Can you sneeze in your sleep? It may be a strange question for some people, but your curiosity may have led you to this page. You probably heard someone cough in their sleep. You probably experienced it, too. But sneezing? Now that’s interesting.
Apparently, sleep researchers have also scratched their heads over this. But they haven’t stopped at that. Thanks to them, we now have an answer to this fascinating question. You will learn about the answer below. But first, you may want to understand why humans sneeze.
In this article, you will learn about the sneezing process, REM atonia, and even the rare causes of sneezing. Hop on to this ride filled with new knowledge.
In a hurry? Get to the part that piques your curiosity by browsing through the Table of Contents.
Table of Contents
Why Do We Sneeze?
A sneeze usually forces foreign bodies out of your nasal passage. We say “usually” because looking at a bright light can also cause sneezing (ever wonder why?). Also called sternutation, sneezing is among your first line of defense.
When the mucous membrane of your nose detects an irritant, it sends a signal to the brain. The brain then tells the body to brace for a sneeze. You’ll experience this process in a matter of seconds: the chest and diaphragm contract, your eyes close, and your tongue reaches for the roof of your mouth.
Typical external triggers include smoke, dust, pollen, bacteria, pet dander, and mold. As we said, sudden exposure to bright light, such as sunlight, is a rare but potential cause. You also sneeze when you’ve caught a cold or are down with the flu. In some instances, a full stomach and orgasm can bring about bouts of sneezing.
What Are Histamines?
As you read, sneezing is the manifestation of an elaborate process your body and brain go through to expel a contaminant. Allergens are one type of contaminant. When your body wants to throw allergens out, it releases chemicals called histamines. These are produced by mast cells in your mouth, nose, lungs, skin, blood, and gut.
Histamines precede other chemicals that drive your immune system to defend you from the allergens. So when, say, pollen or pet dander irritates your nasal passage, you sneeze and get a runny nose.
Is This Reflex Avoidable?
Have you ever tried suppressing an achoo? It probably happened while you’re in a meeting or on a packed subway train. Holding in your sneeze may seem the right idea in such social situations. But experts say this may put you in danger.
When you sneeze, you expel air, mucus, and water with so much more pressure than exhaling while doing a strenuous activity. Imagine how intense that pressure is pre-sneeze. When you keep it all in, the pressure rises to 5 to 25 times more than what the sneeze generated.
Your middle ear could get infected and your eardrum could rupture. Blood vessels could also be damaged, a rare and mild case. There are rare but life-threatening results, though, such as aneurysm, diaphragm injury, throat damage, and broken ribs.
Avoiding this reflex seems counterintuitive. But it’s understandable why and when you’d want to stop it from happening. A gentle reminder: everybody sneezes. So even if it’s ill-timed, let it out. Cover your mouth when you do. The droplets you expel can transmit the bacteria or other contaminants your body is getting rid of. You don’t want to spread a disease now, do you?
Can You Sneeze In Your Sleep?
The short answer is no. Your body will wake up if it has to sneeze. Under natural circumstances, your internal system will be shut down and suppress sensory reactions. You can’t and won’t feel the need to sneeze while snoozing. However, if the external trigger is too strong, you can be shaken out of your slumber to let out an achoo.
The latter situation described above can be brought about by, say, smoke. This could be a life-threatening case, such as when the place you’re sleeping in is on fire.
What Is REM Atonia?
There are five stages in a human sleep cycle: the 4 non-REM (NREM) and REM stages. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. Each step gradually leads you into a deeper sleep, which allows the body to repair itself and rejuvenate. The last two NREM stages provide restorative sleep, occurring before the end of 90 minutes.
Well into the first 90 minutes, you reach REM sleep. Your eyes move rapidly in different directions. Your breathing becomes fast and irregular. A set of other changes happen. But it is during this stage that your brain signals your spinal cord to halt muscle activity, known as REM atonia. Researchers say temporary paralysis is necessary to prevent injury while you sleep.
Why would you be injured in your sleep, though? Glad you asked. Some people act out their dreams. And neuroscience has linked REM sleep with vivid dreams. Your brain in this stage also most resembles your brain during waking hours: it is active.
So, all throughout your sleep, you’re prevented from responding to external stimuli. This does not only keep you from getting or falling haphazardly out of your bed. It also does not allow you to sneeze.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sneezing
Why Do Some People Sneeze Multiple Times?
There’s no definitive answer to this yet. Usually, it’s a sign that a person is experiencing irritation or inflammation in their nasal passage. And this is attributed to allergies more often than not. However, a fit of sneezing can also mean that the pressure of the sneeze isn’t strong enough to expel the pollutant the first time.
Can Orgasms Cause Sneezing?
It may be rare but not impossible. Some people have this curious response after sexual ideation or orgasm. Researchers have found a common variable among the rare causes of sneezing, such as bright light, a full stomach, sexual ideation, and orgasm. They occur independently of a nasal trigger but share the quality of having a parasympathetic outflow.
Why Can’t I Sneeze?
Sometimes, you can’t seem to complete an achoo even when you aren’t suppressing it. You may feel the urge when you’re suffering from a cold or flu virus. But it doesn’t come out. And the irony is, you know you’ll feel so much better when you finally sneeze. Try triggering it by looking at a bright light source or sniffing black pepper.
Can You Cough Or Sneeze In Your Sleep?
We already answered the bit about sneezing. You need to be in an awakened state to deliver an achoo. The same thing applies to coughs. A person who may seem to cough in their sleep has already awakened to complete a cough. This is why you can remember becoming aware of your coughing at night.
Both the lack of muscle activity and sneezing are necessary for your survival. These are natural responses that keep you from injuring yourself or being sick. But the former happens during the last two stages of NREM sleep, and the latter occurs when you’re in an awake state. The same thing applies to sneeze and cough.
Yet, you can do a few things to keep yourself from waking up with an urge to sneeze. You can clean your linens, pillows, and mattress regularly to remove possible triggers like dust and pet dander. You can also clear your environment of bacteria, mold, and pollutants. These may be little things, but they can help you achieve an uninterrupted, genuinely restorative sleep.
Read: How to Clean A Mattress
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