Catathrenia – Are You Making Strange Noises While Sleeping?

a woman who can't sleep because of the man's noiseJust 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’re 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. It is possible for it to happen during other sleep stages though.

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 isn’t

catathrenia and snoring are not the same thingCatathrenia could be confused for other sleep disorders or heath issues. So it’s important to understand that it isn’t 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 (which seems like it contradicts 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’s a key 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 isn’t 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 conditions like apnea, epilepsy and stridor.


What causes catathrenia?

As with many sleep disorders the exact 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’s connected to high stress levels

Unfortunately there’s 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’s 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 don’t 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 isn’t 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’s 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 are offered first.

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

I’ve also heard suggestions of using a white noise machine to mask the sound. This is unlikely to work though if you’re in the same room.

Maybe if you’re 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’re 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.



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

  1. Rob says:


    I am 32 and have had this condition/issue for many years. Most nights I apparently (because I’ve never heard it myself!) make either short bursts of moaning noises, or slightly more prolonged moans. My ex and also my current partner have reported this. However, she has informed me that all she does when it happens is tickle me gently on the back or sides. It makes me change position in my sleep, and doesn’t wake me up, but the groaning stops. Maybe give that a try? Hope it helps!

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Rob,

      Thanks for your comment, and for the suggestion. I’m sure many readers who struggle with this condition will appreciate any practical tips which might help.
      And you could always try recording yourself sleeping so you can hear it for yourself.

  2. Chloe Ocaldo says:

    I’m eighteen and my friends & boyfriend have been complaining about me making rather sexual groaning noises in my sleep for a very long time. I am going to a music festival in a couple of days with a group of people I do not know very well and the thought came into my mind what happens if the groaning thing happens?! So I researched how to stop it and was met with this website. It’s somewhat reassuring to know it’s harmless but obviously it can prove very embarrassing at the best of times, however I really don’t want to scare off the people around me as they will either be really freaked out when I tell them, or just really take the mickey.
    Is there anything I can do to lessen the noise in my sleep, or just prevent it for a few days?
    Many thanks.

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Chloe
      Thanks for your comment, and I’m sorry to hear you’ve been having difficulty withe potential embarrassment of this. I can understand your worries about the festival. To be honest, I’m not sure I can offer any immediate solutions other than some practical ways to perhaps avoid them hearing it it happens. For example, try to camp in a noisier area so they don’t pay so much attention in the night, maybe try to fall asleep a little later than they do. I’m not sure really! It could be that at a festival you’re all so tired anyway that you sleep well without paying much attention to what’s happening around. I would also just try to take care of yourself at the festival. Don’t drink too much alcohol, keep well hydrated and eat well.
      Above all try not to stress about it. If you’re worried about them taking the mickey, maybe you could get in their first and make a joke out of it. If you own the joke, and take control of it from the outset, then it won’t be so appealing to them to take the mickey if they don’t think it will really bother you. Taking the mickey is only fun if you think you’ll get a reaction from the person:-)

  3. Palauan_Girl says:

    Okay so here’s my problem. You see it rarely happens during night time.Very once in a while i make long MMMmmmm sounds. it happens when i exhale ONLY. and it takes up to like 15-20 sec or more. my husband gets so annoyed. You see, it happens more often when i take naps on afternoons! it literally wakes me up and it takes me a few seconds to realize i’m making the sounds again when i go back to my nap. It’s so frustrating!!

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Palauan_Girl

      Thanks for the comment, and I can understand the frustration. I guess the most obvious solution which comes to mind if it is upsetting you is to try to avoid napping during the day. Is this possible for you?
      And if your husband is not coping well with the noises you make, then perhaps invite him to read this article. It might help to accept the fact that you’re not the only one, and that it doesn’t mean anything weird is going on. It’s just a part of who you are.

  4. Kate says:

    I’m 26 now and my friends informed me that I started moaning in my sleep when I was 16. They’ve all known me since childhood and they said that I didn’t make any noise when sleeping until 16.

    When I’m just dozing off and wake up I can hear the soft humming sound. It sounds like I’m making a long Mmmm noise during every exhale. And sometimes when I’m just waking up I can still hear myself hum/moan/groaning before I’m entirely awake and realize what I’m doing. My friends/roommates have told me that it happens every night and it gets louder and more sexual sounding once I’ve been asleep for a while. I told them that I’m not having sexual dreams and I don’t but recently, just within the past month or so, I’ve been waking up in a kind of aroused state that I can’t explain and I’m not sure what I should do about it?

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Kate

      Thanks for your comment, and I can understand how it must be concerning to have this new sensation accompanying the noises you make. It could just be coincidence. I imagine that with the history you have of making the noises, the temptation would be to link the two if you start waking up feeling aroused. my advice would be to try not to worry about it, and hopefully it will pass.

