Is it possible to sneeze during your sleep?
On any given day, you might sneeze as a result of your body getting rid of allergens, or perhaps in response to a cold virus.
While you can certainly sneeze at night as well, your own biological responses may help you automatically stifle sneezing while you’re actually asleep.
Let’s learn what’s behind the causes of sneezing, as well as why your natural inclination to sneeze may be different while you’re sleeping.
Sneezing (sternutation) is your body’s response to help clear your nose. When particles enter your nostrils, your nasal passageways may become itchy and irritated.
As a natural reflex, nerve signals are sent to your brain stem to tell your nose to get rid of invading particles before they reach your lungs and make you sick.
Some common substances that cause sneezing include:
- animal dander
- odors, such as perfumes
Other possible causes of sneezing include being exposed to bright light and plucking your eyebrows. It’s thought that some of the same nerves are activated in these cases, which then give into your body’s natural reflex to sneeze.
You can feel a sneeze coming on due to the muscles your body uses to prepare your nose to take action. You might take a deep breath and feel your abdominal and chest muscles contract. You may put your tongue against the roof of your mouth and close your eyes right before the sneeze occurs.
As you sneeze, your nose pushes out mucus, air, and saliva with a high level of force in order to get rid of the irritating particles. This is why it’s important to sneeze into a tissue. If you don’t have one, sneeze into your elbow to avoid spreading germs.
Sometimes, excess mucus may be left behind, and you have to blow your nose to get rid of it. In the case of allergies, you may keep sneezing from allergens that get stuck in your nose. Treatment with a decongestant and antihistamine may help offer some relief.
If you’ve ever been told not to hold back your sneezes, there’s a good reason for it. Preventing a sneeze doesn’t allow your body to get rid of particles that are stuck in the nose. You may even become sick or experience sinus irritation from stifling your sneezes.
It’s thought that the reason you can’t sneeze when you’re asleep is because the nerves that help you sneeze are at rest during this time, too. This is particularly the case when you enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycles.
During REM sleep, you aren’t aware of the tickling or irritating sensations that would ordinarily send nerve signals to the brain to induce a sneeze.
The case may be different when you’re in the light stages of sleep. If you’ve ever felt like you have sneezed in your sleep before, it’s likely because you haven’t yet fallen into a deep sleep, or you’re already starting to wake up naturally.
Much of the nerve signal action that controls natural reflexes like sneezing during your waking hours occurs at the brainstem. Researchers are still trying to determine why exactly this reaction occurs, and how it’s suppressed during your sleeping hours.
Do children sneeze in their sleep?
There’s a common misconception that young children can sneeze in their sleep. If you hear a child sneeze while sleeping, it’s likely they are in a light sleep cycle and are already partially awake.
It’s also a misconception that children are lighter sleepers than adults. The key difference is that babies and young children sleep longer, and thus have a larger number of sleep cycles that may be shorter in duration.
You can help your child establish healthy sleep habits early on by establishing a routine.
The same biological processes that suppress sneezes while you’re asleep also prevent coughing.
It’s possible to have a nighttime cough from an illness, asthma, or allergies, but you’re likely awake when you do the coughing. More often than not, the urge to cough can wake you up during a lighter sleep cycle.
Other urges that may be suppressed during your sleep include:
- urination and defecation
Generally speaking, sneezing can only occur when you’re awake. If you feel like you or a loved one has sneezed in their sleep, the likely explanation is that they have awakened.
Another consideration is the process of sleep itself.