Catathrenia – Are You Making Strange Noises While Sleeping?

man keeping a woman awakeJust when you thought you were dropping off to sleep, your partner irritably shakes you awake. A conversation along these lines takes place:

‘You’re making those weird noises again!’

‘What noises?’

‘You know, with that horrible groaning sound that goes on for ages. I can’t sleep with you doing that…’

If this sounds familiar, then it may be that you are suffering from catathrenia.


What is Catathrenia?

Sometimes known as nocturnal groaning, catathrenia is a rare sleep disorder which falls under the category of parasomnias. Parasomnias are most basically defined as strange night-time occurrences. And the sound made by catathrenia sufferers in their sleep can be very strange indeed.

People who have catathrenia will typically breathe in deeply while sleeping. They then hold their breath for a short while. Then emit a long groaning, moaning or shrieking noise which can last from a few seconds up to a minute. At the end of the groan will be a secondary noise like a snorting, or the person might also wake up.

The noise made can be very loud, and for some people can even strangely sound like a sexual noise. This of course can be quite disturbing or annoying for other people in the household who can hear it.

Catathrenia usually occurs during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep. Though it is possible for it to happen during other stages. Most people report it happening later in the night, which mirrors the fact that there is more REM sleep later on during sleeping.

People who have catathrenia will usually experience it for many years. And during this time will in many cases experience it most nights. And unless their partner is one of the lucky few people who can sleep through any noise, they will also experience it second hand!


What Catathrenia is not:

catathrenia and snoring are not the same thing

Catathrenia could be confused for other sleep disorders or heath issues. So it is important to understand that it is not any of the following:

  • Related to snoring. The easy way to tell the difference is that snoring usually takes place on the in-breath, whereas catathrenia takes place during the out-breath
  • Related to exhalatory  snoring (yes, this does appear to contradict the first point!). The noise in this kind of snoring is also made on the out-breath. However, the distinction is that only with catathrenia does the person hold their breath after they breathe in
  • Sleep apnea. Even though both disorders involve a pause in breathing, there is a difference. With apnea the pause happens after breathing out; with catathrenia, the pause happens after breathing in
  • Stridor – which is a potentially dangerous condition where a person lets out a high pitch sound due to a constriction of the airways
  • Related to sleep talking. Despite the fact that sometimes people can make a very strange sound, it is not the same as sleep talking
  • Moaning as occurs during epileptic seizures
  • Related to any other breathing disorder
  • Related to any dream states or mental suffering

When diagnosing catathrenia, a medical professional would want to rule out the above possibilities, particularly the more threatening ones like apnea, epilepsy and stridor.


What causes catathrenia?

As with many sleep disorders, the cause of catathrenia is still in debate among the medical and scientific community. There have been various theories put forward, including:

  • Obstruction or restriction of the upper airway
  • During REM sleep, the vocal chords may partially close off. A forced out-breath then takes place to push through this closure and unblock the vocal chords
  • Damage to brain structures that control breathing
  • There have also been suggestions it is connected to high stress levels

Unfortunately there is a lack of studies that have been done to work out the exact causes. Since Catathrenia results in more social problems than being medically dangerous, researchers are for the most part focused on sleep disorders which can be harmful.

Despite the lack of consensus as to the cause, it does appear that many researchers believe it is an obstruction or restriction of the airways that causes catathrenia. Because of that, some argue that it should not be classed as a parasomnia, but a sleep-related breathing disorder.


Catathrenia treatment:

Many people do not even realise they have catathrenia until a partner or someone sleeping in their house tells them about the noise. The first step is of course to identify that it is not a different sleep disorder.

Talking with a medical professional or having a sleep study conducted is the best way to make sure catathrenia is identified correctly. You may be diagnosed purely from your history and reported symptoms. Otherwise you may be asked to have a polysomnogram, which is an over-night sleep study.

Following this there are 2 ways of looking at treatment:

  1. Should the sufferer look at ways to address the problem?
  2. Should the person who is being disturbed find ways to block out the noise?!

