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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Sleep Talk

Q. I'm 16 years old and I constantly sleep talk. My parents sleep two doors away from me and can hear me. I either mumble some words or sometimes I scream. My parents have said that I usually shout at my mom or my brother who is 8. I say "Stop it!" or "Go away!" Even when I mumble, my parents can hear me. My mom or dad usually come into the room and ask me if I am ok, and I will respond, "I'm fine, I'm fine" and then after a few minutes I would scream or mumble again. I don't remember any of these things happening. It's bothering me because I don't want to disturb my parents and I don't want to shout at my mom or brother. I don't know whether I would be saying something really embarrassing. Could you tell me if there's something I could do about it or why I'm doing it?

A. The first thing to do is to figure out what sort of problem you actually have. Discussing this with a specialist in sleep disorders would be one way to go, perhaps first consulting with your family doctor. But--this is not to say that you have a serious disorder! It is actually normal for people to "talk in their sleep". In most cases, this does not require any treatment.Sometimes, though, sleep talking may be associated with more unusual sleep phenomena (called parasomnias), such as sleep walking, night terrors, or REM sleep behavior disorder.

People who have night terrorsoften awaken with a scream, appear to be extremely anxious, and are difficult to arouse. (Trying to wake them upmay result in their becoming confused or agitated). In REM (rapid eye movement) sleep behavior disorder, the individual actually acts outhis or her dreams, so that if the dream involves fleeing from an attacker, the person may be kicking and punching in bed. Sleeptalking alone is probably not worth worrying about. But, if you seem to fit the pattern for night terrors or REM sleep behavior disorder--or, if you feel emotionally distraught, anxious, or depressed most of the time--then getting a professional evaluation would be wise.

There are medications, such as clonazepam, that can help with night terrors and REM sleep behavior disorder. Sleep terrors may also respond to psychotherapy. So--discussing this with your family doctor would be a good start, and a referral to a sleep disorders specialist might then follow, if necessary. In the mean time, so long as you are not injuring yourself or others, you can reassure your parents that they don't have to keep checking up on you--and that they might benefit from some earplugs!

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July 2003

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