Catathrenia – Are You Making Strange Noises While Sleeping?

man with catathrenia making noise in his sleep with woman looking at him

Just 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 that weird noise again!”

“What noise?”

“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.

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.

Sometimes embarrassing

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.

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 a source of frustration for both people.

Some researchers further 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 could be confused for other sleep disorders or health issues. So it’s important to understand that it isn’t any of the following:

  • 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, people with catathrenia pause after breathing 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 dreaming or mental suffering.

When forming a diagnosis, 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 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 cords may partially close off. A forced out-breath then takes place to push through this closure and unblock the vocal cords.
  • 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 it.

Medical treatment

Many people don’t even realize they make the noise until a partner or someone sleeping in their house tells them.

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. But you may be asked to have an overnight sleep study in a sleep center.

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?

Successful treatment with a CPAP machine

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.

One study of 7 patients at Stanford University 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 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 sound like it was quite an ordeal for those in the study, but the good news is that all 4 were eventually cured.

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

Blocking the sound

catathrenia

It seems then that using a CPAP machine is currently the most successful treatment offered. However, not everyone finds them comfortable enough to wear in the long-term.

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

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.

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

There have also been suggestions that it’s worse with stress and sleep deprivation. So try to stay on top of both your daily stress levels and make sure you get enough sleep.

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.

511 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I am 69 and I don’t know how long I have been making the sleep noises. I didn’t realize that I made these noises until I married seven years ago. My husband is hard of hearing but still winds up sleeping in his recliner most nights. I just had a sleep study done and I don’t have sleep apnea. Frustrating for us both. I did read about elevating my pillow here and I will try that. I see my pulmonologist this month and will post any suggestions he may give me. Any suggestions will be appreciated!

  • Funny we’re here googling why our husbands sound like Chewbacca in their sleep at an ungodly hour when we can’t sleep because of it. Been married 15 years and this problem is not constant. It seems to be more when he is stressed. He breathes loud and moans, groans, grunts, almost talks but nothing comprehensible. He moves allot and smacks his lips too. I’ve made sure he’s breathing ok I don’t hear any gasping and he doesn’t stop breathing but I’m tempted to stop his breathing by smothering him with a pillow! Seriously though I feel bad for him that can’t be restful sleep. Side sleeping and head elevating doesn’t help. If anyone has any tips please share. He’d never go to a sleep clinic or wear a CPAP. He used to grind his teeth and did wear a guard but again that’s only when he’s stressed. Sleeping on the couch bears the same consequences because the dog snores and has puppy nightmares and whimpers and runs in his sleep. And I’m not sleeping in my 15 year old son’s bed thank you let’s not traumatize him while we’re at it. Please send help I need sleep. Day two of #teamnosleep

  • My husband does this. It’s so frustrating as I am up writing this at 4am and have to wake up for work at 6am. Also, I’m pregnant so it’s even more frustrating. I barely get sleep but when hubby gets in the bed (usually around 2am) is when I am distracted from my sleep and I’m up for he rest of the night. He is 36yrs old and does this humming, grunting, and roaring thing while he is sleep. Funny enough, he does it when he’s not sleep too and IT PISSES ME OFF. Although I’m aware I have a serious noise aversion anyway, this just makes it worse. It literally makes my skin crawl and I cry. I take anxiety pills. When I met him I didn’t witness this. I’m not sure if it’s mental like stress or depression. He says he’s not depressed but he’s without work now and we are having issues with that. It’s almost like he knows he’s doing it. He gets up to use the bathroom and gets in bed and starts moaning before he even stops moving. NO WAY HE CAN BE IN REM SLEEP In 2 seconds of hitting the bed. But when he is in a deep sleep, he roars and groans while snoring too. He has also picked up this slight movement problem while he sleeps. Doesn’t bother me but I’m concermed. (He tells me he has dreams of flying) Also, he can be awake, reading or driving and all of a sudden he will start making the same damn noises. For the longest I wondered if he has Tourette’s bc of this. Now I have two thoughts: 1. It’s seriously stress related and I need to help him overcome. 2. He’s just being an asshole because he knows I have aversions. I’m so lost and sleepy!!!!!! Please help!!!

  • I finally decided to look up why my partner does this and pretty sure this is what she has. Was getting a little annoyed but am more understanding now that I feel I understand it better. Thankful it is not a serious condition. She just has been diagnosed with sleep apnea and thinking she may have been misdiagnosed.