For actual treatment of the patient, it seems either an oral device or a CPAP machine are currently the main options, with surgery also a possibility.

In 2008, a study at Standford University of 7 catathrenia sufferers found that a Continuous Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP) machine helped resolve the nocturnal groaning for all 7 people.

A CPAP machine delivers air gently through the nose to keep the airways open. Interestingly it is normally only used by people who have Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

In that study though, all 7 of the people refused to keep wearing the machine, and most had surgery after the study. The researchers reported that those who did have surgery were cured of their catathrenia.

Since catathrenia is seen as a mild disorder, and more of an inconvenience for sufferers and their families, treatment is not usually rushed, and the least intrusive options offered first.

So the alternative is for people who are being disturbed by the noise to take action. Wearing ear plugs for sleeping could help in some circumstances, though possibly not for the loudest of groaners.

I have also heard suggestions of using a white noise machine to mask the sound. This is unlikely to work though if you are in the same room. Maybe if you are hearing it from another bedroom in the same house, but not if you are right next to the person making the sounds.

So if you are unable to find ways for you and anyone else living with you to cope, or are concerned that you might have a different sleep disorder, you may find seeking medical advice a good first step.



38 Responses to “Catathrenia – Are You Making Strange Noises While Sleeping?”

  1. Abbey soucy says:

    What type of surgery have people had? I need help asap

  2. Mary says:

    Thank you so much for this concise and informative piece. It is incredibly useful and I feel much more informed and able to talk about it.

  3. Kassie says:

    I’m a 54-year-old woman with a long history of “some sort” of sleep disorder.
    In my early 30s I had a sleep study performed as I was breath holding in my sleep; this was waking me up with shortness of breath and pounding heart and my husband was worried I was going to die in my sleep. My BMI at the time was about 21-22 and the sleep specialist thought I had atypical sleep apnoea. He actually seemed really annoyed after I had a completely normal sleep study and started lecturing me about anxiety and stress.
    I don’t moan during sleep and I don’t breath-hold as much, but I make a funny collection of noises, sometimes a clicking noise, sometimes an urk,urk, urk, urk strangled sort of noise. My husband says it’s sometimes like a menagerie or a “soundtrack to a dream”. Sometimes I wake up while I’m doing it and can hear myself making these noises, most often I just disturb my husband. I think it’s becoming worse, happening nightly. Does this type of noise sound like catathrenia to you?

    • Hi Kassie

      It’s not really my place to try and diagnose sleep disorders within these comments I’m afraid. What I would suggest though is that if you last saw a specialist 20 years ago, then there’s nothing wrong with seeing your doctor or a sleep specialist again to check what’s going on. Especially if you think it’s getting worse. Sorry I can’t help more, and I do hope that you manage to resolve it.


  4. Nneka says:

    Thank you for putting my mind at ease with this article. i have been experiencing same sleeping disorder just the way you have described catathrenia. But in the last 2 months the strange sounds have gotten worse. sometimes it wakes me up! well at least i know it isn’t life threatening just comes with social implications.
    Thank you very much!

    • Hi Nneka

      Thanks to you too for taking the time to comment. It’s greatly appreciated when readers take the time to say thank you:-)

      Hopefully it is something as harmless as Catathrenia. But it still might be worth getting yourself checked out by a doctor just to be on the safe side, especially if it’s waking you up. It’s good to be sure it’s not a different breathing disorder that’s waking you.

      All the best

  5. Randy says:

    Thank you for this information. As i read this to my wife she said it described what is taking place perfectly. We have small children so ear plugs or any other device making noise will not work for us. Now that we know what it is we can look into treatment and or the surgery. I have heard the cpap machines are uncomfortable and slightly annoying to listen too. We desperately need to find a fix. So thank you again for the information.

    • Hi Randy

      Thanks for sharing your story, and I’m sorry to hear it’s troubling you so much. Hopefully if you do get a diagnosis of catathrenia confirmed by a doctor, they’ll be able to find something which can help you. And I understand about not wanting to block out sound if you have small children. It leaves you in a slightly tricky position – unless of course your partner wears the earplugs sometimes while you keep one ear open for the kids.