  5. ANTHONY says:


    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Anthony

      Thanks for your comment. Hopefully your fire alarm is loud enough to cut through earplugs. If not, you can always experiment to find ones which block out unwanted sounds but which still allow certain sounds, like alarms through. There are lots of excellent earplugs which will allow that. You just have to experiment a bit with them.

  6. Kayla says:

    I googled noises while sleeping because she makes weird noises while she sleeps, and I think she has CATathrenia, lol. She is really loud though, and I think she has nightmares because she just wakes up hissing sometimes.

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Kayla,

      Thanks for your comment. Just out of interest, who is ‘she’. Is it a family member? And it could be that she is making noises in relation to her dreams, but this would be different from catathrenia, which would likely follow some kind of a pattern of making noises regularly whilst breathing.

  7. Diane says:

    Is this something that can be self-diagnosed or do I have to get a doctor to? A year or two ago my friends told me that I moan in my sleep, and for the past month I have recorded myself with an app and every night it never fails. It adds up to almost 5 minutes of recorded moaning.
    Anyway, I ask this because I’m filling out papers to find roommates for college (going to be my freshman year) and I’d like to let them know that I make noises. So can I say it’s catathrenia, or do I have to have a sleep study done or something?

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Diane,

      Thanks for your comment. To be honest I’m not sure where you stand on that front in terms of applying to college. I think there’s a difference between self-diagnosing for the purpose of finding home-remedies etc and telling other people or institutions that you have it. Do you have to actually write something so official? Can you not just say that you make noises in your sleep, so you need a roommate who can sleep through anything? That might be easier than telling people you have a ‘diagnosis’ which you may not even have, and which might put them off!

  8. Queen says:

    Hi Ethan.
    I’ve lived with my boyfriend for 3 years now and he has this breathing thing that occurs every night where he takes a breath and holds it, when he exhales, it makes a high shrieking noise and it goes on like that for about 10-15sec at a time, ALL night. He then quickly expels the remaining air through the nose and it’s back to the breathe-holding and shrieking high pitch sound. I wake him all the time because I keep thinking that he’s passed out and unable to breath or that he’ll hold his breath for too long and die in his sleep. I know it sounds ridiculous but it feels and sounds dangerous and it scares me almost all the time. Sometimes I try to ignore it but I end up with sleepless nights. I tend to have anxiety and/or insomnia sometimes and when I don’t have those, I have his shrieking and breathe-holding. Are there other ways of curing or dealing with it using home remedies because when he is ill he refuses to see a doctor, and because he doesn’t feel ill when this occurs he will definitely find a reason to not get checked. I suggested that he stops smoking but he’s been saying he’ll stop since we started dating. He also mentioned something about a heart condition that he got from his dad, I don’t know, please help I’m more frightend than annoyed by this.
    Kind Regards

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Queen,

      Thank you for your comment, and I can understand why you are both worried and upset by this situation. Guys can be incredibly stubborn sometimes, and it’s not unusual for health to be one of those areas we dig our heels in about.
      If he won’t get checked out for his own sake, do you think he might do it for yours? Have you told him calmly during the daytime (not in the middle of the night!) how much it is affecting you and making life that much harder for you? It’s not fair that you lose sleep and stay up half the night making sure he’s ok. I think if he cares about you, then he should listen and take you seriously. I certainly would if my partner told me I was upsetting them that much.
      I also think it would be a wise idea to get checked out by a doctor. Any breathing disturbances in your sleep can be potentially serious, so he should definitely get that checked out. He might be living with it at the moment, and be none-the-wiser because he’s asleep when it happens. But it doesn’t mean that there isn’t something important that needs addressing.
      Maybe he even knows that deep down, but is too scared or worried to find out from a doctor if he really does have a medical condition. If he already has a heart condition, then perhaps he’s worried that this would be another problem for him to have to think about.
      My advice would be to talk to him calmly and honestly at the right moment in the daytime, when you’re both feeling close and good together. And if that doesn’t work, you could even show him this comment!
      All the best

  9. Aleksandria says:

    I am fairly certain that I have this sleeping disorder. My mother says that it has been going on my entire life. A lot of people in my family have some kind of sleeping disorder, be it insomnia, sleep apnea, etc. My sister in particular, though, seems to have this as well. Again, my mother says that it has gone on all of her life as well. That led me to wonder, can this sleeping disorder, catathrenia, be genetic or somehow caused at birth or during development?

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Aleksandria

      Thank you for your comment. Even just reading other peoples’ comment you would think that there is some anecdotal evidence for it being a hereditary sleep disorder. I’m not sure about it being caused at birth or during development. I couldn’t give you any specifics on that. But whatever the case, I guess the main thing is finding a way to either deal with it, or reduce the stress it might cause you should people complain about it. And that’s something hopefully you’ll be able to do.

