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, it could 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 sleep-related breathing disorders.

Interestingly, up until 2013 it was classified as a parasomnia rather than a breathing disorder. But it was then moved to the breathing disorder category in the most recent International Classification of Sleep disorders manual – ICSD-3.

People who have catathrenia will typically breathe in deeply while sleeping. They then hold their breath for a short while. When they breathe out if may sound like a long groaning, moaning or shrieking noise.

The noise can last from a few seconds up to a minute. And at the end of the groan they might make a secondary noise like a snorting, or they might also wake up.

The noise made can be very loud, and for some people can even sound like a sexual noise. This can be quite disturbing or annoying for other people in the household who hear it, not to mention embarrassing for the person making the noise.

Catathrenia usually occurs during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep, though can occur in other sleep stages. Most people report it happening later in the night, which mirrors the fact that there’s 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 can sleep through the noise, it can become an on-going source of frustration for both people.

Some researchers in fact suggest there could be sub-types of catathrenia, for example depending on whether the noise made on each out-breath is short or long.

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 which 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 is usually more of a social problem than 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.

Medical treatment

Many people don’t even realize 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 Sleep Apnea.

In that study though, 5 people also chose to have surgery later on. And of the 4 people that reported back later to the researchers, 3 needed an oral device as well.

It might sounds like it was quite an ordeal for those in the study, but the good news is that all 4 were eventually cured of the catathrenia.

And more recently in 2012, researchers gave 4 people from their group of 10 catathrenia sufferers a CPAP machine, finding that all of them has significantly less moaning events.

Blocking the sound

It seems then that using a CPAP machine is currently the most successful treatment offered. However, not everyone is comfortable with using one for years on end.

One alternative is for people who are being disturbed by the noise to take action. Wearing sleep earplugs could help in some circumstances, though possibly not if the sound being made is extremely loud.

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 bed. It might help if you’re hearing it from another bedroom in the same house, but not if you’re 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.

Readers’ tips

Several readers have commented to say that they found raising their pillows helped stop the groaning sounds. I haven’t seen this published as a recommended treatment, but it’s great that readers think it helps.

One or two have also offered the suggestion of sleeping on your side. Again, this doesn’t have research to back it up, but it’s worth trying out.

I’d be very grateful if you could leave a comment to say if these ideas work for you, if you decide to try them or already have done. That way I can write in more detail about how often it helps people.

And if you have any other suggestions for coping mechanisms that might benefit other readers, please feel free to leave a comment below.

456 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I wake up a lot during the night, but the moaning occurs exclusively in the morning. This started after I had a brain injury. But I also sleep on my back and have clogged sinuses. I will try sleeping on my side. Good to know this works for people.

  • This sort of thing has been happening to me a lot lately and its caused pretty big problems as a result. Quick relevant info, I have a girlfriend who works third shift so I will often end up staying up all night or ill just have really odd sleep patterns.

    I live with my parents and sometimes usually really early in the morning im awoke to my mom or dad screaming at me in my room claiming im making crazy noises, to which im not at all aware of. They seem to be convinced im taking drugs and i guess im just really high. (if this were the case i think id be out cold and I think i might just start taking loads of Zzquil to just go bnack to sleep. Anyways…this seems to be a problem when im super tired and im open to any advice.

  • My boyfriend usually snores really loud but you can tell his breathing is off. very recently has he begun to moan and whimper in his sleep, along with it sounding like he’s almost holding his breath then taking in quick breaths. It’s concerning to listen to, but I never really wake him up because he just continues to do it when he falls back to sleep. It’s interesting to see an article with some reasons as to what this may be.

  • A friend in her bedroom I woke her up as I was making strange noises then I woke up but my chest feel very tight still after waking up I woke up and I was on my side?

  • I have this problem too. It started about a month ago. My mum says I groan almost every night. And I walk myself up sometimes. Almost as if I’m trying to talk. I think it may be stress related because in the past month, I have gone through alot and I am having a hard time trying to cope.

  • Hi all,
    I’m 23 and have had this for as long as I can remember. Family and friends have commented on it since I was little but it’s never really been disturbing enough to look into. Now, my current partner is a light sleeper and some nights I keep him up for hours, (gererally more towards early hours of the morning). When I’m woken up about it I often feel like I’ve just been holding my breath a lot, but I never really hear myself making the creepy grunge noises that I do. We’ve tried everything from changing sleeping positions, pillows (or having no pillow), even thought it could be dehydration related and kept a class of water by the bed to drink if I was doing it. Sometimes one of these helps but overall nothing works consistently. Last night I tried breathing in and out deeply to get rid of the tight chest feeling but I could feel that as soon as I feel back asleep I’d do it again.
    I’d like to try yoga/Pilates as apparently it can improve breathing habits and hopefully this will minimise the occurrence. Does anyone here do these sports?
    Also, I have a feeling this could be anxiety related. Thoughts??


