Why Do I Moan in My Sleep When Sick?

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Sleep-related groaning, otherwise known as catathrenia, is a rare disorder which can affect both the individual and their bed partner through disrupted rest and distress. In this blog post, we will delve into understanding catathrenia by discussing its symptoms and prevalence among various demographics.

We will explore possible causes behind why individuals may experience moaning during sleep when they are unwell, such as dysfunctional neurons affecting breathing patterns or physical attributes contributing to this phenomenon. Additionally, we will discuss how catathrenia can be diagnosed through comprehensive sleep studies like polysomnogram tests.

Lastly, we will cover various treatment options available for those suffering from nighttime groaning – from CPAP therapy to surgical interventions – and provide guidance on managing sleep disruptions caused by catathrenia. By understanding "why do I moan in my sleep when I'm sick," you'll be better equipped to consult with a qualified sleep specialist if needed and improve your overall well-being.


Understanding Catathrenia

Catathrenia, or nighttime groaning, is a rare sleep disorder characterized by the production of strange noises during exhalation while asleep. It falls under the category of parasomnias and primarily manifests through moans, hums, or crackling noises lasting for five to 50 seconds in random clusters.

Symptoms Beyond Groaning Sounds

Apart from the characteristic groaning noises, individuals with catathrenia may also experience other symptoms such as restless sleep and daytime sleepiness. However, it's important to note that these symptoms are not exclusive to this particular sleep-related breathing disorder and could be indicative of other underlying issues.

Prevalence Among Young Men and Women

Catathrenia affects both men and women but appears more prevalent among younger adults aged 20-40 years old. According to a study published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews, approximately 4% of patients referred to a clinical sleep medicine center were diagnosed with nocturnal groaning.

Causes of Nocturnal Groaning

The exact cause of catathrenia remains unclear; however, research suggests it could be due to dysfunctional neurons in the brain's respiratory center controlling breathing patterns during sleep. Other potential causes include small upper airways size, small jaw size, inspiratory flow limitation issues, or genetic factors.

Dysfunctional Neurons in the Brain's Respiratory Center

Catathrenia may result from problems with the neurons responsible for regulating our breathing while we sleep. These neurons are located within a region called the respiratory center, which is found in our brainstem. When these neurons do not function properly, they can lead to abnormal breathing patterns and ultimately contribute to nocturnal groaning.

Physical Factors Contributing to Catathrenia

  • Small Upper Airways Size: Individuals with smaller upper airways may be more prone to catathrenia as their airflow becomes restricted during sleep.
  • Small Jaw Size: A smaller jaw size can also play a role in causing catathrenia by limiting space for proper tongue positioning and increasing chances of obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Inspiratory Flow Limitation Issues: Some people experience difficulty inhaling sufficient amounts of air during non-REM sleep stages due to anatomical abnormalities or muscle weakness around their throat area. This condition is known as inspiratory flow limitation (IFL) and has been linked with nighttime groaning episodes.
  • Genetic Factors: Although not yet fully understood, there may be a genetic component to catathrenia that predisposes certain individuals to develop this sleep disorder.

In order to better understand the underlying causes of catathrenia and find effective treatment options, further research is needed in the field of clinical sleep medicine.

Catathrenia, or sleep-related groaning, can be a concerning experience for individuals and their bed partners. To accurately diagnose this condition, it is essential to undergo an overnight polysomnogram (sleep study), which monitors various physiological parameters throughout different stages of slumber.

Overnight Polysomnogram Procedure

An overnight polysomnogram involves spending the night at a clinical sleep medicine center. Electrodes are attached to the head and body during the test to monitor brain activity, eye movements, heart rate, muscle tone, and other vital signs. A trained technician will observe your sleep patterns in real-time while you rest comfortably in a private room.

Identifying Concurrent Sleeping Disorders

  • Sleep apnea: Catathrenia may coexist with more severe conditions like obstructive sleep apnea; therefore identifying any concurrent sleeping disorders is crucial for proper treatment planning.
  • Nighttime awakenings: Frequent nighttime awakenings could indicate restless leg syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder that might require intervention before addressing catathrenia symptoms.
  • Narcolepsy: Excessive daytime sleepiness might point towards narcolepsy as another underlying issue affecting overall sleep quality.

In some cases where no other significant issues are identified during the polysomnography test results review by a qualified professional such as a board-certified physician specializing in clinical sleep medicine who would then confirm the diagnosis of catathrenia.

Treatment Options for Catathrenia

Treatment options for catathrenia vary depending on any underlying conditions present alongside this unusual behavior. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy has shown success for some individuals with catathrenia by delivering pressurized air into their respiratory system while they sleep.

Benefits and Usage of CPAP Therapy

CPAP therapy can improve sleep quality, reduce daytime sleepiness, and minimize the occurrence of long moaning episodes during non-REM sleep. To use a CPAP machine, patients wear a mask over their nose or mouth that connects to the device. The machine then delivers continuous airflow, maintaining an open airway throughout the night.

Customized Oral Appliances as an Alternative Treatment

  • Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs): MADs are custom-made dental appliances designed to reposition the lower jaw forward, increasing upper airway space and reducing nighttime groaning caused by obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Tongue Retaining Devices (TRDs): TRDs hold the tongue in place using suction, preventing it from falling back into the throat during deep breathing exercises or REM sleep cycles. This can help alleviate catathrenia symptoms associated with upper airway obstruction.

