sleep talking

Hi Anonymous—

Your husband is sleep-talking during REM sleep, and apparently he is a very good talker. You understand every word! Not all sleep-talkers are so intelligible.

Few people are aware that when we dream, our brains are just as active as when we are awake. It may seem hard to believe—that our brains are as busy when we are asleep and dreaming as when we are driving a car down a city street—but it’s true. When researchers take “pictures” of awake and dreaming brains—using “PET” (positron emission tomography) scans—they are unable to distinguish between the two states.

Accordingly, I don’t find it surprising that your husband’s mind is so “active” during a dream. What is unusual, however, is his sleep-talking. Ordinarily when we dream our muscles are unreceptive to commands for movement—including our jaw and tongue muscles when we dream of talking. One function which this “muscular atonia” serves is it prevents us from getting out of bed and actually acting out our dreams. (The other is relaxation). Sleep-talking is a common “partial failure” of this relaxation process.

As long as your husband’s muscle activity during sleep is limited to talking—that is, he’s not getting out of bed and moving about the house—then the recommended treatment, unfortunately, usually is a pair of ear plugs for the bedpartner! (Muzzles—for better or worse—are politically incorrect!)

You also are impressed by your husband’s memory during sleep—which appears to be literal and exact. Dream researchers often comment on the “hyper-mnesic” qualities of our minds during sleep—that is, that recall in dreams frequently is superior to recall in waking life. For example, dreams often re-create casual acquaintances whom we may not have seen or thought of in years effortlessly—down to details about the way they walk, talk, and might act in a given situation. How do we know these details—that surprise even ourselves upon awakening—and where is this memory stored? The answer is that a tremendous amount of detailed information is stored in our brains—and we often have more complete access to it when dreaming than awake. As for the
content of your husband’s dreams, it is customary for us to dream about issues which have been occupying our minds the previous day. Nearly all dreams can be traced back to specific thoughts, feelings, and awarenesses we have had in the 48 hours prior to a dream. In your husband’s case, he is just re-thinking—“re-living” as you say—the events of a previous day—which is normal.

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