Medical Questions > Mental Health > Sleep Disorders Forum

Breathing stops at moment of falling asleep (Page 1)

This doesn't happen often to me, maybe 2 times a month. When I go to bed I feel fine etc. but the moment I cross over from being awake to unconscious sleep, I stop breathing and instantly wake up, gasping for air. It feels like all my air is exhaled but my brain forgets to do the important inhaling part because I have to do it "manually" once this starts to happen. I get a rush of adrenaline and my heart beats fast when I jolt awake - its quite terrifying actually. But it makes it hard to fall asleep.

When this does happen, it happens every time I finally drift into sleep all night, possibly 100 times (I never bother counting because I just want to go to sleep). I'm not really sure how I fall sleep eventually, but it takes hours sometimes. At one point I must just be so tired that I fall into deep sleep faster than it takes my body to realize that I'm not breathing inwards and wake me up. However, I'm always alive in the morning, hooray. Once I get over the bridge to sleep, obviously my brain must kick back in and breath for me.

I have no trouble actually sleeping, I am the deepest sleeper in my family and only wake up because of thunderstorms, earthquakes, or having to pee really bad. I don't snore or choke in my sleep, I'm not tired during the day except when I can't fall asleep till 3 am, and I don't have any other sleep problems. I'm 21 years old, female, and not overweight. Also, this is not something that happens throughout the night, only when I'm awake trying to fall asleep, suggesting that it's not sleep apnea. There are many other people I have found with this identical problem, and most of them (except for the ones that also have sleep apnea) have failed sleep tests for apnea. Also it only happens once or twice a month. I'm guessing that it might be triggered by stress or anxiety, but this also causes me to freak out every 5 minutes when I start to cross into sleep so "trying to be calm" isn't really a viable option.

Also, another thing to note is that I have a inner ear disease that causes vertigo and deafness, but if other people who experience this also have ear problems, then it might be related.

I want to know if anyone has been given a name for this strange condition by a doctor? Anyone have anything they have done to make it stop when it happens so I can just go to sleep? I haven't found any recent forum post about it so I was thinking maybe there have been super awesome advances in understanding this in the last year? If anyone has any information at all, please share! I want to figure this out before it starts happening more often. Thanks people!
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First Helper Phoenix2000
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replied August 8th, 2012
Your symptoms describe exactly what is happening to me. I am a healthy 61 year old woman and this started happening to me in January of this year. It was happening two or three times a week. I went to the doctor who didn't seem overly concerned and prescribed me antidepressant/sleeping tablets which I was too frightened to take because I thought I would not be able to wake myself up. It gradually got better and was only happening about once a month up until this week when it seems to have come back with a vengeance. Last night it happened 4 times until I finally went to sleep about 4 am. I am shattered today and already dreading going to bed tonight in case it happens again. Like you, if I wake up during the night and then go back to sleep, it never happens then. I can't seem to find an answer to this problem. I am not at all overweight and am usually a good sleeper.
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replied April 14th, 2013
Am curious to know if your symptoms have been resolved ... and if so, how. Thanks!
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replied August 10th, 2012
Wow I just made a thread on this exact thing since its been happening to me. Havent slept in 2 nights because of it & Im also scared of taking sleep meds since I want to make sure my body reacts to me not breathing
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replied August 12th, 2012
Would love to know why this happens. Can't seem to find the answer anywhere. I was ok last night but the night before it happened twice before I fell asleep properly
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replied August 13th, 2012
Working through it
I read something online about not sleeping on your back, and something else about cortisol the stress hormone being released, and something else about not having a bright light on.. which I did..

so I put a bunch of pillows up. Laid on my left side (which is good if you have any gas or indigestion which contributes likely) and got a peaceful book and reading lamp.. read for a while, drank some water, ate some whole wheat bread - to keep my stomach calm... and somehow went to sleep easier.

Your stomach could be knotted up.
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replied August 13th, 2012
Working through it
I read something online about not sleeping on your back, and something else about cortisol the stress hormone being released, and something else about not having a bright light on.. which I did..

so I put a bunch of pillows up. Laid on my left side (which is good if you have any gas or indigestion which contributes likely) and got a peaceful book and reading lamp.. read for a while, drank some water, ate some whole wheat bread - to keep my stomach calm... and somehow went to sleep easier.

