Catathrenia – Are You Moaning in Sleep?

Catathrenia - Moaning in Sleep

Sleep moaning, or catathrenia, is a relatively rare disorder that causes loud moaning in sleep. If you or your partner experiences this, it’s important to understand exactly what the disorder is, why it occurs, and what you can do to treat it.

What Is Sleep Moaning?

Sleep moaning is a form of parasomnia, a category of sleep disorders that includes abnormal movements, dreams and behaviors. It’s categorized by long, frequent moans or groans during sleep. These sounds last anywhere from a few seconds to a full minute, and they’re often followed by a snort or sigh. People with a severe sleep moaning disorder may make these sounds all night, but it’s most common during REM sleep.

Sleep moaning affects men more than women, and it has an average age of onset of 19 years. Because you’re asleep while the moaning happens, you won’t realize that it occurs. Therefore, it can take years to find out that you moan in your sleep. Most people don’t realize that they have this sleep disorder until a partner, roommate, or family member tells them.

Many people make noises occasionally in their sleep, and grunting or groaning once in a while doesn’t indicate a sleep disorder. People with a sleep moaning disorder moan so loudly and frequently that their partners usually have trouble sleeping through it.

Is Sleep Moaning Different From Catathrenia?

Catathrenia is the official name for sleep moaning, but both terms typically mean the same thing. While people without a sleep disorder may moan in their sleep occasionally, the term “sleep moaning” usually refers to the loud and prolonged sounds caused by the disorder.

What Sleep Moaning Is Not

Here is a list of sleep related disorders that are not classified as sleep moaning.


Snoring occurs when the tissues in the back of your mouth and throat collapse over your airway. As you breathe in, the tissues vibrate against each other, which creates the snoring sound. Sleep moaning is an issue with the vocal cords, not with the tissues in your mouth and throat. Also, snoring occurs when you inhale, but sleep moaning occurs when you exhale.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes your airway to close completely while you sleep, which prevents you from breathing. People with sleep apnea often snore and wake up frequently in the middle of the night, gasping for breath. These noises may sound similar to sleep moaning, but they’re two very different disorders. Like snoring, sleep apnea occurs when the tissues close up, not the vocal cords.

Sleep apnea can be a serious issue and can lead to other health problems. If there’s a chance that the sounds you make in your sleep are caused by sleep apnea, you should speak to your doctor about it.

Sleep Talking

Sleep talking is a very common occurrence for many people, but no connection between sleep talking and sleep moaning has ever been found. People who moan in their sleep may also sleep talk, but these are two entirely separate events.


Stridor is high pitched, noisy breathing that may sound similar to sleep moaning. However, unlike most cases of sleep moaning, it occurs because of a narrow or obstructed airway. Stridor mostly affects children and can be a sign of a serious breathing disorder. If your child seems to have a sleep moaning problem, you should bring it up with their doctor.

Related to Epilepsy

Sleep moaning may sound similar to the sounds made during an epileptic seizure, but it’s not related to epilepsy in any way. People usually look calm, still, and peaceful during a sleep moaning episode, so the difference between sleep moaning and epilepsy should be obvious.

What Causes Sleep Moaning?

Sleep moaning research

Sleep moaning has had less research and attention than other disorders, so the exact cause is unknown. Doctors have several ideas about possible causes, though. Some experts believe that certain medications that affect the vocal cords or the muscles in the throat could lead to moaning in sleep. Another popular explanation for sleep moaning is that the structures in the brain that control breathing are somehow damaged.

Others believe that people moan in their sleep because of the natural structure or function of their throat and vocal cords. Sometimes, the vocal cords partially close during REM sleep. When this happens, you have to forcefully exhale to push through the obstruction and keep breathing. This can create the long, loud moaning sound.

Sleep moaning may also be caused by an obstruction of the upper airway. However, the disorder is usually associated with a vocal cord issue, not with a blocked airway. Obstructions in the airways are more likely to cause snoring and sleep apnea than sleep moaning.

Can Sleep Moaning Be Harmful?

Excessive daytime sleepiness

No harmful effects have been discovered yet, so sleep moaning is probably not physically dangerous. Doctors aren’t usually worried when their patients mention a sleep moaning problem unless they also have the signs or symptoms of a more serious sleep disorder.

