Moaning in Sleep: Catathrenia Causes and Treatment Options

Romeo Vitelli
Romeo Vitelli
Expert Writer
Received his doctorate in Psychology in 1987, spent fifteen years as a staff psychologist in Millbrook Correctional Centre. In 2003 went into full-time private practice. read more
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Medical Advisory Team
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Includes well-known professionals, who together provide decades of sleep medicine experience that enables Talk About Sleep to fulfill its mission of creating access to high- read more
Last updated: September 09, 2023
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Are you hearing strange noises coming from your partner or someone in your household at night? Or perhaps you yourself are the source of the midnight disturbance and getting complaints from your family members? Regardless, groaning or moaning in sleep is quite a common occurrence, and you may be looking for ways to remedy this problem.

Sleep-related groaning (catathrenia) can have a variety of causes, but most often, these are none too serious. Most importantly, these are easily rectified, so you and your household can quickly get back to enjoying a quiet, peaceful sleep!

Overview of symptoms

Moaning in Sleep: Catathrenia Causes and Treatment OptionsEach night you go through two sleep phases: REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM (non-rapid eye movement), which alternate in cycles of around 100 minutes. Groaning most often occurs during the REM sleep stage. As the cycles progress through the night, REM sleep gets longer, and the moans therefore occur more frequently.

The individual that moans in their sleep is usually unaware that they are making any noise. The groan starts with the sleeper taking in a long, deep breath (bradypnea), holding it, and then exhaling, which is accompanied by a lengthy moan. The duration of the sound depends on the length of the exhale. Other noises that may be produced include humming, roaring or even a kind of squeaking. These sounds alternate with ordinary breathing during the night.

Causes of catathrenia

The causes behind this occurrence are still highly debated. Until recently, nocturnal groaning was thought to be a type of parasomnia (sleep disorder), however, it is now more widely regarded as a sleep-related breathing disorder. Statistically, males are more likely to have this condition than females. There don’t seem to be any specific causes for catathrenia, but this is in part down to limited research on this subject. These seems to be a slight genetic component to the disorder, as it has been noticed to run in families. Physiologically speaking, there is a correlation between jaw size and catathrenia, as individuals that suffer from this issue often have a smaller-sized jaw.

Moaning in Sleep: Catathrenia Causes and Treatment OptionsSome medication may result in catathrenia as a side effect, though, once again, more studies need to be carried out for conclusive information on this account.

Catathrenia is also commonly confused with snoring or sounds made during an epileptic seizure, although it has nothing to do with either of these conditions.

Risks associated with sleep-related groaning

When it comes to risks, nocturnal groaning has not been found to pose any serious threats to one’s physical or psychological health. However, as noted previously, much more research needs to be carried out in order to be able to say this with complete confidence. For now, no significant risks have been outlined, although each case is as individual as the person whom it belongs to. Therefore, someone that experiences catathrenia may also be a sleep-talker (somniloquist) and/or a sleepwalker, and the three may or may not be interconnected, meaning having one of these conditions may increase the risk of having one or both of the others in that particular individual. However, instances like this have not been observed across the board.

Those that suffer from catathrenia may sometimes wake up with a sore throat and uncomfortable sensations in their mouth and jaw area in the morning, or they may experience slightly more tiredness throughout the day, as though they did not get quite enough sleep. Most often, though, the groaner is unaware that they moan in their sleep and it does not have any severe effects on their health.

Moaning in Sleep: Catathrenia Causes and Treatment OptionsThe partner or family members of this individual, on the other hand, are at risk of consistently not getting enough sleep, which over time can develop into some form of parasomnia. As the groaning, moaning or other noises are usually very loud (much louder than snoring), this is disturbing for those that surround the sleep-groaner at night – even the neighbors might not be getting their forty winks if walls are on the thin side! Those in the household who are bothered by the noise should make sure to wear ear plugs, or perhaps even earphones and play some form of white noise throughout the night. If nothing else works, sleeping separately may be the best option if the noises are unbearably loud.

Treatment solutions

As catathrenia is not a particularly debilitating condition, there isn’t a great deal of research into effective treatment to eradicate it. The following methods have been found to be somewhat effective, but for best results, it would be great to try implementing them in conjunction with one another:

Sleep comfortably

Moaning in Sleep: Catathrenia Causes and Treatment OptionsIt has been noted that if the sleep-groaner changes position, the moaning noise usually comes to a stop. As this is a breathing disorder, and as our breathing is greatly affected by the position our body is in, it would be a wise idea to put some thought into the position you lie in when you sleep. Choosing a comfortable orthopedic pillow for the best neck, shoulder and head support will help to relieve all pressure from these often very tense areas and align your trachea for unobstructed breathing. Another idea is getting a body pillow, that will help to align your spine and therefore all the organs of your respiratory system, too. This will also allow your partner to turn you over during the night without disturbing you, should you start groaning.

CPAP mask

Moaning in Sleep: Catathrenia Causes and Treatment OptionsA Stanford University study Trusted Source Catathrenia: Parasomnia or Uncommon Feature of Sleep Disordered Breathing? We report a series of seven consecutive cases of catathrenia (sleep related groaning) that differ from limited previous reports in the literature with regard to sleep stage and response to treatment. found that wearing a CPAP mask can be an effective treatment for sleep-related groaning. Continuous positive airway pressure is usually a treatment used for obstructive sleep apnea, a breathing disorder in which the constriction of the throat muscles cause the sleeper to intermittently stop and start breathing throughout the night. As catathrenia is also considered to be a sleep-related breathing disorder, a CPAP treatment seems logical. The CPAP machine delivers a constant and steady air pressure through a mask or nosepiece, regulating the breathing of the individual and resulting in a regular breathing pattern. The study found that all four subjects did not experience sleep groaning with the CPAP treatment, suggesting it could be the solution for this condition. However, studies like this need to be carried out on a much larger scale for more conclusive findings. If you’re suffering from catathrenia, speak to your doctor about trying out CPAP therapy. The study also showed that surgery is also an effective solution to catathrenia, although this is a more serious approach, with some risks.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Some studies have shown that CBT may be an effective treatment method for some patients, but the results of such studies tend to be inconsistent. This could be because of individual differences or because of misdiagnosis, as the condition can often be mistaken for other disorders. Regardless, speak to your health practitioner about the possibility of undergoing cognitive behavioural therapy for catathrenia.


If you’re groaning or moaning in your sleep and it’s not bothering you or anyone else, and you sleep well without any other symptoms, there is no need to worry or undergo serious treatment such as surgery. On the other hand, if you or your family members are suffering as a result of disturbed sleep, consult with a health practitioner or sleep specialist for more advice and some personalized recommendations on how to get rid of catathrenia.

We wish you a restful and healthy sleep!


Catathrenia: Parasomnia or Uncommon Feature of Sleep Disordered Breathing?
We report a series of seven consecutive cases of catathrenia (sleep related groaning) that differ from limited previous reports in the literature with regard to sleep stage and response to treatment.
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