Abnormal Sleep Behavior: Sleep Talking, Walking, Grinding, and More

If your sleep doesn’t seem “normal” to you, you’re not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 50 to 70 million Americans have sleep or wakefulness disorders that can take many forms. In fact, there are more than 100 different types of sleep disorders. Among them are the abnormal sleep behavior and movement disorders we’ll be discussing today including sleep walking, teeth grinding, and restless legs (all of which are among the eight most common sleep disorders.)

If you find yourself doing things in your sleep that aren’t conducive to rest or safety, please discuss your symptoms with a healthcare provider. You can use the information below to help with these conversations.

Abnormal Sleep Behavior Disorders

REM sleep behavior disorder: As part of this sleep concern, a person may “act out” his or her dreams —moving limbs, getting up, talking, and more — sometimes resulting in injury. REM sleep behavior disorder occurs during the REM cycle of sleep, which is when dreaming occurs. Fortunately, treatments are available.

Sleep talking: Chit-chat during sleep is actually quite common and anyone can experience it. Usually, it’s a temporary phase with no significant effects. A person who sleep talks may say nonsense, or may make perfect sense, but will not be aware of what he or she is saying and may sound different than when awake.

Although not physically harmful, sleep talking can be an annoyance to your partner or roommate. If sleep talking is an issue in your life, try practicing good sleep hygiene and setting up your bedroom for optimal rest. Reducing stress, refraining from heavy evening meals, and limiting alcohol may also help.

For roommates and partners, a fan or white noise app can assist in drowning out unwanted nighttime conversations.

Sleep walking: Sometimes called somnambulism, sleep walking is similar to REM sleep disorder in that the person will move or perform activities during sleep that are typically associated with being awake. Safety can become a concern as the person doing the sleep walking is not fully aware of his or her surroundings. Children are more likely to sleep walk, especially if they also have sleep apnea or wet the bed. Adults who are sleep deprived, have a fever, or are taking certain medications can be at more risk of sleep walking, too. In addition, sleep walking can run in families.

Have you ever heard that it’s dangerous to wake a sleep walker? Not true! In fact, it can be dangerous NOT to wake a sleep walker as he or she may be at risk of getting injured. While there is often no specific treatment for sleep walking, improving sleep hygiene in order to improve sleep quality can help to eliminate the problem.

Sleep Related Movement Disorders

Restless leg syndrome: About one in ten Americans experiences restless leg syndrome, which is also sometimes called Willis-Ekbom Disease. With this disorder, a person will suffer overwhelming urges to move the legs when at rest accompanied by uncomfortable feelings in the legs. These feelings may be described as itching, tugging, pulling, or creeping. Leg movement in bed may keep bed partners awake and disrupt the individual’s sleep such that daytime sleepiness and poor daytime functioning can result.

Fortunately, there are ways to help limit the symptoms including good sleep hygiene, limiting caffeine and alcohol, stretching and exercise, a hot or cold bath (depending on the person), massage and relaxation techniques, eating a healthy, balanced diet, and using a specially designed foot wrap. Your physician will also likely want to make sure that a vitamin deficiency or any medications you’re taking (prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal supplements) aren’t worsening the symptoms. Sometimes treating varicose veins can help with restless leg syndrome, as well, and there are prescription medications your doctor may recommend for you.

Teeth grinding: Another term for teeth grinding is sleep bruxism. According to the American Sleep Foundation, 8% of adults grind their teeth at night. If your grinding is occasional, it’s probably nothing to worry about, but frequent teeth grinding should be addressed because it can lead to dental damage, facial pain, and disturbed sleep. Headaches, earaches, jaw pain, and jaw joint disorders can also occur. If your partner says you grind your teeth or if you wake up with a sore jaw and feeling un-refreshed, talk to your dentist or healthcare provider about treatments for teeth grinding. Eliminating stress, jaw exercises, or mouth guards/dental appliances are all possible treatments.

Next Steps in Seeking Help

If the above symptoms sound familiar, please discuss them any other related sleep issues you may be having (along with medications you’re taking, stress in your life, and daytime fatigue) with your healthcare provider. They can help you to determine the appropriate next steps. You can speed up the process by giving your healthcare practitioner useful data about your sleep habits, sleep quality, and more. Get started by tracking your sleep and sleep behaviors for one week with the Circady app.

We also encourage you to learn about healthy sleep habits, and what not to do when you can’t fall asleep.

Thanks for reading!