  10. Savannah says:

    So you’re saying I will have this the rest of my life unless I get surgery? I’m 17 and I’ve had this since I was sucks because I have fears of spending the night at a friends house and them hearing me, thinking “What the heck is she doing”.I don’t like surgery. So I guess I’m kind of screwed, ain’t I?

    • Ethan Green says:

      That’s not what I’m saying! I think maybe the best thing for you to do if it’s really upsetting you is to speak to your doctor about it. Firstly to confirm that you do in fact have this, and then secondly if they can either suggest anything which isn’t surgery, or refer you to a sleep specialist for further advice. Maybe between them they will have some suggestions which are also based on the knowledge of your personal medical history and current situation.

  11. Kayla Rogers says:

    My sister is 18 and she has been making these clicking and sucking noises for 4 years and she has not relized it but we both share a room with each other and I keep telling her to stop making the weird noises and she keeps getting louder and louder. What is the solution? What can I do to ignore her?

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Kayla,

      Thank you for your comment, and I can understand your frustration. The thing is, if she’s doing it in her sleep, she probably won’t be able to control it just by will-power, even if she wants to when you tell her to stop.
      There are two ways to look at this as I said in the article:
      1) She could try speaking to her doctor to get some advice.
      2) You can try to become less upset by the noise, or find a way to block it out. I do recommend earplugs as they are a cheap and effective way to block out noise. Or you could try listening to music on some headphones which you can sleep with.
      But also, if you accept that it’s a problem which is beyond her easy control, then hopefully you will become less annoyed by it. And if you are less annoyed, you will sleep better.
      I hope that helps a little!

  12. Bonnie says:

    My mother is 84 and has started this behavior within the last year. She moans and until she assured me she is not, I thought she was in pain in her sleep. She also talks in her sleep. Recently she has been worried that something is wrong with her . She says it’s not disturbing her sleep so I guess she is ok.

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Bonnie,

      Thanks for your comment. I think with things like catathrenia, if that’s what it is, if it doesn’t bother her or anyone else, then it might be something you just have to live with. The same with sleep talking! But if it does worry her, or she has breathing difficulties, it might be a good idea to speak to a doctor.

  13. cristina says:

    I’m 18 and I just recently discovered that I make strange noises in my sleep. My sister was the first to point it out saying that it sounded like I was singing or humming. I thought it was because I fall asleep listening to music and so i tried to sleep without it but it still occurred. I’m worried since I live in a dorm room with two other people and that it will become an issue. Do you know if there’s been a situation where this has been solved without surgery?

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Cristina,

      Thanks for your comment. I think as I mentioned in the article, the best step is to visit a doctor. Before even thinking about surgery, you need to know whether you actually have this, or something completely different. I think people do manage to control the sounds they make in their sleep sometimes, but it might be a case of trial and error with different devices which might be otherwise recommended for snoring or apnea for example. But your doctor would be able to talk to you about this. Have your dorm mates said anything? Maybe it’s not as loud as you think, or maybe it doesn’t disturb them. If that’s the case, then like many people you might just be able to live with it, and perhaps it will resolve naturally over time.
      All the best

  14. Tracey Kryak says:

    I am quite impressed with SlumberNow CLIP simple little device. I can tell it’s helping because I no longer wake up with a totally dry, scratchy throat. If I forgot to put it in I really notice the difference. I’m super sensitive about any thing like this but it hasn’t caused any tenderness or irritation. I like the little case too otherwise it would be easy to lose. It’s pretty flimsy in that the hinge comes undone easily but hasn’t broken. Overall a very good product for little money.

  15. BB says:

    I also make these types of weird noises on exhaling during sleeping. My doctor scheduled a sleep study for me, will this test pick up if I have Catathrenia also or just the regular sleep apnea abnormalities?

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi BB

      Thanks for your comment. If you are having it done in a sleep center, overseen by sleep specialists, then I would hope they would be able to identify exactly what is going on, yes.
      Good luck with it, and if you do find out something and have a moment to pop back, it would be great to hear from you again.

  16. Anne says:

    I like to ask if I have sleeping disorder, when I sleep at night I sometime moan but only once then I sleep through the rest of the night without moaning but the thing is that when I start to doze off sleeping, I moan then somehow my body feels relax and then I fall into a deep sleep.

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Anne,

      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately it’s not really my place to offer diagnoses of sleep disorders. To really find out, you would need to talk to your doctor who would have a full picture of your medical condition and current situation.
      Having said that, I’m not sure that moaning once when falling asleep falls into the category of any sleep disorder that I know of. It could be that it’s just the way you relax and fall asleep. Unless it’s causing you or anyone who sleeps with you problems, then I probably wouldn’t worry about it. But if it is, then talk to your doctor about it and see what they say.