      If you ever do find a fix, it would be great if you could take a moment to come back and explain what worked for you.

      I wish you all the best

  6. la morria says:

    hi…my husband tells me that I make sounds he don’t like…he wakes me up at nights and asks me what I’m dreaming or who I’m dreaming with…cuz he says I make sounds like if I’m having sex with someone, and that sometimes I’m touching myself all over my body…I didn’t believe him at first but one night he recorded my noises…and I’m not dreaming of anyone or anything. I’m really concerned about this..he thinks I’m cheating on him and I’m NOT. could you help me in any way, please let me know.

    • Hi there

      First of all thank you for sharing your experience here. You are not alone in having this kind of problem, and I know it’s a difficult one to deal with sometimes.

      There are a few pieces of advice I could give you. Firstly you and your husband could both go to a doctor to talk about it, and perhaps he would settle if told by a professional what is going on.

      You could even ask him to read this article; he might find it reassuring in some way.

      If you’re making noises which he thinks are sexual, then it could be catathrenia. But there is also the possibility of a different sleep disorder if you are moving and acting out dreams in your sleep. Something called REM sleep behavior disorder, which is often a problem when people act out violent dreams in their sleep and hurt themselves or a partner.

      But it can be any kind of dream that is acted out. I was once woken up, for example, by my ex-partner sat up in bed wafting the duvet. I asked her what she was doing and she said she was “making waves for the boat!”

      I’m not saying you have one or both of these sleep disorders, and you would need a doctor to look further into it. But it might help your current situation to ask your husband to read this article and do some research about REM sleep behavior disorder. Unfortunately I haven’t written about it myself on this website yet, though I plan to. You can look it up online though.

      Then hopefully he’ll feel some reassurance that it’s common for people to do both of these things, and it doesn’t have to mean that the person is doing anything actually to inspire it. My ex-partner for example hadn’t been on a boat for a very long time, so there was no connection. Dreams are strange things, and they don’t always relate exactly to our waking lives.

      Hope that helps

  7. James Burke says:

    Very helpful in depth article Ethan. I am 17 and this has been happening for a while and I wasnt sure if I was imaging it at first until I was told about it. I then got very worried and this seems to be the only explanation for the noises. Thank you again.

    • You are very welcome James, and thanks to you in return for taking the time to leave a comment and show appreciation. Comments like this help with the motivation to write:-) And I’m glad you might be one step closer to working out what’s happening for you.

  8. Moustafa says:

    Thank you for the great article
    I’ve been mocked by roommates for long time they even think i might be haunted or something like that which really pains me
    if you would please list me some of the devices u know it may work even if you are not sure about.

    • Hi Moustafa

      I’m glad you liked the article, and I think you can probably safely assume you are not haunted! I think the best step if it is causing you problems is to speak to a doctor. They would be able to explain more about any devices, or refer you to a specialist who knows what is available for you.

  9. SLN says:

    Hi, this is very interesting. This actually happens to me when I am AWAKE and thinking deeply. I can’t hear it myself but others have frequently commented to me. It can be very embarrassing. Do you have any idea if this is a related phenomenon?? Thanks!

    • Hi SLN

      Thanks for your comment, and sorry for the slow reply. I’ve was doing a course for the last month and have had no time to reply to comments. I’m slightly confused as to how you can’t hear the noise you’re making if you’re awake? Do you mean you just don’t notice you’re doing it?

  10. billy says:

    I would just like to say thank you for writing this article, I have had this since the day I was born. My mom told me that when I was in the nursery I was keeping all the other babies up and they were all crying but yet I was sound asleep making a humming sound. I’m now 28 I do still hum every single night, it rarely wake’s me up. I’m glad that there is not anything to really be concerned about unless you have a partner who is a light sleeper. I’ve never really thought it was a disorder. It always seemed very normal to me, but thank you again for the great info.

