Why Do People Cough or Sneeze While Sleeping?
Cough or sneeze is a reflex that is usually triggered by external stimulants. Sneezing is a process of removing irritants from the throat and nose. It occurs when the body detects allergens or non-allergen particles in the nasal cavity. The nasal hair serves as the first line of resistance to these particles.
While sleeping, the body is less likely to respond to external stimuli than while awake. But, if a person is coughing and sneezing during rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep or REMS), most possibly, it is a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea or chronic cough. This condition can cause sleep deficiency.
In the article, let us explore the reason for nighttime sneezing and coughing. Also, we will discuss why coughing and sneezing during sleep are bad.
Causes of Coughing and Sneezing During Sleep
Obstructive sleep apnea and chronic cough are the most common reasons for nighttime cough and sneeze. Of the people suffering from chronic cough, only around 50% have sleep disruptions because of coughing.
The chronic cough usually lasts for eight weeks or longer. It can disrupt sleep and can lead to daytime drowsiness. Severe cases of chronic cough can cause vomiting, rib fractures, and lightheadedness. The most common causes of chronic cough include postnasal drip, acid reflux, and asthma. However, the best thing is that the disorder is treatable.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
OSA is a potentially severe sleep ailment in which breathing frequently starts and stops throughout the sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the muscles that support the soft tissues in the throat, like the soft palate and tongue, temporarily relax. When this happens, the airway is narrowed or closed, and normal breathing is momentarily cut off.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive ailment affecting the LES (lower esophageal sphincter), which is a group of muscles that restricts stomach acid from entering into the throat. GERD weakens the lower esophageal sphincter, which enables acid to slip past. This phenomenon is known as acid reflux.
Rhinitis is the swelling and inflammation in the mucous membrane of the nose, which is usually caused by cold or allergies. The disorder involves stuffiness, sneezing, and a runny nose.
Why Is Coughing and Sneezing During Sleep Bad?
The biological mechanisms of the body prevent coughs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. A healthy person doesn't cough in sleep. The body goes through four stages of sleep, three stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and one stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
During non-rapid eye movement sleep stages, the body prepares for rapid eye movement sleep by reclining from light to deep sleep. In these stages of sleep, the brain waves become slow, which excludes external awareness and assists the restorative processes of the brain. In the final stage of NREM, the muscles become inactive, and the body doesn't react to stimuli, making it hard to wake the person.
REM sleep, the last stage of sleep, accounts for only 20% of the sleep time. In this stage, the body repairs damaged tissue, and the brain restores information and memories from the previous day. In REM sleep, the brain is as active as it is during wakefulness, but the body is paralyzed, which begins in the brainstem and spreads to the spinal cord.
As the body is in paralysis mode, REM sleep suppresses coughing. The only possible way to induce a sneeze or cough during REM sleep is by irritants, like stomach acid in the throat or mouth, a running nose, allergens, postnasal drip, or a throat blockage, which signals the brain to get rid of the external stimuli.
If a person is coughing during sleep, it is usually a warning that there is a much deeper issue. But sneezing is different. If the body needs to sneeze out an outside irritant, the person will wake.
Coughing and sneezing during the fourth stage of sleep, that is, REM sleep is not very usual. But sometimes, a strong urge of irritants or allergens can wake a person from sleep. It can diminish the sleep quality of a person resulting in daytime sleepiness, obesity, irritation, and many other things.
The best way to restrict cough and sneeze during sleep is by keeping the bedroom environment clean and reducing the chances of sneeze reflex.
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