  • I make weird noises in my sleep and I talk and hum Relly constant passing off my roommates for fear of tripping neighbors out due to this awkward behavior. My friend thinks it may come from years of hardcore drug use. I am currently going thru dramatic living changes and having to completely change my self to try to fit in where I’m currently staying. I read it may be stress related. What do u recommend I do.because I don’t want to upset anybody and I get snappy when confronted about it in my uncouincess sleep zone. Thanks

  • hello, as a teenager I used to make humming noises when I drifted off….now 41 and a mother of one I have been told that I make the loudest of groaning noises in my sleep..this has been the case for many of my adult years. I suffered a stress related breakdown in my early 20’s with alopeachia and and a drop in weight so server that my colleagues belived I was on ‘burn out’. Around the same time as the weight loss my mood was happy but my body would shoot out bile for no reason and this lasted a few weeks before the drop in weight..the doctor said I may have a swollen gullet. they advised I get a stress ball and squeeze on that…so after reporting signs of stress from age 20-22 and no medical help or advice, my body finally gave up and I had a break down that has left me with the stigma of mental health and sensitive to stress.
    about my groaning…I can hum or groan but I have noticed that it happens regardless of my sleep postion. I notice it more in the early stages of sleep when I deprived and fall asleep on my stomach…In the early stages of sleep I can remember that as I was drifting off I was talking or saying something in my sleep and its as if ive sunken into a deep sleep too quickly…
    also, I am very aware of my groaning in the early stages and can actually hear myself doing it just as I sink into a deprived sleep and usually wake myself up and laugh it off with my daughter..
    secondly, the louder groaning happens in deep sleep and im totally unaware of that…it has been noticed by neighbours and coupled with the stigma of mental health dosent do my stress levels any favours as you can imagine how its perceived…
    I also, on waking….re-remember as much as I can about every dream and try to either make sense of it or commit it to memory…
    while sleeping, I can at times become very aware that im dreaming and asleep in my room and try to take advange of this knowledge and try to steer my dream into anything I want but always ends up going bad and turning into something frightening that forces me to shake my head and wake my self up..
    I also, when awhere im dreaming and having a bad one I want to wake from, tell myself to scream HELP ME! over and over to alert my neighbours that I need help..strange I know..
    something that may be of importance…my breakdown was the result of bullying and harassment through stalking, suspious circumstances and series of phone calls that used taughted me into to believing that id been assaulted in my sleep on a few occasions in my earlier teenage years 17-19 and that I just didn’t remember but that the person was there…
    all a bit strange I know, but has had such a huge effect on my life and I am so intune with my sleep that I can actually recognise im dreaming and try to control it…
    from a young age efore my teens I would often have the same reoccurring dream that I was flying into something getting closer and closer and the closer I got the angrier I was and I wanted to face it but the closer I got the more terrifying it was and although I was aware I was dreaming I would become very conscious that iwas lying in my bed and that something was getting closer to me while I was sleeping and that’s where I learnt to tell my body to scream and shout for help! and would shake my head side to side to wake myself out of that dream before either I closer to thing I was flying towards or that something would touch me ehile I was vunerable in bed…any ideas?? I don’t have any symtoms of biological mental health it is purely environmental factors that lead to increased amounts of stress so bad at age 16 that continued through to my 20’s that caused a breakdown that I have fully recovered from..

    • Omg….that sounds EXACTLY like me!? I’ve never had anyone even come close to understanding what I would say about my sleep let alone pretty much tell my story with the only difference of what the dream was about visually!

  • Hi I have A 15 year old son who has been doing this moaning sound. For a while now. He sometimes stood when I say “ Bryan stop” or “Bryan be quiet” his name is Bryan by the way. I really need some advice. He wakes up after he’s done making the noises. What is causing this? Somone please help me out.

    • Hi Bryan
      Can you access medical help? I would take him to the doctor to ask their advice. There’s nothing else I can do to help I’m afraid, other than suggesting you try the ideas in the article and comments. And try to do follow general good advice for better sleep that you can find on this site and on most medical websites that discuss sleep.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I’ve had a CPAP machine for over 15 years, use it every night. But now I seemed to have started making noises not related to the CPAP therapy. I’ve even place tape over my mouth for the last month to keep it shut; doesn’t help!

    I’m comfortably retired, no debts, a nice home and few worries. I’m at a loss as to why I’m making these stupid noises at night!

    • Have you recently had any dental procedures done, tooth extractions? I have heard this could be a cause to catathrenia as well. For me I know this could be one of several factors.

  • It’s actually ruining my life I’ve been sleeping downstairs on a single mattress for over 2 year while my partner and kids are in bed I’m so tired all the time as they keep waking me up had a sleep study and definitely have catatherina I’ve got a cpap machine but find it really difficult to wear I’m at my wits end this has been going on for 7 year

  • Am 19 years, can’t tell how it happened but I really want to stop making this sound. My roommate complains a lot and it’s so embarrassing.

  • well, I don’t know when did this start. But this summer, I went to a overnight summer camp, and people who shares room with me says I make a loud garage noise, and I really want to stop making this noise.

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