Drooling, sleep talking, bed-wetting, sweating, moaning, burping, and more. There are countless behaviors you could unknowingly have while sleeping soundly on your buckwheat pillow. While we’ve covered farting in your sleep (what it means and how to prevent it), there are a few more embarrassing behaviors we’ve yet to touch on - until now!
Although we may not be alert while we sleep, our bodies are still very active. Cells are being repaired, memories formed, and we are cycling through sleep stages. We can toss and turn and sometimes snore. These are common sleep behaviors, but there are others that can leave us feeling embarrassed when they happen.
Before we dive in, it’s important to note that our bodies are complex, and it's safe to say many of these behaviors have happened to all of us at one point. So really, it is nothing to feel embarrassed by. Yet, when it happens, and even worse, when it is witnessed by someone else, we can’t help but turn a shade of crimson.
When these behaviors happen once in a while, it is generally nothing to be worried about. However, if it happens often or disrupts your sleep, it could cause other issues, and you should speak to your doctor.
We all have woken up with a bit of drool on our French linen pillow cover or cheek. It happens to everyone, and there’s no need to feel embarrassed, but if it has left you perplexed, there are simple reasons why it can happen.
According to neurologist and sleep specialist Dr. Marri Horvat, gravity plays a role. During the day, when we are awake and upright, saliva gets swallowed thanks to gravity, as well as our mouth, tongue, and throat. But, when we sleep and lay horizontally on our buckwheat pillow, gravity doesn’t help pull our saliva back and down. Instead, it can pool in our mouth, and if our muscles aren’t managing it well while we sleep, it can leak out of our mouth.
Those who sleep on their side or stomach are more prone to drooling (again, thanks to gravity). If it bothers you, you can try elevating your head a little more or changing your sleeping position and lying on your back. Mouth breathers are also more likely to drool and can experience dry mouth, sore throat, and snoring. Research from the Cleveland Clinic has discovered several benefits to breathing through your nose while you sleep. Not only are you less likely to drool, but you will also benefit from reduced blood pressure, lower anxiety, and regulated breath temperature.
If it’s not your sleeping position and you aren't breathing through your mouth, it could be caused by the food you eat before bed. For example, acidic or high-sugar snacks can increase saliva production and your chance of drooling. Lastly, it could be something medical. For example, if you have a cold or allergies, it can cause nasal congestion that makes it difficult to breathe through your nose. Alternatively, a medical condition like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause drooling.
Bed-wetting is more common in young children but can happen to adults. Typically bed-wetting in your adult years results from an underlying health concern. According to the Mayo Clinic, adult bed-wetting may be caused by a urinary tract infection, obstructive sleep apnea, enlarged prostate, diabetes, bladder problems, a blockage in the urinary tract, diabetes, or a side effect of medication. If it happens once, it is possible you were in a very deep sleep, but it is best to speak to a health professional. A physical exam, urine test, and/or a neurological evaluation can help determine the root cause and address it, so it does not continue.
Talking in your sleep
Although it is relatively common, sleep talking is considered a sleep disorder. Its formal name is somniloquy, and it is a type of parasomnia. Most people will talk in their sleep at least once during their life, with studies suggesting up to 66% of people have experienced a sleep talking episode. Sleep talking can consist of complicated dialogues, mumbling, or gibberish. If you are sleeping next to someone who is sleep talking, you may be able to make out a few words, but often it isn't easy to make out.
One study on sleep talking found that 50% of instances of sleep talking are incomprehensible. In some of these cases, individuals were silent speaking, meaning they moved their lips with little noise. In the other 50% of instances in this study, the sleep talking followed typical grammatical patterns and pauses as if the person was waiting for a response. In addition, the researchers found that the utterances recorded reflect conflict-driven dialogue, suggesting that this dialogue is taking place in the brain and they are behaving accordingly.
Sleep talking occurs during both REM and non-REM sleep, and the person who is sleep talking doesn’t realize they are doing it. It is usually a short episode with a handful of words and may not have any connection to a person's life. Sleep talking is generally harmless but can cause problems if the talking keeps other people awake. It can also feel embarrassing or awkward, especially if the content of the speech is sexual or vulgar (which happens). Although there isn’t a “cure” for sleep talking, sleep experts believe that prioritizing good sleep hygiene can help. It is thought that, like other parasomnias, a person is in a state of sleep and wakefulness. Therefore, reduce the amount of caffeine you have, allow yourself time to wind down before bed, and stick to a bedtime routine.
Moaning in your sleep is different than sleep talking. Sleep moaning, also known as nocturnal groaning or catathrenia, is a vocalization that is considered a breathing disorder. It often sounds like a loud groan, moan, or exhalation occurring during deep sleep. Unlike the other sleep behaviors listed here, catathrenia is rare. One study found that 1 of 200 sleep study referrals is regarding sleep moaning. Those with catathrenia can also let out loud exhales and experience periods of slow breathing.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about catathrenia, and the cause remains unknown. However, research has shown that it most commonly occurs during the REM phase of sleep and may be related to jaw size. There is a possible link between small jaw size, a personal history of sleep breathing disorders or parasomnia, and childhood orthodontia. If you moan when you sleep, it likely doesn't bother you at the time (as you don’t know you are doing it) but may bother those around you. If it is keeping your partner awake at night, you may want to seek treatment. A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device has been found to be effective in stopping groaning. Alternatively, a customized oral mouthpiece that keeps the tongue, jaw, and palate in position during sleep could reduce it.
Night sweats are when you sweat heavily as you sleep. You will wake up feeling damp and may even find your bedding and clothing have become soaked in sweat. If it happens once or twice, you may kick off the blankets and not give it another thought. However, it can become troubling to those who experience it regularly. Of course, if the room temperature is too warm or you have too many blankets, you can overheat and sweat, but it can also be caused by an underlying condition, stress, or medication.
Some people are just hot sleepers and can benefit from more breathable bedding and a cooling pillow. This will help them keep cool during the night and prevent them from sweating. If you continue to sweat after adjusting your sleep environment, you may want to talk to your doctor. Some medications can impact your brain's temperature control and induce night sweats. For example, antidepressants, hormone therapy drugs, and antiretrovirals can trigger night sweats.
Although rare, you could have a condition known as hyperhidrosis. Hyperhidrosis is a condition where your body produces excessive sweat for no known reason. Finally, night sweats can occur as a result of a disease. According to Dr. Aarthi Ram, neurologist and sleep medicine expert, “sleeping and sweating are both very complex processes that respond to many cues, and they can definitely influence one another.” Obesity, some cancers, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, and serious infections could trigger it, or you could be fighting off an illness and have a fever.
Most of the time, sleep is uneventful. You stick to your bedtime routine, lay down on your buckwheat pillow, and drift off to sleep.
But, sometimes, our bodies do things we may not want. Many of these behaviors can feel embarrassing when they are brought to our attention at breakfast the next day but often, it is entirely normal. If you are concerned, speak with your doctor; otherwise, you can sleep easily, knowing these sleep behaviors are more common than you think.