Although sleep moaning doesn’t cause serious damage to your body, it may have some unpleasant side effects. Many people with a sleep moaning disorder have excessive daytime sleepiness because it may be difficult to achieve deep sleep when moaning and groaning all night. A sore throat in the morning is also common after nights where the groaning is especially severe.

Sleep moaning may be socially or emotionally harmful, too. Because moaning is seen as a sexual behavior, you may feel embarrassed when someone comments on it. It may keep your partner awake, which can cause tension in your relationship.

Are There Any Medical Treatments for Sleep Moaning?

Medical treatments for sleep moaning

Because sleep moaning doesn’t cause any long-term physical damage, most people don’t undergo treatment. However, if it affects the quality of sleep for you or your partner, there are some medical treatments available.

CPAP is the most common treatment for sleep moaning, and it’s effective for most people. In one study, CPAP successfully treated seven female patients with a sleep moaning disorder. A CPAP machine includes a hose and a mask that deliver constant pressure to your mouth and throat, which keeps your airway open.

Oral devices are another popular treatment. Some people with a sleep moaning disorder use a mandibular advancement device, which looks like a traditional mouth guard but holds the jaw slightly forward. This widens the airway and helps the vocal cords stay open while you sleep.

Sometimes, surgery can change the face and throat structure and open up the airway to stop sleep moaning. Since sleep moaning is typically not harmful, this is a very uncommon treatment.

Read Also:  10 Reasons Why You Can’t Stay Awake During the Day

Sound Blocking Tips

If your partner moans in their sleep, you may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep through the noise. You can try to block out the sound with a few different devices.

1. Use Sleep Earplugs

Sleep earplugsAny earplugs can be effective to block out sleep moaning, but you can buy pairs that are specially made for sleeping. Foam and wax earplugs tend to be the most helpful for blocking out loud noises. Look for pairs that have a noise reduction rating, or NRR, of at least 30. Generally, it’s better to spend a little extra money on a pair that’s durable and long-lasting than to have to replace a poor quality pair every week.

Some people find it uncomfortable to sleep with earplugs in. You’ll have to find the best size, shape, and material for your ears, which may take a few tries. However, if the earplugs fit properly into your ears, they should be easy to adjust to.

2. Use a Fan for White Noise

White noise fanWhite noise is one of the best ways to block out sleep moaning or other loud noises. The sound is neutral and consistent, so it won’t prevent you from falling asleep, but it will drown out your partner’s groans and moans.

You can use a regular box fan to create white noise, or you can buy a fan that’s designed to produce lots of white noise to help you sleep.

3. Use a White Noise Machine

White noise machineInstead of a fan, you can also use a white noise machine to cover up the sleep moaning. White noise machines usually cost between $25 and $50 and include multiple tracks, so you can find the specific sound that’s the most effective for you.

These machines can usually be louder than fans, and most are small enough that you can bring them with you when you and your partner travel.

4. Sleep Separately

Sleep separatelyIf your partner has tried every sleep moaning treatment, and white noise or earplugs don’t work for you, sleeping separately is another option. This is usually a last resort, but it may be the most effective way for you and your partner to get enough sleep.

If you stay up all night because of your partner’s sleep moaning, you’ll likely feel exhausted and irritable in the morning. It’s easy to get frustrated with your partner for keeping you awake, even when you know that they can’t help it. Sleeping in separate rooms will help you feel better during the day and will relieve any tension in your relationship that has built up because of the sleep moaning.

Final Tips to Help You Sleep With Someone Who Moans in Their Sleep

Most people don’t realize that they have a sleep moaning disorder until someone else points it out. If your partner is in denial about their sleep moaning, try taking a video or audio while it happens. This will help them realize how loud and disruptive the noise is.

It’s easy to get frustrated with your partner for keeping you awake, but it’s important to remember that their sleep moaning is not intentional. Your partner is probably embarrassed about the problem, so gently encouraging them to undergo treatment will be more effective than getting upset with them.

Sleep moaning usually isn’t dangerous, but there are treatments available. You and your partner both deserve to get quality sleep every night, so if you are moaning in sleep make sure you address the issue seriously.

Updated 3.12.2018


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