Waking Up Gasping for Breath: What is Your Body Trying to Tell You?

April 30, 2023

Imagine going to sleep after a long day, looking forward to a deep slumber – but it ends with you waking up gasping for breath. It can be pretty spine-chilling to catch your breath during sleep as if you’re choking. But what could be the reason? When you wake up with a gasp, it could mean something is affecting your body. Hence, the gasp could be your body hinting that there is an underlying condition.

In this article, we will go over the possible reasons you keep waking up gasping for breath. Continue reading to know the potential causes.

Why Do I Keep Waking Up Gasping for Breath?

There are several reasons that could result in a choking sensation when you are sleeping. You should visit a healthcare provider to determine what is behind the pain, but here are a few reasons why it happens:

1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is a sleep disorder that leads to total or partial pauses in breathing while you sleep. It usually occurs when the airways collapse, causing an obstruction that affects the flow of air. Consequently, you may wake up gasping for breath or snoring audibly, among other symptoms. Morning headaches, difficulty focusing, feeling tired, irritability during day time, etc., are some other signs you may have obstructive sleep apnea.

2. Central Sleep Apnea

Another form of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, could be the reason you’re waking up gasping for breath. When your brain fails to send the signal to breathe, pauses in breathing occur during sleep. Unlike OSA, there is no obstruction in central sleep apnea.

This condition is related to heart failure, opioid use, and even sleeping at high altitudes. Hence, trouble with other body parts can affect your mouth and how you breathe.

3. Hypnic Jerks & Sleep Paralysis

Irregular breathing might result from involuntary muscle jerk movements known as hypnic jerks or sleep starts. Oftentimes, the feeling of flailing, a banging or snapping sound, or visual hallucination, such as seeing flashlights, might accompany hypnic jerks.

Sleep paralysis, too, can cause you to wake up with a gasp. This phenomenon prevents the affected individual from moving when they wake up, often leading to chest pressure and shortness of breath. Some people even encounter a sleep paralysis demon – a hallucination that sits on their chest or lingers in the room. This might affect breathing and cause you to wake up with a gasp or choking sensation.

4. Acid Reflux

Acid refers to a condition in which strong stomach acids flow upwards into the esophagus, and chronic or severe acid reflux symptoms are called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If you’ve just eaten or lied down soon after eating, it increases the possibility of acid reflux. As a result, coughing, choking, and other symptoms will occur when you sleep — and you might find yourself waking up gasping for breath.

5. Anxiety

Anxiety while sleeping could affect your breathing. This could cause you to gasp for air, feeling like your breathing is restricted. If you’re waking up aspen for air due to anxiety, you will also experience sweating, chest pain, chills, faintness, and a sense of impending doom. In some people, stress, along with anxiety, can cause you to grind your teeth as well.

The Takeaway

At Whole Health Dental Center, we believe an impaired mouth could indicate issues with your body. We know how your mind and mouth have a connection, and if you are waking up gasping for breath — it might be due to sleep apnea, anxiety, acid reflux, hypnic jerks, or sleep paralysis, among other factors. Allow us to heal you by scheduling an appointment at 703-385-6425 or visiting our experts at 7115 Leesburg Pike Suite #310, Falls Church, VA 22043.

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