps like Sleep Talk Recorder, which does exactly as its name suggests with sometimes comical results (one instance revealed a sleep talker mumbling ‘Judi Dench’ in their sleep.)
But can sleep talking cause criminals to confess their crimes, or adulterers to confess their affairs? Put simply, the answer is no.
Former director of Loughborough University’s sleep research centre, Professor Jim Horne, doesn’t believe we should pay too much attention to what people say in their sleep.
Horne says: “Sleep talking tends to occur in very light sleep. You go from a light to a deep sleep, and after about 70-90 minutes, you go into a period of dreaming sleep, which re-occurs about every 90 minutes.”
Horne says sleep talking doesn’t reflect what we’re dreaming, but is instead related to light sleep when “the mind is meandering and ruminating. It’s really the ramblings of a rather befuddled mind.”
So what causes sleep talking?
Sleep talking is much more common in children than in adults, who tend to grow out of it eventually. However, many of us still sleep talk well into adulthood, and the reasoning could be due to our emotional state of mind.
Horne says: “Anxiety and stress tends to bring it on. Sleep talkers are generally reflecting some sort of aspect of a worry.
“Someone who persistently does it is probably quite anxious and it might be a good idea to find out what is worrying them.”
However, Horne doesn’t believe we should take the sleep talk itself too literally.
“I think it’s best not to place too much concern on sleep talking and not take the words said by someone seriously.”