Alaska Sleep Education Center

What is Catathrenia? Can Groaning in Your Sleep Be Harmful?

Posted by Mauricio Reinoso, MD on Aug 7, 2015 3:53:00 PM


Is your bedpartner being kept awake at night because you make strange groaning sounds in your sleep? Can groaning lead to serious medical conditions the same way that snoring can? What exactly is catathrenia and how can it be cured?

Here we discuss this rare and strange sleep disorder, and put to ease any concerns you may have about the consequences of groaning in your sleep.

What is Catathrenia?

The International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD-3) classifies catathrenia among sleep-related breathing disorders. Other entries in this class of sleep disorders are obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, sleep-related hypoventilation, sleep related hypoxemia, and snoring.

Up until the ICSD-3, catathrenia was considered to be a parasomnia (characterized as an abnormal or unusual behavior during sleep) similar to somniloquy (sleep talking). However, a study published in Journal Sleep distinguished catathrenia as a sleep-related breathing disorder rather than a parasomnia.

Catathrenia is characterized as groaning sounds emitted during expiration of breathing. The groaning sounds typically occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) stages of sleep, and are often preceded by bradypnea breathing (slow breathing of long, deep breaths). The study mentioned above found that all patients with catathrenia had nearly identical symptoms of "deep inspiration without sound production followed by prolonged expiration with groaning, usually lasting from at least 2 to 20 seconds."

It was also found that the nocturnal groaning alternated with normal breathing throughout the night and sometimes within the same sleep cycle.

How is Catathrenia different from snoring and sleep apnea?

Groaning occurs during expiration; Snoring occurs during inhalation. While the groaning noises may be irritable to listen to by a bed-partner, the disorder is not related to any serious medical conditions. During catathrenia there is no drop in blood oxygen saturation, which is common in sleep apnea.

Patients with catathrenia rarely experience any fragmented sleep or excessive daytime sleepiness, which is very characteristic of sleep apnea. Most patients with catathrenia receive normal, adequate sleep every night and wake feeling rested.

Can Catathrenia be harmful to sleep?

While patients with catathrenia rarely notice their own symptoms and do not exhibit symptoms of daytime sleepiness, the groaning sounds can still cause disturbances to a bed partner's sleep due to the sound. Bed partner's whose sleep is disturbed on a regular basis can end up suffering from sleep deprivation and may find themselves tired during the day.

For these reasons, if a bed partner's sleep is being disturbed on a regular basis, getting treatment for catathrenia is recommended.

Treatments for catathrenia

Similar to sleep apnea, catathrenia has been proven to be effectively treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).

Surgical treatment may be another option as well as wearing an oral appliance.

Other treatments include methods for making the noises less noticeable to the bed partner such as:

  • Using a sound machine

  • Using white noise from a fan or humidifier

  • Wearing earplugs

  • Sleeping separately.


If anybody's sleep is being disturbed for any reason, it's important to get the issue checked out. Bed partners who are routinely losing sleep because of sounds created by the other person can find themselves running the risk of developing a sleep disorder. Inadequate sleep has been proven to reduce cognitive abilities, make concentrating more difficult, impact mood, and can even lead to vehicle or work accidents.

If you are suffering from catathrenia that is causing sleep troubles for your bed partner, contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic to find out if a CPAP device could help solve your problems.

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Topics: sleep disorders

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