Your stomach could be knotted up and or have eaten an undigested meal.. and need to relax, sleep on your side, read before sleeping on an incline - whatever it takes.
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replied August 28th, 2012
Wow! I've been going through this for a few years now. I am tired. Fall asleep and minutes later jolt out of bed and it feels like I'm either holding my breath or maybe that I panicked when I started to go under. So this goes on every few minutes until maybe about 6 in the morning and then I finally fall asleep without jumping up in a panic. I don't have a job now but when I did I was a zombie going in. I've tried xanax, reflux meds, hot milk, eating before bed, not eating before bed, meditating, having some wine, exercising, now the latest zzquil. It is the most horrible thing to happen because you are so tired and have no control at all over the sudden flight or fight response every few minutes waking you up. I'm so so glad I'm nost alone at least.
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replied April 6th, 2013
I'm 17. When I come home from school sometimes I take a long nap, and the nights that I took the long nap earlier is when this happens to me. I'll almost be asleep, then I wake up in a panic because I feel like I stopped breathing. I feel very aware of things around me, but still very tired. I think the nap might be the reason it happens. It feels like I must not be ready to go to sleep because I've already had enough sleep. Does anyone else think that could be the reason it happens to them?
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replied April 14th, 2013
Am most curious to know if anyone has resolved why this occurs and if, in fact, there is a cure? I've been experiencing the same for many months now and am reading books and trying every alternative other than sleeping pills. Am doubtful it's apnea as I've already completed 2 studies showing 2 different results. In a nutshell, when I get very close to reaching a sleep state, breathing becomes very relaxed but then all stops as I catch myself holding my breath. As a result, I abruptly wake to a more conscious state ... the cycle continues throughout the night. I've been getting very little sleep for several months now (if any - like 1-2 hours). I want to resolve and not simply rely on sleeping pills! Can anyone shed some new light so I can get some sleep.
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replied June 13th, 2013
That may be the reason. It seems to happen to me also when i had a nap through the afternoons.
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replied April 20th, 2013
About 20 years ago I caught a cold, and ever since I was congested. Went to the doctor, got tested for allergies and got scoped. Found out I had developed allergies and had a deviated septum. Surgical and weekly allergen shot solutions seemed to guarantee they would temporarily make you worse, with far less guarantee they would eventually make you better. So I coped with combinations of nasal sprays, Claritin and a Netipot for the past 20 years. Sometime early on in the 20 years I developed the sleep jumps you all described. I believe it was because I was so in tune with my breathing and if I was stuffed or not, I developed the breathing anxiety. Over time I have become much better at remedying my congestion issues, but I still have the anxiety jumps even if my nasal passages are clear. I am married and like many people with breathing problems I like a fan on me and window open, even in the winter, which of course the spouse loves. About 6 months ago I fell asleep in the front room, fan on, window open and got the best sleep I had in a long time, so I started sleeping out there. My wife is not thrilled about it, but she can be toasty and I can freeze my butt off and we both sleep great. Up until two months ago, I could begrudgingly handle everything. Two months ago, the sleep jumps came back, but now the duration I can sleep is also being affected. Now I get 2-5 hours a night max. Saw my doctor yesterday, he didn't mention sleep apnea, getting tested, etc. I think I need a new doctor because you tell him what you think is wrong and that is what he treats he doesn't look at other options. Last night I took the new treatment, had clear nasal passages, but still the sleep jumps. So I guess what I am trying to figure out is if a) I have sleep apnea or anxiety. Short of a test, does anyone know if apnea is consistent or can it leave for months on end and then return. b) If you can easily sleep 8-10 hours and then within a few days drop consistently to 2-5 hours a night would this be more indicative of apnea or anxiety.
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replied May 8th, 2013
I believe it's caused form stress, even if you don't feel stressed, I think subconsciously our minds are and they are still running around even after we fall asleep and are overly exhausted. i have alway had anxiety (never seen a doctor about it) and recently the last few months it has gotton really bad where I have actual panic attacks(where I feel disconnected or out of control of my body and everything around me, it surreal and scary) out of no where even when I'm not thinking about anything. Since I have been dealing with these crippling attacks I started having the same issue with the sleep spells. I have never had a problem with sleep before I could sleep for 24 hrs and not even know it I love sleeping. But the last few months, not every night and not even on the nights that I have attacks, I get woken up thinking I am holding my breath. I believe my mind is not fully shutting down because even though I might not feel stressed my body is. I wish there were more studies done on this because it is a real pain.
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replied May 15th, 2014
I completely agree and I believe its stress related. Few month ago I had breathing issues everyone was describing and it went away eventually. The last nights it came back and last night I had it for much longer than usual, this was when I started to worry. I was scared to fall asleep just to experience it again. I turned on TV and listened to it whilst having my eyes closed since I was so tired. I have a history of panic attacks and anxiety on and off since 20years. My life has been rather stressful and sad recently so I am not surprised it came back. Our mind needs an exhaust and stress must come out somehow. Some people develop a strange nervous habit, some people experience a pressure in the throat (like feeling something is in there) although everything is medically fine, can be anything and some stop breathing when they fall asleep. Does make sense, doesnt it? Some of you may think but I dont have anxiety, it can manifest in different ways and can be rather subtle. If I dont have severe anxiety, deep down I at least worry a lot. What a waste of time really. But stress alone could do that I am convinced. I guess doing exercise would be a good exhaust or yoga. BTW when I feel anxious during the day I sometimes have issues breathing in deeply. It takes a bit, like breathing shallow few times until I can breathe in deeply. I reckon its the same sort of thing. If you read up on anxiety and panic attacks its all too normal I guess once we accept it, it gets easier whilst working on stress relief.
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replied May 14th, 2013
Very interesting to Come across this. I had my 2 back tooth pulled on the 10 May 2013 and found I had this kind of symptoms.

