Waking up in the course of the night time and realizing that you simply had been gasping for air throughout sleep might be scary and one thing you shouldn’t ignore. It may be an indication of a severe well being downside. And in case you do end up waking feeling wanting breath, don’t assume instantly that it’s sleep apnea. “Gasping at night time might be attributable to a whole lot of issues,” says otolaryngologist Omar G. Ahmed, MD, who focuses on treating sleep issues at Houston Methodist Hospital.

The important thing to discovering out what’s inflicting your nighttime gasping is to see a sleep specialist, who will carry out a physical exam and ask a whole lot of questions. How lengthy have you ever been gasping at night time? How usually does it occur? Have you ever gained weight currently? Do you have got any main well being issues?

A sleep specialist might suspect sleep apnea as the reason for your gasping, however you is likely to be shocked by the number of different potential causes.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the commonest type of this nighttime respiration dysfunction, happens in case your tongue and different tissues within the mouth fall backward and block your airway while you lie down for a nap. Every time that occurs, you cease breathing for as much as a minute or extra, and it will probably occur a whole bunch of instances per night time. It’s possible you’ll not get up, however a mattress accomplice will possible be wide-eyed at your snoring, in addition to frequent gasps for air.

If a health care provider suspects you could have sleep apnea, they may order a sleep examine, which might be performed at residence, although assessments carried out in hospital sleep clinics present extra data. Whilst you sleep, you’ll be related to varied screens that measure your respiration, oxygen ranges, physique actions, and different components that supply clues that you’ve got sleep apnea. “We wish to discover out if obstructive sleep apnea is happening, and in that case, how extreme it’s,” Ahmed says.

If you’re identified with OSA and also you’re carrying some further kilos, “an important factor you are able to do is shed extra pounds,” says sleep specialist Priyanka Yadav, DO, of the Robert Wooden Johnson College Hospital Complete Sleep Heart, in Hillsborough, NJ. Dropping 10% of your body weight, she says, can cut back episodes of sleep apnea by as much as 50%.


The present “gold commonplace” therapy for OSA is steady optimistic airway strain (CPAP), which makes use of a mask-like system that matches over the nostril and mouth and is hooked up by a tube to a motor that blows air. “CPAP creates strain in your airways in order that they don’t collapse whilst you sleep,” Ahmed says. CPAP is first-line remedy for individuals with reasonable to extreme OSA, which makes up 80% of the 22 million People who’ve sleep apnea, in line with the American Sleep Apnea Affiliation.

A lot of Yadav’s sufferers with gentle circumstances of OSA profit from particular mouthguard-like units that stop the airway from being compressed by transferring the decrease jaw ahead; they work greatest for again sleepers.

A comparatively new system authorized by the Meals and Drug Administration, known as Encourage, is for individuals with reasonable to extreme OSA. Encourage is implanted within the chest and senses while you breathe, then stimulates nerves to maintain your airways open. “Sufferers do very well with it,” says Ahmed, who has implanted the system in lots of. Encourage is authorized for sufferers who fail on or can’t tolerate CPAP and isn’t out there for very obese individuals. If all else fails, Ahmed and different surgeons can carry out procedures that widen the airway.

Central Sleep Apnea

Much less widespread than OSA, central sleep apnea (CSA) shouldn’t be attributable to blocked airways. As an alternative, alerts from the brain that usually preserve respiration throughout sleep go haywire, leading to intervals the place there’s little or no air flowing into the lungs. CSA will also be introduced on by sure medical situations or medicine, in addition to sleeping at excessive altitude. CPAP is the same old therapy for CSA.

Anxiousness and Nocturnal Panic Assaults

It’s attainable that your psyche is triggering your nighttime respiratory issues. “Some sufferers will say, I’m not loud night breathing, however I get up gasping at night time,” Yadav says. If she guidelines out sleep apnea and different potential physiological causes, Yadav usually discovers {that a} affected person is almost certainly gasping throughout sleep as a consequence of anxiety or nocturnal panic attacks.


All people is aware of what anxiousness seems like. A nocturnal panic assault is a nighttime model of a panic assault, which is the sudden onset of overwhelming concern and fear, usually accompanied by a pounding coronary heart, perspiration, and shortness of breath. Some individuals who have a panic dysfunction primarily expertise assaults after they’re asleep. Choking and shortness of breath are widespread in individuals who expertise nocturnal panic assaults.

Individuals who have sleep-time gasping and different signs associated to anxiousness and nocturnal panic assaults usually have a historical past of insomnia, Yadav says. Should you get up gasping, the sheets are soaked, your coronary heart is pounding, and also you’re scared out of your wits, chances are you’ll be experiencing one among these issues. Yadav suspects that the variety of individuals worldwide who expertise these assaults has in all probability risen through the COVID-19 pandemic. She refers sufferers to a psychotherapist or psychiatrist for counseling and, probably, remedy.

