Ask SleepBetter: Why do I grunt in my sleep?

Have you wondered about something related to sleep, but just can’t find the answer?  Lots of people do, and that’s why we created Ask SleepBetter.  You can ask your own question on the SleepBetter Facebook Page, or by using our Ask SleepBetter contact form.  We will try to answer as many questions as possible, but we are not able to answer queries about physical issues or medicinal issues.  Those should be addressed face-to-face with a physician.

Today’s question is about things that go “grunt” in the night:

“Why do I make involuntary”grunting” sounds that ALWAYS wakes me up when I’m sleeping?”

-Pamela Connell (via Facebook)

It’s impossible to tell exactly what’s causing your grunting without a sleep study.  However, involuntary grunts that wake an individual in the night CAN be a sign of sleep apnea, and are something you should absolutely discuss with your doctor.

Several types of sleep apnea exist, but the most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when your throat muscles intermittently relax and block your airway during sleep. The most noticeable sign of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring.  We found this great description of what you might be experiencing on the Winthrop University Hospital website:

As the patient’s snoring grows louder, it builds to a crescendo and is followed by silence, which signals that breathing has stopped. Eventually, the patient resumes breathing, often with a noisy grunt or deep guttural breath. The silent periods are called apneas. Patients can have dozens of apneas an hour. Each time, the brain sends a powerful signal to resume breathing. The generation of this signal to resume breathing fractures sleep and interrupts restful restorative sleep, leading to severe tiredness and daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea is often associated with the need to take naps, which are not very helpful because the patient experiences the same symptoms during the naps. 

Anyone can develop obstructive sleep apnea, although it most commonly affects middle-aged and older adults and people who are overweight.  Smoking and use of alcohol tends to make the condition worse.  Sleep apnea can lead to a number of health problems, and can be fatal.  Treatments include losing weight, quitting smoking and alcohol, and use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device while you sleep.

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