The Science And Poetry Behind A Semi-Famous Sleep Talker

NPR:

Over the years, a couple of other McGregor’s sleep-talk recordings have been released. The forthcoming one has an introduction by a Harvard Medical School psychologist and frankly, upon listening to several of these recordings, I was both surprised and skeptical so we ran them past a sleep researcher who happens to be another Harvard Med School psychologist and we asked what did he make of them.

So here we are joined by two Harvard Med School psychologists. First, Dr. Deirdre Barrett who is contributing the new introduction. Welcome to the program.

DEIRDRE BARRETT: Hi there.

SIEGEL: And Dr. Robert Stickgold.

ROBERT STICKGOLD: Pleasure to be here.

SIEGEL: Let’s hear from Dr. Barrett first. In a journal article that you wrote about this, you talked about sleep talk and observed that it ranges from simple monosyllabic utterances to episodes over a hundred words. The typical duration is a few seconds. These run on so much longer than that. What is going on here?

BARRETT: Well, it’s at the high end ever recorded. Actually, A.M. Arkin did a lot of laboratory research on sleep talking and he had some talkers who went on as long as Dion McGregor, all of whom seemed to be talking in a sort of a hybrid almost REM sleep, but showing a bit more waking signs in their EEG so he assumed that Dion McGregor was in that category of sleep talkers.

SIEGEL: Dr. Stickgold, we asked you to listen to some of these. What do you hear?

STICKGOLD: I hear very entertaining monologues and I actually question whether they could be actual dream reports. I don’t think they can be from REM sleep because we’re paralyzed when we’re in REM sleep and sleepwalking and sleep talking normally come from non-REM sleep. So they’re also so much more coherent than dream reports usually are. And I clocked one of them going on for 10 minutes and I don’t know, Deirdre, did you know dream reports that stay on topic that long?

BARRETT: I’m not calling them dream reports. I’m saying that they seemed to be sleep talking from a sort of atypical REM stage. And one of the most interesting things that Arkin found in his research was that when he would tape people sleep talking for a long time and then awaken them, when he did that in REM, you know, we’d, commonsense wise, want to think that they’re recounting the dream. And if you wake them up and ask them what they were dreaming, it would be very, very similar. In some cases, it bore no detectable relationship to what they’d just been saying so it’s not like their dream accounts, but I do suspect they’re coming from this sort of atypical REM sleep.

SIEGEL: You would say, Dr. Stickgold, not just atypical. You would say impossible for REM sleep.

STICKGOLD: Not impossible, but very unlikely. It would require an atypical physiology. He’s got more consistency and coherence than I’ve ever seen. He’s got one that’s called the scavenger hunt.

MCGREGOR: First one on there, a yellow robin’s egg. Second one, a wolf’s dream. Third, a Welsh shoelace. Fourth, a dirty napkin used by Garbo.

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