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Get Some Sleep: Groaning at night, and not the sexy kind
May 17th, 2011
01:28 PM ET

Get Some Sleep: Groaning at night, and not the sexy kind

Lisa Shives, M.D., is the founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Illinois. She blogs on Tuesdays on The Chart. Read more from her at Dr. Lisa Shives’ Sleep Better Blog.

Susan was young, healthy and appeared very well rested. Why was she in my sleep clinic? “I am studying abroad for a year and I have to share a room so the noises I make at night are going to be a problem.”

Noises? “My family tells me that I groan in my sleep, every night, very loudly. Have you heard of this? Can you help me?” I thought to myself, in typical doctor fashion, Yes, I have heard of this and maybe I can help.

Catathrenia, which means sleep-related groaning, is a rare disorder in the sleep clinic, but may be more prevalent in the population than previously thought. It is marked by loud, groaning that typically starts in adolescence or young adulthood and, if not treated, is usually chronic and occurs most, if not every, night.

Patients usually only present with this problem when it becomes an issue for bed partners, family members, or roommates. The patients themselves rarely report a problem with disturbed sleep or impaired daytime alertness. However, the social impact should not be underestimated.

Not only is the nightly groaning usually so loud that no one can sleep in the same room or even in nearby rooms, but observers often report that the groaning seems sexual, although it is rare for the person to make any sexual gestures. Therefore, this disorder can be quite embarrassing and may have serious consequences for a person’s personal life.

The first step is a thorough evaluation to rule out other disorders that can present with similar symptoms. Most importantly nocturnal seizure must be considered, as well as stridor , a high-pitched sound during breathing, which can indicate a life-threatening constriction of the airway.

Some sleep specialists maintain that a sleep study is not necessary and that the diagnosis can be made from the clinical history alone. However, I think most would agree that the polysomnogram (overnight sleep study) is essential, not only to rule out other disorders, but to investigate the presence of sleep apnea.

Many of the reported cases of catathrenia have found an association with upper airway resistance, if not outright obstruction. Indeed some researchers believe that most cases of catathrenia are caused by obstruction or restriction of the upper airway. Many times the sleep-disordered breathing is mild, but still the catathrenia often abates when we treat splint the airway.

Usually, we will treat with CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) in the sleep laboratory and if we find a favorable response to this treatment, we recommend continuing with CPAP or with another treatment option such as an oral appliance.

Given that most reported cases of apnea-associated catathrenia are usually mild to moderate, the oral appliance should be offered as a first-line treatment with the caveat that its effectiveness is never as reliable as CPAP. Medications have not been found to be effective in treating this disorder.

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.

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Filed under: Sleep

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. M

    :P

    May 17, 2011 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. M

    I do this and sometimes wake myself up. Strange. But it's not very frequent. Other people can't hear it but it's awfully loud to me.

    May 17, 2011 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Q

      I have exactly the same issue. I groan and wake myself up. Seems to happen infrequently, only when I am very, very tired.

      May 17, 2011 at 23:00 | Report abuse |
    • Sue

      Same here – I do this, but only when I'm *really* tired – or if I've got a bad cold and take night time cold medicine to sleep. It seems only to happen when I'm so tired that I fall immediately into a deep, heavy sleep. My sister has this problem as well, but hers is almost constant – she groans and moans all night long. I think if they investigate the possibility of childhood trauma they may find a link. I strongly suspect this is the case in our family. My siblings and I all suffered the same childhood trauma and all have some sort of sleep disorder. The sister I speak of suffered more severely than the rest of us and has long-term emotional and mental issues because of it – and, not coincidentally, I believe – she has the worst sleep problems of all of us.

      May 17, 2011 at 23:10 | Report abuse |
  3. Gwhiz

    Another naturally occuring condition pathologized to provide income for medical and pharmaceutical flaks. So, how many people die from "groaning?" Notice that the author runs a sleep clinic? This amounts to an advertorial. Every "expert" now has a blog, but CNN doesn't have to give bandwidth because it can't come up with its own in-depth articles (reference the very thin piece on early Alzheimers).

    May 17, 2011 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Aletheya

      It doesn't say you could die from the groaning – it says it's embarrassing and has serious consequences for a person's personal/social life. Maybe you should read the article before attacking it. Then again, you appear to be naturally caustic enough to drive most people away, anyway.

      May 17, 2011 at 19:10 | Report abuse |
  4. Moocow

    yah my girlfriend will moan right before she falls asleep, almost like the way I flail and sometimes accidentally punch my wall right before I slip into REM. Crazy stuff.

