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 sleep disorder which falls under the category of sleep-related breathing disorders.

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.
  • 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 might 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?

Interestingly, researchers in 2017 who looked into catathrenia made some recommendations for possible future treatment research avenues. It’s not clear why they thought each of these could be useful, but they might be techniques to try at home if nothing else has worked for you.

As they say: “Direction for further research could involve consideration of deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, or myofunctional therapy to help abate symptoms.”

Successful treatment with a CPAP machine

Researchers at Stanford University found in a study of 7 patients that a Continuous Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP) machine helped resolve the nocturnal groaning for all of them.

A CPAP machine delivers air gently through the nose to keep the airways open and is regularly 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.

545 thoughts on “Catathrenia – Are You Making Strange Noises While Sleeping?”

  1. Recent surgery. I wake bc I even hear sound like a horse. I do know my sinuses are bothering me more than ever. Dripping nose during the day. Exercised induced Asthma, but no real exercise lately due to limitations from total knee replacement. This is a new condition from ultimate physical stress. Recovery. Lastly, 66 years old. Hopeful this will resolve.

  2. Ok this sounds terrible I know but it’s an honest comment:

    Firstly at home:
    While I’m asleep at home in my own bed I have absolutely no idea I make the noise. I sleep in many different position but often wake up on my back. I do snore sometimes and I am rarely woken up by my snoring. My wife will tell me in the morning “you were making this sound last night (and then mimics the moaning sound)” I never had any idea I made the sounds until she pointed it out. I don’t make the sound very loudly but I can recall 1 event where I woke up and knew I made the moaning sound at a new high volume.

    Secondly,
    Ok here is where it is going to sound bad. I am a technician and I have worked for large manufacturers and currently work in a large factory. We work a rotating schedule – 1 week of days, 1 week of evenings, 1 week of nights therefore regular sleep is not on my agenda. Most of the time I have no issues with staying awake at work but I have honestly dozed off. I am like a fireman at my job, I am not needed until I am needed and some shifts I don’t sit down, some shifts I don’t do anything. The shifts I don’t do anything are the worst because it’s so easy to dose off especially since I will never have a normal sleep schedule again and a lot of times my work hours are 16 hours a day in the factory. It’s not like I’m making a point to sleep at work, I’d rather be on the floor all shift but the less I work the more money the company makes.
    Anyway, when I just so happen to dose off at work I’m usually up-right in an old office chair (quality rest I know) but it never fails I always wake myself up making this moaning noise and 99% of the time it’s very quiet. Occasionally I’ll make the noise at speaking voice level and then try to mask it with a cough or something.

    I am generally not stressed especially at my job but I am worn out.

    I feel that the noise is not due to a blockage of my airway, like fighting to let air out of my throat or something but it is more related to a very relaxed chest/voice box or something in that general area and a slight hum is made.

    I read about the CPAP fix but my wife and I are able to get rest at home. I obviously can’t carry a CPAP into work.

    Any insight on this nightmare of a condition would be great but most of the things I read about this medical anomaly are somewhere along the lines of there is no known fix

  3. My Catathrenia began in the past few weeks and is now occurring more often almost every day. I plan on fixing this problem with every effort possible.
    – raising my pillow almost to a seated position helped stop the groaning sounds today and I was half awake listening for my sounds. None came.

    -it definitely occurs when I sleep on my back – so changing my sleep position could help. I may need to put a pillow behind my back to avoid allowing me to roll onto my back in the middle of the night.
    -It would make sense that if I slept on my left side with my forehead facing down off the bed/ edge of the pillow should help…
    – I definitely feel a pressure on my vocal cords, like a lazy throat <—- sleep deprivation would aggravate this.

    -I have a cough and sometimes allergies where my mid and low sinuses feel inflamed whi h could also be obstructing my throat. I will try Vick’s vapor rub tonight to see if that helps as well.

    I plan to use breathing exercises and vocal chord strengthening exercises, as well as mindfulness meditation throughout the day to fix this… should all help. I can follow up in a few weeks after putting much attention toward addressing this problem. I am 30 years old and newly married…. this cannot and will not be a life long issue.

    1. My husband does this and it’s very LOUD and VERY annoying. Feels like torture bc the SECOND I start drifting off it happens again. Then I start getting even more aggravated and the adrenaline from that further prevents me from sleeping even more. And On and on. Of course, he sleeps just fine! Other than me waking him up. Sometimes we get into fights too, it’s terrible! He already had his entire soft palette tissues removed bc he used to suffer from sleep apnea. So I feel bad Bc he’s been through enough. Having that surgery was a major sacrifice for us, he can’t be expected to do more. But now with this, we just may have to start sleeping in separate bedrooms. Sad!

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