Sleep talking: A viable access to mental processes during sleep

Sleep Med Rev. 2019 Apr;44:12-22. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2018.12.001. Epub 2018 Dec 6.


Sleep talking is one of the most common altered nocturnal behaviours in the whole population. It does not represent a pathological condition and consists in the unaware production of vocalisations during sleep. Although in the last few decades we have experienced a remarkable increase in knowledge about cognitive processes and behavioural manifestations during sleep, the literature regarding sleep talking remains dated and fragmentary. We first provide an overview of historical and recent findings regarding sleep talking, and we then discuss the phenomenon in the context of mental activity during sleep. It is shown that verbal utterances, reflecting the ongoing dream content, may represent the unique possibility to access the dreamlike mental experience directly. Furthermore, we discuss such phenomena within a cognitive theoretical framework, considering both the atypical activation of psycholinguistic circuits during sleep and the implications of verbal 'replay' of recent learning in memory consolidation. Despite current knowledge on such a common experience being far from complete, an in-depth analysis of sleep talking episodes could offer interesting opportunities to address fundamental questions on dreaming or information processing during sleep. Further systematic polysomnographic and neuroimaging investigations are expected to shed new light on the manifestation of the phenomenon and related aspects.

Keywords: Dream recall; Memory consolidation; Parasomnia; Psycholinguistics; Sleep mentation; Sleep talking; Somniloquy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dreams / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory Consolidation / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Sleep-Wake Transition Disorders / epidemiology*