    May 17, 2011 at 17:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Moooaaannnnn

    Nice to see an article on this topic, although apparently one with a lot of bad advice. I lurk on a catathrenia support group online, although I've never been formally diagnosed. Many of the members there have been through sleep studies and been given CPAP machines, but have uniformly agreed that they are unhelpful at best. Most people with catathrenia (or their partners) report that they don't have problems breathing in, but they tend to take in a breath, hold it for an unusually long time, then groan while breathing out. CPAP machines are designed to force someone to breathe in, so forcing MORE air in while the sleeper is already holding a breath in is counter-productive.
    I suspect that many of the patients Dr.Shives sees with catathrenia are not actually helped with the CPAP machine, but they give up rather than go back for alternatives, since there doesn't seem to be anything else recommended. It's one of the reasons I haven't bothered to try to get mine diagnosed officially.

    May 17, 2011 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. rod

    Doctors have all kinds of illnesses they invent to get money. I have had them tell me, you have sleep apnea, just by looking at me. If I listened to my doctors I would be taking at least five medications going on 20 years now. I take one. Every time I go to get my blood pressure medicene renewed they want me to spent $500 on tests. Its like they want to find something wrong with you and if they can't, te\hey will invent something. Some times you just have to fire your doctor and get a new one.

    May 17, 2011 at 19:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • tom

      Are they actually people like you ROD, that think doctors make up diseases to get rich?? That's the height of stupidity.
      Next time your doctors tells you that your cholesterol is too high, you should laugh at him and say "HA I AINT FALLING FOR YOUR SCAM DOC!"

      May 17, 2011 at 21:23 | Report abuse |
    • miscn

      I'm a doctor. It's usually the other way around – people inventing things that are wrong with them and me trying to tell them there's nothing wrong. By the way, I have diagnosed plenty of people with sleep apnea just by looking at them. Now I know what you look like just by reading your comment.

      May 18, 2011 at 02:41 | Report abuse |
    • chuckster

      This is one of the purest statements of ignorance I have ever seen. Avoidance of physicians is a leading cause of the fact that men have lower life expectancies then women. Physicians do not "invent" disease...there is an entire international process to identify, name and characterize diseases. Read "And the Band Played On" if you want to see how that system works...or, of course, you can remain ignorant and keep trying to contaminate other people with your ignorance.

      May 18, 2011 at 09:00 | Report abuse |
  7. Mico

    Don't sleep at the Sofitel, be careful with the IMF chief, he might misinterpret the sounds.

    May 17, 2011 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dr.Dr.What's wrong with me.

    Could be some medications like Requip for Parkinson's disease can create this issue as well.

    May 17, 2011 at 22:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. r

    This won't kill or harm you so why go through wearing any of those devices? Let the other person get earplugs.

    May 17, 2011 at 22:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Charles

      Not everyone who has it is going to get treated, especially if its just a minor case. I think things like this are more for people who have more of an extreme case, like people who snore so loud it could wake the dead.

      If its loud enough to wake someone else its good for some people to know there is an option to help with it. The only part I don't like about this article is that it seems to put pressure on people that they *have* to get it treated rather than advocating an option, but that could just be the way I read it.

      May 17, 2011 at 23:42 | Report abuse |
  10. Alleyesonthesky!

    OK so this has a technical name? My grandmother used to scare the hell out of me with her sleeping "disorder" and I don't think we had "sleep centers" there during the 70s! Down South it's called "The Witch Riding your back". I truly did grow up thinking the devil was torturing her. It's the ooooooooooooooo like a broke down ghost sound and it would getter louder until someone woke her or she woke herself. I'm now 38 but have been tortured with this since my childhood.

    May 17, 2011 at 22:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Paula

    Interesting. I do this EVERY night and it's pretty bad/loud. I did try a CPAP for a while but it didn't really help that much.

    May 17, 2011 at 23:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Epidi

    So THAT's what my husband is doing! I thought he was having lucky dog dreams or something. It's not so loud that it disturbs me every night but I do notice that whenever he drank alcohol it was much louder and annoying. I notice he usually does it just before he rolls over or changes sleep position. He didn't believe me when I told him he made noise (along with the snoring) when he slept until I recorded him and played it back to him. He was embarrassed but I said if his dreams were that good, more power to him, lol. I'll show him this article.

    May 18, 2011 at 01:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. CMP

    @Sue – You just may have a valid point on the childhood trauma. My husband and his twin brother both have this condition and they both were traumatized as a child.

    May 18, 2011 at 02:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Hyaena

    I don't do it often, but I am told I laugh weirdly in my sleep.

    May 18, 2011 at 04:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. R. Harris

    Wha...?? I thought this was normal. I snore, yelp, groan, snort, and mumble in my sleep but I ain't going to a doctor for it. Watch a dog sleep and tell me if he/she doesn't act the same way.What a waste!

