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Confessions of a Sleep Talker

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Izabela Habur via Getty Images
Izabela Habur via Getty Images

Originally published on Better After 50.

"I hear the secrets that you keep when you're talking in your sleep."

Remember that song by The Romantics in 1983? Well, that's my sleep-talking theme song.

I talk in my sleep. I always have since I was a little girl. Frankly, it's gotten me into some trouble. Sleep talking leaves me undefended and vulnerable. Should sleeping alone have been an option I never would have known I had an "issue," but alas, sleepovers have always been my fave -- girlfriends, boyfriends and husbands included. And since sleep talkers aren't privy to their own talk, we rely on those in earshot to tell us what we said. (VERY vulnerable stuff!) Also, there is apparently no muting device for sleep talkers so... I believe in full disclosure prior to turning out the lights, as my sleep talking has been known to ruffle my bedfellows' REMs and leave them bleary-eyed, confused and concerned come morning.

There are two sides to the sleep-talking "issue": The upside and downside.

The Downside of Sleep Talking

I hate to complain, but honestly, I have not always been treated fairly as a sleep talker. I have been kicked by my bedmates to hush me up, shaken awake "as a favor." NOT! It can be frightening. Really, do you think yelling into my sleeping face, "Wake up, wake up, you're having a bad dream" is helpful? NOPE. I hate being yelled at.

And it's not just the noise or disruption that's an issue for my bedfellows (and me). It's my blatant, unedited sleep-talking topics. It's a good thing I never really slept around much. Anyone sharing my bedroom is at risk of hearing how I feel about him or her. Hey, I'm not proud of that... too much honesty can be brutal.

On a sleepover at my high school girlfriend's, she learned how I felt about her dad. I apparently yelled, "Your father is a Nixon lover! I hate Nixon! I hate him!" We'd had an extremely heated politicized dinner table discussion when he challenged me about being a hippy in a peasant blouse, a pot smoker and a McGovern volunteer. I was 15 and I was a Nixon hater. He told me why Nixon was a great president. I took my rage to bed and out popped my unrestrained rant.

I yelled in my sleep at my boyfriend, "I hate your smoking. I hate the way your breath smells. I hate it -- it's disgusting -- you're going to die." He shook me awake, asked me if there was something I needed to talk about -- What? Nope, everything's fine -- and I went back to bed. In the morning he told me about my rant. We had what I thought was a mature conversation about smoking. Well, he didn't quit smoking and he moved out shortly after that.

In my sleep, my truths come out even though I would rather not be sharing them with the conscious world.

Unfortunately, sleep is my truth serum.

My unconscious rants are unedited and emerge without sensitivity.

I never remember what I say unless my bedfellow tells me.

Around the time of my parents' divorce I was extremely agitated. I was 19 and home from college staying at my mom's new apartment. My best friend Debby slept over and like clockwork, in the middle of the night my rant began. "Mom, don't eat that -- please don't eat that -- don't eat that ice cream -- stop -- please stop." I was worried about my mom, recently divorced and putting on weight, and it was a constant source of frustration for me during my waking hours. I didn't want her to be defeated by the divorce. I wanted her to stay beautiful and not get fat.

Poor Deb, realizing I was completely agitated, sweetly nudged me awake to release me from my rant. We talked at length about how helpless I felt watching my mom during this time. I knew I couldn't really talk to my mom about this, so I guess talking in my sleep was my outlet. Perhaps this was my own form of spontaneous therapy.

When my husband and I first started sleeping together he used to gently nudge me awake from my rants and share with me what I had revealed. We would talk into the night until I would gently fall back to sleep. I didn't feel nervous about what I would say during sleep talk with him as I was crazy for him and couldn't imagine I'd have a regrettable outburst. That proved to be true.

As the years progressed, the bloom was not always on the rose. Whenever I was upset with him, if we went to bed angry, I was sunk. Once asleep, the big reveal would come: "Why do you always have to..." or "I hate when you..." I would say.  Come morning, we would talk about my sleep truths and how annoying it was that I was engaging in a one-way conversation that he had no ability to respond to. So, we made a pact one morning: He would have his time in the land of the conscious. We could discuss whatever I'd ranted about during the night. Unfortunately for me, I felt vulnerable and exposed and I never felt safe about having my own stash of secret thoughts.

But sleep talking isn't all bad... it definitely has its benefits.

Here's the Upside of Sleep Talking:
  1. I gave myself an A+ in language fluency after my first night of sleep talking in FRENCH!  I knew I was fluent in French when my Parisian boyfriend Laurent told me I was sleep talking in French. I was thinking in French, dreaming in French and voila! I was talking in my sleep in French. (It was a proud moment.)
  2. There's no downtime on laughing. I have laughed in my sleep so hard I woke myself up -- that was really fun. (I love that a good time can be had 24/7.)
  3. I get rewarded for my sleep talking. One summer on a women's getaway, my friends decided I didn't have to share a room with anyone -- they gave themselves the gift of sleep and they quarantined me. I was thrilled.
So, my secrets?  They'll continue to come out when I'm sleeping. But at this age?  I'm just happy I'm sleeping.

Read more from Better After 50:
How I Stopped Snoring
10 Mindset Adjustments After 50
Why You Should Take A Nap
Plugged In, Stressed Out