    • Hi Billy

      Thanks for your comment, and the compliments – it’s much appreciated.
      It’s really interesting that you’re able to trace it back to birth, assuming it is catathrenia. It must have been pretty loud humming to have kept newborns awake though!
      And yes, it’s a partner who is most likely to be affected by your humming unfortunately. Let’s just hope they’re a better sleeper than those newborns:-)

  11. Santha says:

    I am enlightened after reading your article! I have been having sleepless nights because of my mum! Thank you so very much!

  12. abbey Soucy says:

    I have had this problem for years and the last year has been awful. I’m newly married and we can’t even sleep in the same room!! I need a cure asap!! The drs have tried ‘ativan’ ‘klonopin’ nothing works!

    • Hi Abbey

      Sorry to hear you’re having such a problem. Those drugs are not something which you would be able to take long-term though anyway, and wouldn’t want to either. Did the doctor diagnose you with catathrenia before offering those drugs, or were they prescribed for something else in the hope that they might help? Other than the treatments described in the article, you may find it helpful to see if your partner will be willing to try any of the noise blocking ideas. Sad as it may be, it might mean you can at least sleep next to one another.

      I hope you find a solution soon.

  13. Shannon says:

    Thanks so much for this article, I’m 15 and it’s kinda embarrassing when I make these noises at a sleepover and I scheduled an appointment with my doctor soon.

    • Hi Shannon

      You’re very welcome – I’m glad it’s been helpful. Hopefully you’ll find the appointment useful, and find a way to knock that embarrassment on the head.


  14. Kiana says:

    Thank you for this article! My husband does this at night and it drives me crazy. I usually poke him or do something to briefly wake him up so he will stop. I’m just glad to know it’s not life threatening, especially when he holds his breath like that. The noises he makes are very creepy sometimes though and it freaks me out.

    • You’re welcome Kiana, and I’m glad it was helpful. You might still like to have a doctor check him out though just to be 100% sure the breath holding isn’t anything more serious.


  15. Brian says:

    Gee, im glad im not the only one. I thought i was going crazy. sometimes i just lay down for a rest and i catch myself doing it. It’s not a loud grunt. but like a soft sound that sounds like “hmm?” i want so much to stop doing that because im afraid of it getting worse

  16. Rachel Shelley says:

    My Husband has been making this noise for many years. It sounds like he has taken a big indrawn breath (although I don’t hear that part) and then releases it slowly a bit at a time, with a small grunt of expulsed air, every few seconds. This continues for a while then there is usually a full release of breathe and back to normal. If it gets too loud or too long a gentle prod to move him slightly, so he readjusts himself by moving is usually all that is needed.

    • Hi Rachel,

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I think a gentle prod seems to work well for lots of people, fortunately! And hopefully it is just Catathrenia and nothing more serious to worry about with the unusual breathing pattern.
      Well done for putting up with it so calmly:-)

  17. Melissa Jane says:

    I thought I was the only person who does this! I’m so paranoid about doing it and waking my partner up that I try and stay awake for as long as I can to give him a head start to get to sleep. My partner says it sounds like I am agreeing with someone, but I do it every night and I even wake myself up sometimes because I’m so loud! I figured I was just a weirdo, so thanks for this helpful and informative article!

    • Hi Melissa

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment. I’m really pleased to have set your mind at rest regarding the weirdo status! How nice of you to give him that head start – does he even know you’re being so thoughtful?

  18. Melissa says:

    Thank you so much for posting this article. My mom has had this my entire life and my husband tells me I have woken him up several times over the past few years, but apparently, mine is not as severe as my mom’s. Has anyone looked into the possibility of this being genetic?

    • Hi Melissa

      I’m glad you found it useful:-) I personally haven’t heard of a genetic element to catathrenia. That’s not to say there isn’t one, though with the lack of research done on it in general, if there is it may be a while before we find out!
      Thanks for the comment

  19. Moustafa says:

    me and my mother have it severely, and I think we can eliminate airway obstruction causes for us, it may be the brain structure which genetically affects us, or high stress.

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