    May 18, 2011 at 06:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Patrick

    I was formally diagnosed with Catathrenia shortly after the condition was named such. Catathrenia is mostly known for its groaning, but it is also somewhat progressive. Mild cases may show groaning during REM sleep, but more severe cases progress to breath holding complete with oxygen desaturation. Arousals eventually terminate the breath hold. These, like with sleep apnea, cause the fatigue many with Catathrenia experience. After a study showed CPAP treatment worked, I wore one for a little over a year. I would simply groan and hold my breath under the mask, even when the machine ramped up to the maximum pressure. I learned later that the researchers in the study above had confused expiratory snoring with Catathrenia. I personally believe that the root cause is neurological rather than an obstruction.

    I'm glad this condition is finally getting some attention. Hopefully we'll have some form of treatment one day. The only things I know of that "cure" it are large amounts of alcohol, benzos, or propofol. None of which are nightly solutions.

    May 18, 2011 at 06:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Donna

      Patrick,
      You sound very intelligent. Thank you for your post. After I read all of them, your comment about "believing it is more neurological" struck a chord with me. I posted about my situation with my mother and her history of this moaning in the sleep problem. The only thing I will never know is if it only started after her strokes or if she did it before that. My dad passed away and he is the only one who would have known about it. Even though looks like there is no cure for this problem, I am glad to know I probably should not put her through the trouble of going to a sleep clinic. I hope you are able to find something to help it and if you do please let me know what it is.
      Thanks again,
      Donna

      February 16, 2012 at 13:43 | Report abuse |
  17. Beth

    My 17yr old does this, we usually laugh and point at him

    May 18, 2011 at 17:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Michael Calaizzo (Queenie)-Queens

    Living near the East Bridge forces me to take sleeping pills.

    May 20, 2011 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Anthony Mike Caliazzo -Queens

    I love to watch movies before going to sleep.

    May 20, 2011 at 11:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. sandy

    Recently, when spending the weekend out of town with my son, he began fussing at me for groaning. What I thought that I was doing was humming. My roomate has alerted me to my humming all of the time. I do use a CPAP but I am not aware if I do this while sleeping. Does anyone do this humming (groaning) while awake?

    June 25, 2011 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Donna

    My mother (82 yrs.) suffered a stroke two years ago and lost her speech. I took early retirement and moved in with her to become her caregiver. The first six months after her stroke she suffered TIA's that scared me to death. I finally convinced her doctor to put her on an anti-seizure medication. The medicine is KEPPRA and it completely stopped the TIA's. I only mention this so you will understand why her moaning so loudly all night concerns me. I appreciate the suggestion from "r" in May that I should just get earplugs but I have a baby monitor in my room so she can ring a bell to let me know if she needs anything. Also, I am completely deaf in one ear so I'm careful not to sleep on that side. I would feel terrible if she suffered another stroke in the night and I did not respond. She moaned loudly even before she took the KEPPRA but was taking an anti-depressent (pretty much standard for a recovering stroke patient) so I wondered if the moaning was caused from a medication she was taking. When I mentioned it to her doctor, he laughed it off and said she was trying to make life more difficult for me. I know I should find her another PCP but what a hassle with Medicare etc. After reading the blogs here and especially Patrick's where he said he "believes the root cause is neurological rather than an obstruction" I seem inclined to agree with him. My concern is not that my own sleep is being distrubed but more that she is in pain or her brain is being further damaged. I live in constant fear of her next stroke as it's not a matter of if but when. Oh and I forgot to mention, she used to just do this during her night sleeping hours but the past two days has started it during the day when she takes a nap. That has to mean somethingn doesn't it? Looks as though it's a mystery to all. Please let me know if anyone finds a cure. Thanks!

    February 16, 2012 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Name*heather

    About 3 months ago I started making noise in my sleep. Not snoring, more of a moaning and usually only happened when I slept on my back. I had a sinus and respiratory infection and hoped the antibiotic and prednisone would help. Its only gotten worse. Now I sound like a beached whale no matter how I sleep or when. My boyfriend and I can't sleep with one another and its caused me to now be depressed. I never snored. I just want to be normal again. Help!

    April 17, 2012 at 00:28 | Report abuse | Reply
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    June 7, 2012 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. lori

    My boyfriend and I fight constantly because I moan in my sleep. I don't have sex dreams but he don't believe me. I am really needing some help with this but don't know what to do. Please help me

    December 30, 2013 at 16:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Sophie Penny Malpazx

    Hi my name is Sophie and I'm 17 years old I sleep with my boyfriend and he can't sleep. I think I may have a problem with me or may have to see a doctor quickly about this. It is just moaning. And when I wake up I have a soar throat. Please get back to me thanks.

    April 21, 2014 at 00:36 | Report abuse | Reply

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