If you suspect you have catathrenia or another type of sleep disorder, consult your doctor or visit a specialized sleep center for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized treatment plan.

Surgical Interventions for Upper Airway Obstruction

When upper airway obstruction is identified as the primary cause of catathrenia, surgical interventions may be considered an effective treatment option. Two common procedures include tonsillectomy (removal of tonsils) and adenotonsillectomy (removal of both tonsils and adenoids). These approaches can alleviate nocturnal groaning symptoms in affected individuals.

Tonsillectomy Procedure

A tonsillectomy involves surgically removing the palatine tonsils located at the back of the throat. This procedure is often recommended for those experiencing recurrent sore throats or sleep apnea caused by enlarged tonsils obstructing airflow during sleep. Anesthesia is administered prior to the procedure, which typically lasts about half an hour to 45 minutes, before recovery time of approximately one or two weeks. Recovery time varies but usually takes around one to two weeks.

Adenotonsillectomy Procedure

An adenotonsillectomy combines a tonsillectomy with removal of adenoids—lymphatic tissue found behind the nasal passages that can also contribute to breathing difficulties when enlarged or infected. This procedure addresses multiple sources of upper airway obstruction simultaneously, increasing its effectiveness in resolving nighttime groaning issues related to respiratory disorders like sleep apnea. Similar to a tonsillectomy, patients are given general anesthesia and recovery time ranges from one week up to three weeks depending on individual factors.

Managing Sleep Disruptions for Bed Partners

Catathrenia can significantly disrupt the sleep of bed partners or roommates due to the loud moans and noises produced during slumber. Simple solutions such as wearing earplugs by affected individuals' sleeping companions might suffice for managing disturbances caused by nocturnal groaning episodes without requiring any further medical intervention.

Earplug Usage and Benefits

Earplugs are an effective way to block out unwanted noise, including groaning sounds from catathrenia sufferers. They come in various materials like foam, silicone, and wax, offering different levels of noise reduction depending on personal preferences. By using earplugs at night, bed partners can improve their sleep quality while minimizing disruptions caused by nighttime groaning.

Communication Strategies with Sleeping Partners

If you share a bed with someone who experiences catathrenia or other sleep disorders that cause disruptive noises at night, it's essential to maintain open communication about the issue. Discussing your concerns openly allows both parties to find suitable solutions together - whether it involves trying white noise machines, adjusting sleeping positions, or seeking professional help from a sleep center. Remember that understanding and empathy go a long way in addressing these challenges effectively.

Catathrenia During Pregnancy

Moaning in sleep while sick or pregnant may raise concerns about potential health risks; however, catathrenia is not associated with major complications. Expectant mothers having this issue should consult a sleep specialist for suitable plans of care tailored to their individual needs.

Pregnancy can sometimes exacerbate breathing issues due to hormonal changes and increased pressure on the diaphragm. It's essential for expectant mothers dealing with catathrenia or other sleep-related breathing disorders to address these problems promptly. Simple remedies such as using extra pillows for support, practicing deep breathing exercises, and sleeping on one's side can help improve sleep quality during pregnancy.

  • Use extra pillows for support
  • Practice deep breathing exercises
  • Sleep on your side instead of your back

Consultation with a Sleep Specialist

If nocturnal groaning persists despite trying home remedies, it's crucial to seek professional advice from a qualified sleep specialist. They will conduct a thorough evaluation and may recommend an overnight sleep study (polysomnogram) if necessary. Based on the results, they'll develop an individualized treatment plan that may include CPAP therapy, customized oral appliances, or other interventions to ensure both the mother and baby's well-being.

FAQs in Relation to Why Do I Moan in My Sleep When I'm Sick

What Does Moaning in Sleep Mean?

Moaning in sleep, also known as catathrenia, is a rare sleep-related breathing disorder characterized by groaning sounds during exhalation. It typically occurs during the REM stage of sleep and may be associated with various factors such as dysfunctional neurons or physical attributes.

Why Do I Moan When I'm Sick?

Groaning while sick could be due to increased nasal congestion or inflammation in the airways, making it difficult to breathe smoothly. The body's effort to clear these obstructions can result in groaning noises. If you're concerned about your symptoms, consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation.

Is It Common for People to Moan in Their Sleep?

No, catathrenia or nighttime groaning is relatively uncommon compared to other sleeping disorders like snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. Its prevalence remains unclear due to limited research on this condition; however, some studies suggest that less than 1% of the population experiences catathrenia.

What Does Involuntary Moaning Mean?

Involuntary moaning refers to unintentional vocalizations produced without conscious control or awareness. In the context of sleeping disorders like catathrenia, these sounds are emitted during exhalation and are often not indicative of pain or distress but rather an unusual breathing pattern occurring during REM sleep.


Overall, catathrenia is a relatively uncommon but treatable condition that can cause nighttime groaning and sleep disruptions. While the exact causes of catathrenia are not fully understood, it may be related to dysfunctional neurons affecting breathing patterns or physical attributes contributing to the condition.

If you believe that catathrenia or another sleeping disorder may be the cause of your nighttime groaning and sleep disruptions, it is advisable to seek a consultation with a sleep specialist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment options. These may include CPAP therapy, customized oral appliances, or surgical interventions such as tonsillectomy or adenotonsillectomy.

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