March 10, 2011 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Do people cough or sneeze while sleeping?

I'm not aware of having ever woken up from a cough or a sneeze, and I've never, in 8+ years of sleeping next to my wife, heard her cough or sneeze in her sleep.

So, what's the story here?
posted by elder18 to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've been awakened by my own coughing many times.
posted by Ery at 9:07 AM on March 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have definitely coughed while sleeping and heard other people cough while sleeping.

It only happened once (that I know of) to me, resulting from choking on a feather. Yeah. Other times, I've heard other people cough in their sleep while they've been sick. They wake up the next morning, I say, "man, you were coughing all night." Response: "I was?"
posted by phunniemee at 9:08 AM on March 10, 2011

Ask me how I know people cough in their sleep. I'll just be over here in the guest room.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:09 AM on March 10, 2011

Are people actually coughing in their sleep, or are they waking up and coughing for such a brief period of time that they do not record their waking into long-term memory?
posted by muddgirl at 9:11 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Put me down as someone who coughs in her sleep when she's sick.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 9:16 AM on March 10, 2011

I think what's at issue here is exactly what is meant by "in their sleep."

Sleep is a multi-stage physiological process. Certain activities--like sneezing and coughing--might not be possible in "deeper" stages of sleep, but that doesn't mean that a person would be conscious or remember coughing/sneezing even if conscious.

So if the question is "Can a person cough/sleep during the night and not be conscious or remember?" the answer seems to be "Definitely yes," but if the question is "Can a person in, e.g., Stage N3 sneeze/cough?" the answer may be "No," while still permitting others to observe coughing at some other point during the night.
posted by valkyryn at 9:18 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I'm sick, I have woken myself up coughing.

As to sneezing, there was a trivia fact underneath a recent snapple cap saying that the nerves responsible for sneezing aren't active during sleep and there's a fun article about that on Mental Floss.
Our odds of have having to sneeze during sleep are already reduced, but our bodies have a neat little trick up their sleeves to keep us at rest. It’s called REM atonia, a state caused by the shutdown of the release of certain neurotransmitters during REM sleep that results in motor neurons not being stimulated and reflectory signals not being sent to the brain. So, even if there were various stimulants being kicked up while you slept (say, by an evil cat playing with his rubber ball or biting your toes at five in the morning), and a few got into your nose, the brain wouldn’t be alerted to the matter.
posted by Kimberly at 9:33 AM on March 10, 2011

I sneezed myself awake last night.
posted by dobie at 9:46 AM on March 10, 2011

as a gal with asthma, yes, you can cough in your sleep.
posted by nadawi at 9:54 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you were not able to cough during your sleep, you could suffocate from throat blockage every time you have a bad cold.
posted by Ery at 10:19 AM on March 10, 2011

Well, I know that you can fart in your sleep, so coughing doesn't seem like such a stretch. (I'm really not talking about myself. REALLY)
posted by sprezzy at 10:45 AM on March 10, 2011

My husband regularly sneezes in his sleep. Bit his tongue pretty badly, once.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 11:57 AM on March 10, 2011

I've coughed myself awake this week, so yes.
posted by Señor Pantalones at 6:40 PM on March 10, 2011

I had bronchitis in 2009.

I coughed in my sleep a lot. Sometimes it woke me up, sometimes it didn't. Sometimes I was half awake/dozing. but I was definitely asleep some of the time (according to the GF).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:00 PM on March 10, 2011

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