    • Hi Jessica
      Have you spoken to a doctor about it to make sure it’s not sleep apnea? It might be a good idea if it’s been an ongoing problem for such a long time.
      On another note, if you do feel it’s made worse by anxiety, doing yoga is also great for anxiety. I do it regularly, and find it makes a big difference to my stress levels, especially when I do it before going to bed.

  • my issue is that I make a “hmmm” sound as I am falling asleep. I can hear it through my ear plugs as well and it keeps me awake. It is almost like a paralysis state because I will make the noise, wake up and think, “did I just do that?” I don’t feel as though a physically made a noise, but I can hear it. It is becoming a bigger and more frequent ordeal. I am 43 and in the best shape of my life, but I am becoming physically and emotionally exhausted

    • I have the same issue as I’m falling asleep. It’s a short hmm sound. I find that if I’m really exhausted and stressed it happens more often. Maybe not being able to turn the brain off is affecting the breathing. I find myself subconsciously trying to slow my breathing when I have a hard time falling asleep. I’m glad I found this site.

  • When I first awaken in the morning, I groan and moan (this is what my family members told me) and I do not even realize I’m doing it and I don’t think I am purposely trying to make the noise. I do not know if this is the same problem as catathrenia, because as stated on this site catathrenia occurs when FALLING asleep and my moaning occurs when WAKING up. It is very very embarrassing and I would like to know what to do to make it stop. Help?

  • My husband says it only occurs when I’m sleeping on my back. It never happens when I sleep on my side.

  • I moan in my sleep apparently started about 5 to 6 years ago. Im 29 now. I found out when i went for a sleep over at my best friends. They made a joke about how i must have been have “a wet dream” of sorts. Was so embarassing. And another time at my mum’s. She had to wake me up and ask what was wrong with me. I can even afford to sleep on a bus or plane cause caught myself moaning a couple of times. Please if anyone knows of anything that has worked for them please share. Now dread falling asleep especially when other people are around.

  • I also snore and make very funny noises I am told. I find it worse when I have stress or deadlines to make. I have a very understanding husband, but feel so bad and wish I could find a solution. Sleeping on my sides does not help. Some nights are worse than others/ I have tried everything I eat early if I am at an occasion have one drink early and stop. Anyone with any solutins let me know.


  • I discovered I’ve got this as I’ve been using a sleep talking app to track if I’m snoring. I’ve got sleep apnea but had the big operation where they take the tonsils out, cut the top of the soft palette and move it, and laser the tongue so it shrinks. Sleep apnea is a lot better, but the groaning persists. I didn’t know it was a ‘thing’ until reading this. Good to know I’m not strange!!!

  • My husband tells me if I fall asleep on my back I make groaning sounds for a good ten minutes or so then it becomes light snoring which will usually wake me but if I fall asleep on my side I don’t have any symptoms apparently I have done this for a few decades 😃.

  • My Mum had this, not medically diagnosed but for years in the morning I’d tell her what it was like I even recorded the noise once. Unfortunately she’s not around to tell me I’m being stupid or “I dunno what you’re talking about baby girl it ain’t always that bad” but it was, funny I spent a long time telling her she made that noise n now I would do anything to hear her make it again.

  • In the army and let’s just say people from different parts of the country know I have this issue. Embarrassment washes over me when I wake up in the barracks and have my higher ranks confront me on the situation.

  • i was diagnosed at 28 with catathrenia. it really is the most annoying sleep disorder. for a year or so i never even knew about it, it was my partner that noticed, then my friend when we went on holiday. but now it wakes me up constantly every night 4am onwards. i must groan so loudly that it wakes me up. i also feel short of breath. i have been told it isn’t sleep apnea. i went for a sleep study but didnt sleep either but did get it diagnosed from this. if anyone has found anything that works for them for catathrenia i would love to know. sleeping on my side, raised pillows etc does nothing for me. so frustrating!!


  • My husband seems to do this moaning when he lies on his back. Would one of those breath right strips on top of his nose be of any help? It really doesn’t bother me, but I worry that it may hurt his health.

  • I’ve tried to raise my pillows at various levels, all the way to the point where I was sleeping while sitting upright. Unfortunately none off that worked. I also primarily sleep on my side, so that doesn’t sell to work for me either.

  • I’ve been experiencing something like this for a while but I fell asleep in class the other day and I started making a sexual moaning sound & I woke up to everyone stairing at me, including the teacher. SO EMBARRASSING

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