Submit-Nasal Drip

This widespread downside could cause nighttime gasping, too, significantly in case you occur to have heavy nasal congestion. When a congested particular person lies down at night time, Ahmed says, thick drainage can drip from the nasal passages and into the nasopharynx, or higher a part of the throat behind the nostril, after which into the oropharynx, or the portion of the throat behind the mouth. “That may trigger individuals to really feel like, Hey, I instantly can’t breathe!” Ahmed says. Submit-nasal drip can even trigger coughing and the necessity to spit out thick mucus.

Submit-nasal drip happens as a consequence of varied types of rhinitis and sinusitis, that are inflammation and swelling of the mucous membrane of the nostril and the sinuses, respectively, Ahmed says. Some individuals have continual rhinitis, although the common cold and seasonal allergies can produce comparable signs. Additionally, a situation known as vasomotor rhinitis merely causes individuals to supply giant quantities of nasal mucous fluid, she says.

Varied drugs resembling antihistamines, nasal steroids, and others can assist relieve rhinitis and sinusitis. If drugs don’t assist, varied different procedures might provide aid. You probably have continual rhinitis, cryotherapy can ship extraordinarily chilly temperatures that “freeze” a nerve within the nasal passage that’s inflicting you to supply an excessive amount of discharge.

Endoscopic sinus surgical procedure is an possibility for individuals with hard-to-treat sinusitis. “The objective of this process is to open up the sinus passages, as broad as attainable, to allow them to drain simply,” Ahmed says. Widening the sinus passages additionally makes it simpler to deal with ongoing irritation that’s inflicting post-nasal drip within the first place.

Acid Reflux

Can that cheeseburger you had for dinner set off a nighttime gasping episode? Most of us get a contact of heartburn from time to time, and in case you get a burning sensation in your chest routinely you could have gastroesophageal reflux illness (GERD). Nighttime gasping and different discomfort might be attributable to a associated downside, known as laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), Ahmed says. As in GERD, acidic juices from the abdomen leak out and creep again up the windpipe in LPR. However as a substitute of inflicting basic heartburn symptoms, Ahmed explains, the acidic fluid as a substitute irritates the throat in LPR (it’s generally known as “silent reflux” because it appears to sneak previous the chest). “That may produce the feeling that you’ve got one thing caught in your throat,” he says, which might trigger you to get up feeling like you want to clear your throat so you’ll be able to take a breath.

It’s possible you’ll be significantly more likely to have a flareup of both GERD or LPR quickly after you go to sleep, leading to a puff assault, for the reason that physique’s peak manufacturing of abdomen acid happens between 10 p.m. and a couple of a.m., Yadav says.


Luckily, numerous preventive measures can assist with each. Avoiding fried or fatty meals is smart for a lot of causes and will ease acid reflux. You additionally ought to watch your night consumption of extremely acidic meals and drinks, resembling tomato sauce, orange juice, and coffee. Take an acid reducer resembling famotidine (Pepcid) a half hour earlier than dinner, Yadav suggests, or ask your physician about utilizing a associated drugs, known as a proton-pump inhibitor, resembling esomeprazole (Nexium) or omeprazole (Prilosec). Lastly, elevating the top of your mattress barely (particular risers can be found) or utilizing a whole lot of pillows can let gravity maintain stomach acid as a substitute.

Coronary heart Failure

A standard cardiovascular situation, heart failure, which impacts over 6 million People, can depart you wanting breath, which might restrict your actions by day and wake you up at night time. This situation happens when the heart is unable to pump satisfactory provides of blood to the physique’s different organs, depriving them of oxygen. Blood backs up when your coronary heart can not pump it ahead correctly. This again up can leak into your lungs. “And that will get worse while you lie down flat,” Ahmed explains.

Individuals with inadequately managed heart failure usually get up abruptly, struggling to breathe. Propping up your head might assist, however if in case you have coronary heart failure and get up wanting breath usually, inform your heart specialist. Should you haven’t been identified with coronary heart failure however have shortness of breath at night time or by day, particularly if it’s accompanied by swelling within the legs or toes, see a health care provider as quickly as attainable.

Bronchial asthma

You probably have asthma and it’s not properly managed with remedy, that will clarify why you usually get up gasping. While you breathe, oxygen-rich air travels down your windpipe and into your lungs, the place it passes via a tree-like formation of tubes with ever-tinier branches known as bronchioles. It seems that bronchioles have a each day cycle. They’re most open round 4 p.m. within the afternoon, Yadav says, however most constricted (or closed) round 4 a.m. “Meaning there’s extra airway resistance at night time while you’re sleeping, which might make underlying bronchial asthma worse,” Yadav says, which may result in a predawn match of wheezing and shortness of breath.