“Chickens!” I call. "Chicken heads are like fingers in red rubber gloves!" If that sounds to you like talking about total crap, you are absolutely right. In my defense, I have to say that I have no idea what I'm talking about - because I'm asleep right now.
In the early hours of the morning, according to my friend, I become a chatterbox, who lies wide awake next to me and listens to me with interest as I talk to myself. Sometimes I answer myself, sometimes I start laughing hysterically. With that I wake myself up. He's convinced I'm obsessed.
Talking in sleep (scientifically known as "Somniloquie") is not that rare, Dr. Guy Meadows, the director of the Sleep School virtual sleep clinic. “Talking in sleep is very widespread, especially in childhood,” he says. “Parasomnia (abnormal behavioral problems during sleep) occurs when the brain switches to a new phase of sleep; that is, on the border between light and deep sleep. About 20 percent of all children have some form of parasomnia. These include sleepwalking, nightmares or the somniloquia. ”Most people leave this parasomnia behind in the course of their youth; by the age of about 12 the whole thing is mostly done. "But I'm almost 30," I complain to Dr. Meadows. He laughs. "About four percent of those affected continue to suffer from it." So I seem to be a rarity - but not alone.
The 25-year-old project manager Phoebe Herschdorfer is my fellow sufferer. "When I wake up in the morning, my partner usually tells me what I said during the night," she says. “That can be anything - I've already talked about what a loyal customer of my bank I am and that I would never want to hurt the bank by switching banks. And once I went on about conspiracy theories about Ronald and Nancy Reagan and their role in the drug war in America. "
Over the years my murmurs have turned into whole conversations, arguments, and hysterical laughter. I'm definitely having a lot of fun doing this, but should I be worried about it?
Lucie Turner, 26, knows that too. She is a self-employed brand consultant and nanny, and her mother used to describe her as a “strange child” because she talked so much in her sleep. “I talked about everyday things like fractions or shopping lists, but also about really strange things. For example, I cried because I had lost people who didn't exist or shouted, 'Let go of me, [family member], or I'll call the POLICE!' "
Her roommates reported something similar to her: inside the university dormitory. “They said they could hear me arguing through the walls before big exams or homework deadlines. And if I had previously avoided discussing an important topic with others, I would just hold these conversations in my sleep and then clear up all the problems. After that I was always totally confused when I woke up. "
I know exactly how Lucie and Phoebe feel about it. According to my parents, I've been sleepwalking and talking in my sleep since I was very young. Sometimes I would get up in the middle of the night and rummage through the kitchen cupboards while mumbling to myself. Over the years this murmur has turned into whole conversations, arguments and hysterical laughter. I'm definitely having a lot of fun doing this, but should I be worried about it? And is there anything I can do about it?
"Instead of healing, this is more about prevention," says Dr. Meadows. “We cannot keep you from sleeping talk by magic; but we can very well reduce the factors that can contribute. ”That means one thing above all: good sleep hygiene. And that consists of going to sleep at the same time every night, limiting caffeine, alcohol and nicotine consumption and avoiding bright lights. "It's not about abstinence, but about balance and a better understanding," emphasizes Dr. Meadows. “You may feel bored getting up and going to bed at the same time every day, but it's the healthiest thing we can do for ourselves. This is because every biological process is controlled by our internal clock - when should the body be active, when inactive, when hungry, when full, when strong, when relaxed? Our body regulates all of this in its 24-hour rhythm. "
Whenever I am restless - and that is more or less a permanent condition in lockdown - the somniloquia comes back particularly strong.
But this rhythm has gotten off track for many, especially in the last year. Corona has blurred the line between work and leisure, and many people have been complaining of strange dreams or problems (falling) asleep since the pandemic. And those affected by parasomnia notice a significant increase in their symptoms. "I've been talking in my sleep a lot lately," says Lucie. “Whenever I am restless - and that is more or less a permanent condition in lockdown - the somniloquie comes back particularly strong. Due to all the changes and uncertainties of the first months of the pandemic, I suddenly put on talk shows regularly at night. "
Phoebe taps her on stress as a trigger. “I guess I have a very active brain. My dreams are pretty vivid, and I always remember them in the morning - maybe that's the context: the more vivid my dreams, the more likely I will react to them as if I were awake. I think the more stressed or busy I am in everyday life, the more likely I am to talk at night. "
And I also notice that Corona has made my symptoms worse. I am bipolar; because of this, the active part of my brain can never shut itself off, especially during a manic episode (during which I usually don't sleep for days), and this has only become more evident since the pandemic. Dr. Meadows is not surprised. “At the beginning of the lockdown, people stayed at home and lost their commute, which many people use as a kind of timer. We suddenly went to bed later and got up later too, ”he says. “The lost anchor points that our biological clock could otherwise rely on, as well as the enormous uncertainty about the future, can of course affect our psyche and thus our sleep. Insomnia and insomnia create a high level of stress, which in turn favors other parasomnias such as sleep talk, sleepwalking or nightmares. ”The whole thing quickly feels like constant jet lag, he says.
Keeping a journal can be very helpful in building distance between yourself and your thoughts.
And then I agree with him: If I wake up all the time, I feel as if I am exhausted during the day - and so do my boyfriend, who is ultimately directly affected by my nightly talkativeness. So what can I do to ensure him and myself a quiet night? "If you are currently worried - be it about Corona, your health or your finances - you should keep in mind that your thoughts are separate from you," explains Dr. Meadows. “Keeping a journal can be very helpful in building distance between you and your thoughts. You can also give the concerned part of your consciousness a specific name so that you can talk about it in the third person. It is about recognizing your worries, treating your own consciousness with love and consideration and accepting it as it is. "
I've decided to call Dr. Meadows ’advice to take to heart and my hyperactive brain has since been dubbed“ Little Miss Chaos ”. I also write in my diary an hour before bed. This ritual - supplemented by a fixed bedtime, regular meals and exercise - helps me with a structured everyday life and ensures that I give my thoughts the attention they seem to want. Even if their favorite thing to do is deal with chickens.