People with catathrenia groan in their sleep. It’s a rare condition that’s classified as a sleep-related breathing disorder, similar to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), though it isn’t usually as serious. Catathrenia affects children and adults, and people assigned male at birth are slightly more likely to develop the condition.

An overnight sleep study can often be used to diagnose catathrenia, which may then be treated with the same types of devices and procedures used to address snoring and OSA. Though catathrenia is typically not a symptom of any serious underlying health problems, the long, slow moans during sleep can disrupt your bed partner and may prevent you from getting a completely restful night’s sleep.

The primary symptoms of catathrenia are long, slow groans or moans made when you exhale — unlike snoring, which occurs when you breathe in. The groaning, also described at times as humming or roaring, tends to be loud and may go on for a few seconds at a time or for nearly a minute.

These periods of groaning may be repeated throughout the night or may occur much more infrequently, though they are likely to occur every night. Some people describe the moaning as eerie or “ghostlike.”

Other symptoms

A 2017 study published in the journal Sleep Medicine suggests that catathrenia usually occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, one of the shorter stages of sleep, but one in which you tend to have the most vivid dreams. Catathrenia doesn’t occur when a person is awake.

During catathrenia episodes, breathing tends to slow. This is known as bradypnea. However, unlike OSA, which leads to frequent pauses in breathing during the night, catathrenia isn’t associated with moments in which breathing stops temporarily.

But like OSA, catathrenia is sometimes associated with daytime sleepiness and a sore throat in the morning, suggesting that even without the individual being aware of sleep interruptions, catathrenia may interfere with a full, restorative night’s sleep.

The causes of catathrenia aren’t well understood yet. It may be related to problems with neurons in the brain’s respiratory center that cause slow, long exhalations that present as groaning or moaning.

Other theories suggest that having a small jaw and small upper airways may play a role. And some scientists believe that there may be a genetic component, as some people with catathrenia have a close relative who also has the condition.

At the time of publication, catathrenia is still so rare that it hasn’t been the focus of any large studies to pinpoint exact causes or optimal treatments.

Like OSA, catathrenia often may be treated successfully with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. For many years, CPAP was only used for adults with catathrenia. But a 2019 study suggests that the therapy may also be appropriate for children, particularly if catathrenia is adversely affecting their quality of life or causing any physical problems.

CPAP therapy works by delivering air from a bedside pump through a thin, flexible tube to a mask you wear over your nose and mouth or through a nasal cannula, a tube with small prongs that go inside the nostrils.

A CPAP machine helps keep the airways open during sleep. It has been shown to be effective for some people with catathrenia, but for others, the extra airflow doesn’t change any symptoms.

Other possible catathrenia treatments include a customized oral appliance that helps keep the jaw and tongue in an optimal position to avoid airway obstruction. For some people, surgery to remove excess tissue in the throat may be helpful.

While there are no medications or home remedies to treat or cure catathrenia, there are some general strategies to follow when trying to get a good night’s sleep:

  • go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day
  • avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime
  • sleep in a cool, dark room
  • use a pillow that provides proper neck support
  • exercise in the morning, if possible

Catathrenia isn’t associated with any major health complications. But the condition may be so disruptive to a bed partner’s sleep that stress in a relationship could develop.

To help avoid relationship complications, talk with a sleep specialist about treatment. Your bed partner may want to consider earplugs or listening to white noise at night to drown out the groans.

How rare is catathrenia?

According to 2017 review of studies and case reports, researchers suggest that catathrenia affects less than half of 1 percent of the general population.

Is catathrenia harmful?

Though the loud groans associated with catathrenia can be disturbing to a bed partner, the condition usually isn’t considered to be dangerous. In some cases, it can interfere with a good night’s sleep, but it’s generally not a symptom of any harmful health condition.

One other risk associated with catathrenia is that it may mask OSA or other sleep disorders. If your bed partner notices snoring, paused breathing at night, or other potential sleep disorders, such as parasomnia (sleep walking or sleep talking), be sure to talk with a doctor or other healthcare professional soon.

Does catathrenia go away?

Catathrenia is considered to be a chronic condition, meaning that it will likely continue unless effectively treated. CPAP use may not actually cure the condition, but it may eliminate catathrenia’s primary symptom. Surgery to remove tissue in the throat or airways may put an end to nighttime groaning, but only in some cases.

Is catathrenia caused by stress?

There’s some anecdotal evidence that stress may trigger catathrenia. But there is no strong evidence that stress or other psychological factors are responsible for the onset of this rare sleep disorder.

Though rare, catathrenia is nevertheless a potential health concern and a source of sleep disruption for your bed partner. Talk with a doctor or other healthcare professional about your catathrenia symptoms. You may be referred to a sleep specialist for further evaluation.

If the symptoms are frequent and severe enough, a treatment such as CPAP may help restore healthy slumber and bring some calm to sleep time.