Alaska Sleep Education Center

Is There A Link Between Sleep and Stuttering?

Posted by Emma Williams on Jul 18, 2020 8:29:00 AM

When it comes to sleeping habits, there’s a great divide. Some people hit the pillow and, within minutes, they’re asleep. Others lie awake for hours trying to find ways to switch off, though fewer people probably turn to the traditional practice of counting sheep.

Some people believe they can live normal busy lives on just four hours’ sleep, as some political leaders have claimed. Others swear by nothing less than eight hours a night. Medical opinion generally recommends regular sleeping habits — going to bed at the same time every day and getting the requisite eight hours. However, that scenario can prove difficult for people like shift workers who have to change their sleeping habits regularly. 


Tossing and turning in bed.


Poor sleep poses health risks

With the emphasis on a ‘good night’s sleep’ for a healthy life, are there risks in bad sleeping habits or sleep deprivation? There are no simple answers, but plenty of popular beliefs as well as scientific studies on the subject, including a recent focus on the potential link between sleep or sleep apnea and stuttering. The studies – and the popular beliefs – take in every stage of life from the impact of infant sleep patterns to sleeping habits formed in later life.


An article in the Huffington Post examined the impact of poor sleep on aspects of our daily lives with a mix of popular beliefs and scientific study. For example, the article counters a popular belief that falling asleep immediately is a good sign by referencing a study by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.  That, says the study, may actually indicate a sleep disorder or severe sleep deprivation.  


The article goes on to relate poor sleep to habits like falling asleep watching a movie, acting impulsively or forgetting an important task. Sleep also affects the ability to concentrate and slows reaction times, for example, when driving or making other split second decisions. Good sleep habits on the other hand, such as creating regular bedtime rituals, a consistent sleep schedule, limiting caffeine, using chamomile tea etc, allow you to feel more energetic and productive, positively impacting mental and physical health.

Poor sleep and speech problems

Experts in behavioral sleep medicine at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center point out that the frontal lobe of the brain, which is associated with our ability to speak clearly, can be affected by sleep deprivation. 

This association has sparked a number of studies looking at speech problems and their potential relationship to sleep deprivation. One study by Benjamin C. Holding, Tina Sundelin, Mats Lekander and John Axelsson compared the performance of sleep-deprived volunteers in building models and describing the model-building process.  

The researchers found that sleep deprivation did have an effect on the speed and efficiency of building models with bricks. However, the group tasked with describing the process showed no impairment on the word-description task, suggesting that lack of sleep had no significant impact on speech accuracy. 

Sleep deprivation linked to stuttering

Looking at the specific issue of stuttering and sleep, Sandra Merlo, a Brazilian speech therapist, found that her patients reported a worsening in stuttering when they slept badly. However, she found no consistent pattern of improvement when different groups of patients followed sleep hygiene programs. 


With children, she observed many cases of complete recovery from stuttering, but was unsure if the improvement was due to ‘growing out of it’ or greater confidence. Two groups of adults with persistent stuttering problems responded in completely different ways. One group completely recovered; the other showed no signs of improvement following better sleeping habits. 

To try to identify the reasons for the link with stuttering, Dr. Merlo described a number of symptoms of poor sleeping habits:

  • Sleeping fewer hours than necessary, which she recommended as 14 hours for pre-school children, 10-11 hours for school children and 8 hours for teenagers and adults.
  • Sleeping out of phase, for example, going to bed later or sleeping in on weekends.
  • Irregular sleep patterns, particularly affecting shift workers.
  • Taking a long time to fall asleep or waking up several times during the night.
  • Broken sleep because of health problems.

She drew a number of conclusions from her experience with sleep-deprived patients suffering from stuttering:

  • Sleep deprivation can lead to mental problems such as anxiety which could cause stuttering through lack of confidence.
  • Poor sleep can increase tension in the muscles that enable speech – lips, tongue and vocal chords. 
  • Sleep deprivation can affect cognitive functions in the brain and may impair speech fluency. 

We asked speech therapy expert, Michelle Lachman from Better Speech for her view and an overall recommendation, and she said that patients with stuttering problems should follow sleep hygiene measures as an integral part of a wider speech therapy problem. 


Stuttering makes her feel alone.Sleep and stuttering problems linked to early brain damage 

A study by scientists at the University of California looked more deeply at the brain for links with stuttering related to sleep apnea.  The team used MRI scanning to compare the brains of two groups – one with stuttering problems and one with no problems. 


The scientists found that areas of the brain linked to speech production were smaller in the group that stuttered. This was due to brain damage and the severity of stuttering correlated with the extent of brain damage. They also found that 38 percent of patients had suffered stuttering as children

Better sleep, better health

Although scientific studies have reached different conclusions about the links between sleep and stuttering, overall recommendations are that good sleeping patterns, good sleep hygiene and a supported sleep environment are fundamental to healthy living and recovery from physical and mental health problems. 

At Alaska Sleep Clinic, we are constantly educating ourselves and our communities about the links between sleep and so many other health issues.  Out motto is: "Improve Your Sleep.  Improve Your Life" because we know that is true.  Call us today @ 907-770-9104.

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Topics: alaska sleep clinic, sleep health, stuttering

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