The scenario is always the same and is repeated in thousands of homes each night:
Just when you are about to fall into the arms of Morpheus, your partner is stirred nervously and says, probably annoyed:
-You’re doing it again those strange noises!
– What noise? – You ask.
– You know it, those horrible sounds that seem a lament. I can’t sleep…
If this scene sounds familiar, it is likely that you or your partner suffer catathrenia.
What is catathrenia?
For many years catathrenia was considered a parasomnia. However, in 2013 the scientific community has decided to place it in the category of sleep-related breathing disorders.
People who suffer catathrenia tend to inhale deeply and then hold the breath while they sleep for a short period of time. So, when they expire, are emitting a sound like a lament or a long screech.
That sound can last only a few seconds, but in some cases can last up to a minute, so it is very difficult to sleep with someone next to you who makes these noises. In some cases, at the end of the lament can also appear what is known as “secondary noise”, a kind of puff, for example.
This noise can also be very strong, and in some cases may be confused with the typical sounds of the sexual act. In other cases it’s not only annoying but definitely disturbing who’s listening. Obviously, for who emits it this noise is embarrassing.
However, it should be clarified that in fact these sounds have no relation with the dreams that can make the person or his mental state. That is, even if the sound can seem anguishing that does not mean that the person is having a nightmare or feels bad.
Usually the episodes of catathrenia occur during REM sleep, although they can appear in other sleep stages. Most people claim that usually occurs at night, indicating that are more common during the deep sleep.
Wh suffer catathrenia often had this problem for many years, almost every night. Obviously, when sleeping with another person those sounds can cause frustration on both and significantly affect the quality of their sleep.
What are the causes of catathrenia?
As with many disorders associated with sleep, the exact cause of catathrenia is still not known, although there are several theories. For example, it could be due to:
– Obstruction or restriction of the upper airway, making it difficult the air circulation.
– Partial closure of the vocal cords, especially during REM sleep. Consequently, there is a forced air escape with the purpose to unlock the vocal cords.
– Damage to brain structures that control breathing.
– Jaw too small. In fact, it was observed that in many subjects suffering from catathrenia the jaw is usually very small.
– Orthodontic problems. Studies indicate that approximately 86% of people who suffer from catathrenia have undergone orthodontic treatment at some point in their lives, and 71% had undergone several dental extractions during adolescence.
Furthermore, it was observed that this condition is aggravated when the person is experiencing high stress levels.
Is there a treatment?
Catathrenia usually has a greater social impact rather than medical. In fact, most people are unaware of the problem until they have a partner that signals the noise they emit while sleeping.
Experts say there’s no reason to be alarmed, but it should not be neglected neither, because, in general, any of the sleep disorders can bring negative consequences in the long term.
In 2008, a small study conducted at Stanford University with 7 people who were suffering from catathrenia found that a continuous positive airway pressure machine might eliminate the nocturnal lament.
In practice, this machine used by people who suffer from sleep apnea, enter gently the air through the nose to keep the airway open. This is not a final solution but obviously the person who uses it sees reduced the nocturnal noises.
Other people suggest some simple tricks like lifting slightly the pillow or sleeping on a side. It also helps the aerobic exercise, in which you need to breathe hard, as well as practicing yoga and meditation, since these activities enhances breathing.
Guilleminault; c. et. Al. (2008) Catathrenia: Parasomnia or Uncommon Feature of Sleep Disordered Breathing? Sleep; 31(1): 132–139.