An Overview of Catathrenia or Sleep Groaning

What exactly is catathrenia? Let's set the scene.

In the still of the night, a lengthy and disruptive groan comes from the person lying next to you. Or you wake in the morning and are told you're the one who spent the night moaning and groaning in your sleep.

Woman sleeping in her bed, a light on the bedside table is on- stock photo

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Both examples illustrate what happens when someone has catathrenia—they moan and groan in their sleep. This sleep behavior falls under the category of parasomnias, or disruptive sleep disorders.

This article explains what catathrenia is, how it's diagnosed, and ways to treat it.

Sleep Groaning Symptoms

Catathrenia means a person makes a strange sound when they breathe out during sleep. The noises sound like groaning or moaning. The sounds happen during the exhale (breath out) but are also linked to other breathing pattern changes.

For example, your breathing rate may slow, called bradypnea. You may also hold your breath briefly before you start to groan. Otherwise, there aren't any clear signs of trouble breathing.

Groaning sounds may happen in random clusters for five to 50 seconds each time.  You could have many groans that repeat for a few minutes up to an hour. These groans usually happen during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. But they can also happen in stage 2 of non-REM sleep.

People who hear these sounds often describe them as drawn-out moans or groans. It can also seem like you're humming and can even sound sad or gloomy. The noises can be very loud.

Usually, the person with catathrenia doesn't remember it. They might have a rough, scratchy throat when they wake up, but probably won't have any other symptoms. Without someone else noticing it, the sleep groaning can be overlooked.

Recap

The main symptoms of catathrenia are moaning and groaning in your sleep. But your breathing may also slow down or you might hold your breath before groaning.

Diagnosis

Many times, catathrenia comes to medical attention when it's so loud that it disturbs other people. This can happen in dorms at college or in the military, or when sharing a bed with another person for the first time.

Catathrenia often starts in childhood. It affects young men more than women, and can last for years. The exact cause is unknown. But psychological or psychiatric stress isn't the root of the issue.

A sleep study called a polysomnogram can make an official diagnosis of catathrenia. A sleep center usually provides this test. The test will show changes in your breathing pattern and can record the groaning sounds.

Catathrenia is different than other breathing problems and sleep disorders. Treatment options depend on the condition you have. Before you're diagnosed with catathrenia, a sleep specialist should rule out other conditions. These include:

Treatment

Treatments for catathrenia help some but not all people. The treatments for the condition usually target the root cause. But it's not clear what causes catathrenia or why it happens, so it can be hard to pick a treatment option that works.

There's a possible relationship between catathrenia and sleep apnea, a condition where you stop breathing for brief periods while sleeping. For that reason, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) can help some people. But not everyone with catathrenia responds to this treatment.

If the groaning bothers your bed partner a lot, you can use medicine that interrupts your REM sleep The medicine can improve symptoms if the groaning happens during the REM stage of sleep.

Summary

Catathrenia is a sleep behavior that's usually harmless but can wake up other people. It happens when someone is sleeping and moans and groans as they breathe out. It's different than snoring, which happens when someone inhales, or breathes in.

A sleep specialist can help if you think you have catathrenia. They'll have you do a sleep study called a polysomnogram for an official diagnosis. From there, you can try different treatment options until you find one that works for you.

A Word From Verywell

If you moan and groan while you sleep, you might have catathrenia. You may not even know you have it until someone complains about it. If this sounds like you, see a sleep specialist. After proper testing, you can try a treatment that returns quietness to your sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is catathrenia a sleep disorder?

    Yes. It’s a parasomnia, a sleep disorder with physical actions or experiences you can’t control and that interfere with your sleep. It can cause daytime sleepiness and disturb your sleep partner.

  • Is catathrenia dangerous?

    No. While groaning in your sleep may bother other people, it's not usually harmless to you. However, it can lead to restless sleep or waking. In some cases, your breathing may be briefly disrupted.

  • Is groaning in your sleep hereditary?

    It can be. Researchers haven’t found the specific genes involved, but about 14% of people with catathrenia have a relative with the condition.

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6 Sources
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