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Can You Sneeze in Your Sleep?

21st January 2020

Slumber Centre

Have you ever sneezed so loudly in the night that it woke you up? Probably not, and that got us thinking is it possible to sneeze while you are asleep?

Why do we sneeze?

Sensors and sinuses in our noses detect foreign particles and objects when we breathe.

The sensors then signal the cilia, tiny-hair like paddles that line our nostrils, and sinuses to expel the irritants out of your body.

The nose in general is an underestimated organ, as it plays an important part in keeping us healthy.

5 interesting facts about sneezing:

1. It is believed a sneeze can travel up to 100 miles per hour. This is why you often make a noise when you sneeze as the air is moving out of your nose so quickly

2. Did you know plucking your eyebrows can make you sneeze? The plucking action can set off a nerve in your face that supplies your nasal passages, causing you to sneeze

3. According to the Library of Congress the longest sneezing spree was 978 days, a record set by Donna Griffiths from Worcestershire

4. Despite your best efforts your eyes will shut involuntarily when sneezing. This involuntary reflex is part of the message the brain receives during the lead up to a sneeze

5. Trying to hold your sneeze can result in injuries such as damaged blood vessels and ruptured ear drums. It’s always best to not hold your sneeze, even in a library! Pressing your upper lip underneath your nose, forcing a deep breath out of your nose and simply rubbing your nose can help suppress the urge to sneeze

So is it possible to sneeze while sleeping?

Realistically we should be more prone to sneezing while we sleep as the mucous membranes swell when we lie down.

However, despite the limited published studies on sneezing during your sleep, many neuroscientists and researchers believe it’s essentially impossible to sneeze while you sleep.

Although we should be more prone to sneezing while asleep, the reduction of airflow and movement while we sleep doesn’t stir up dust or other particles, therefore the membranes don’t come into contact with any stimulants as they do when we’re awake.

One of the main contributing factors as to why we don’t sneeze while asleep is due to REM sleep (the phase where dreams take place).

During the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep phase your muscles are paralysed. This helps protect your body from any brash movements in your sleep that could result in injury.

This paralysis also extends to reflex muscle contractions, preventing you from sneezing while you sleep.

However in non-REM sleep your muscles are free to move but the trigeminal motor neurons that are responsible for triggering a sneeze are still suppressed.

Theoretically it could be possible to sneeze during a non-REM sleep but it’s likely the exertion caused by a sneeze would wake you up.