  17. yvonne says:

    I have been moaning in my sleep and have occasional nightmares. I am only occasionally aware of it, usually when I first drift off to sleep. My husband says it started after my open heart surgery and at times is pretty loud. What do you think of my situation? y

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Yvonne,

      Thanks for your comment, though I’m not sure what to say about your situation unfortunately. It’s not unusual to have nightmares, even as an adult, especially following traumatic or stressful events. If it’s bothering you, then you could always take a look at my article giving advice about how to stop nightmares. With the moaning, I imagine it’s possible that if it’s been brought on by the stress of the surgery, it might settle down again in the future. But really the only person who can give you specific and individual advice based on your whole medical history is your own doctor. If it continues to disrupt you or your partner’s sleep, then it might be good to mention it to them.
      All the best and I wish you a speedy recovery.

  18. Lynne says:

    Hi Ethan, I am definitely getting myself a doctor’s appointment regarding making annoying noises while I am asleep. I am 48 and started about 4/5 years ago. I started a new exciting but slightly stressful job and it seemed to start then. I have been married for 25 years and my hubby never mentioned it before that.

    It is embarrassing if I have to share a room with a friend, in fact this year I did and when I woke up she threw a pillow at me. I haven’t shared a room with a friend since, I felt awful.

    I had to share with my daughter this week for a few nights, she kept prodding me, the next night I stayed awake until she was asleep.

    I wake myself up sometimes, its like I am agreeing with someone, sort of hmmmm hmmmm. I feel like taping my mouth up, maybe my whole face.

    I am so amazed its an actual condition and others have it, and can’t thank you enough for your article.

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Lynne

      Thank you for your comment, and I can understand the embarrassment. If you’ve read the other comments you’ll see that not only do others have it, they also find it stressful and embarrassing.

      With a little luck, if it only started after this major life change (the new job), then perhaps once you settle into it you’ll go back to sleeping the way you before. Stress is known to trigger many sleep problems, but they also often get better once the stress reduces.

      If your doctor has something to say about it, it would be very interesting to hear back from you if you have a moment.

      All the best

      • Lynne says:

        Hi Ethan, thanks for your response, I will kep you posted if the doctor gives me any interesting advise.

        • Ethan Green says:

          No problem Lynne. I hope it goes well, and it’s always interesting to hear what advice people receive, and I know other readers find it useful, so if you do have a moment to come back, that would be great.

  19. Charlie says:

    I researched about this because i am suffering from it. It is the second night that i am moaning when sleeping. i think of two reasons and thats just a conclusion, first maybe its because of a lot of stress. because recently i am sleepless. Second, the air pollution, last time i got stucked in a traffic and all the surroundings are filled with smoke from vehicles and all i can breathe is that smoke and even i covered my nose, i still inhaled the smoke. I became suffocated that time. then i got a severe cough. I feel itchiness of my lungs, after that, i am moaning when sleeping. What do you think may be the reason of it?

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Charlie,

      Thanks from your comment, though it sounds to me like it may not be catathrenia, but simply your lungs have taken a beating from all that pollution! Hopefully they will clear up soon, and you will stop making the noises again. Maybe if it’s still happening in a few days, consult your doctor to check there isn’t anything that needs treatment.

  20. Darren says:

    For as long as I can remember, I nearly always hum on my out breath during sleep. It’s not a moan or groan but a hum coming through my vocal cords, it drives my girlfriend mad and if she doesn’t wake me up in the night it does.
    At times I am aware I’m doing it but can’t stop unless I wake myself up, meaning I must be in a lighter sleep?
    A busy (stressful) week may make it louder or make me do it more regular but it generally happens every night.
    Does this sound similar to your article or is this something different?
    Would be grateful for a response,

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi Darren,

      Thanks for your comment, and sorry to hear that like many people you and your partner are both having disturbed sleep. Unfortunately it’s difficult to say whether it’s catathenia exactly or not that you have. Though most people don’t usually describe a hum, but more of a groaning noise in one way or another. If it’s really an issue and disrupting your lives due to the lack of sleep, then perhaps you could speak to your doctor about it and see if they can assess it, or send you to a sleep specialist. Otherwise it may sadly have to be something both you and your partner end up having to find a way to live with and sleep through.
      All the best

  21. Sneha says:

    Thanks for the article. I too have this problem and happy to learn that it’s harmless. I realised when my roommates told me about it. Sometimes even I wake up hearing this. I would like to share that even my grandmother had this…might be… genetic. And yeah whenever I have had a bad, stressful day the sound is loud.

    • Ethan Green says:

      Hi sneha,

      Thanks for your comment, and I”m glad you found the article helpful. I think a few people find it gets worse when they’ve had a stressful day…perhaps a good reason to do some nice, relaxing things at the end of those long days and see if that helps.

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