Again Mine is now and again as well last night I would got it each time to trying to sleep causing me to wake. Sometimes I get this distinct feeling in the head.

People think this is Central Sleep Apnea (Brain forgets to signal the breathing muscles to breathe) I previously had a brain tumour removed in 2006.

I was wondering if it was the dental surgery or the painkillers may also caused this as I was living on soup during this time.
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replied May 15th, 2013
Sleep Apnea Symptoms.
I like everyone that posted also have sleep apnea symptoms. I have had a breathing problem since my Jan 2011 lung surgery. So it scares the hell out of me when I fall asleep I wake up gasping for air and my heart rate is fast. It would only happen to me once in a while and I would take tums and I would be fine as it seems like acid reflux may be a contributing factor to this problem. Last night every single time I dozed off I would wake back up almost immediately gasping. I did have acid reflux symptoms and took 5 tums as well as pepto bismol and nothing helped. Now I am fearful that it is going to happen all the time and I won't be able to sleep at all. Was awake all night. I was taking Ativan to help me sleep and want to go off it because it is addictive and wonder if that could have happened last night because I stopped taking them without weaning myself off them. If that will prevent the gasping then I will stay on them. Any thing is better than the feeling that you just stopped breathing. I dread going to bed soon because I am fearful of it happening again tonight. The breathing issue that I was left with was difficult enough to deal with now this. If it wasn't for bad luck I would not have any at all. I do agree that more studies should be done so we all have a better understanding of it. I hope it goes away for all of us as it is really scary.
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replied May 18th, 2013
Hypnic jerking response and question
What you're all describing is called Hypnic Jerking. Often brought on by an infection or inflammation from toxicity. Benzodiazepines are sometimes the only (temporary) way to break through to sleep. I don't know any more re: long term fix. Does anyone have an update on their progress?
This might contribute, or be worst ended by anxiety, but anxiety is not the cause of this disruption in crossing over to sympathetic nervous system. I have a situation also where if I turn my head to the right to sleep, I don't just jerk, I stop breathing.
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replied May 15th, 2014
No its not it and even Hypnic Jerking can be anxiety related: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnic_jerk Not the best reference but there are heaps more.
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replied May 25th, 2013
Wow just read this and you d swear it was me that started thread, I have had this for years, infact have it right now so I turned to Dr Google, I've as always put it down to a few things change of hormones each month with cycles, anxiety, over tired strangely have problems with ears nothing diagnosed but have tinnitus and vertigo. This has always happened on flights too.
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replied May 28th, 2013
breathing issue
i just returned from Dominican Republica today and have this exact issue. I am scared.

I was worried go to DR because i developed a cold/bronchitus the week before leaving...the last thing i wanted to do was go to a foreign country with a low immune system. i did anyway...and drank and drank and drank and hardly slept for 5 days...further running my body into the ground.

Now...3 days before i left i went to the doctor and he gave me steroids and antibiotics to take to help my body get back into gear before my trip. i took them and took some of them while on my trip...but i partied instead of helping my body

also...all that being said...since i was drinking...and smoked a gazillion cigarettes on this trip(not a normal smoker) which wasnt good for whatever i developed before i left my trip

would love some help
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replied May 29th, 2013
I am 17 years old, and I also have a similar sleep problem. I've had it for 10 years now, and it doesn't happen very often but sometimes when I sleep I stop breathing, only my body doesn't wake me up. I have to first realize that I am not breathing(because I am usually so entranced in my dream or getting enough sleep that I don't notice until my head starts hurting really bad) then I have to make a sudden movement like throwing myself to one side of the bed (I have fallen off a couple times from this) to wake myself up. I didn't think it was sleep apnea really because it doesn't happen that often and it only occurs once when it does happen.

If anyone knows how to fix this or what it is at least, let me know! I would really appreciate it!!!!
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replied May 29th, 2014
Shaddowleaf - I know this is a late response so you may already know the answer. It sounds like you could be suffering from sleep paralysis. It is one of the symptoms of narcolepsy.
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replied May 31st, 2013
This has been what's happening to me. But it hasn't happened since I've started anti-anxiety medication. I think it has something to do with stress and anxiety because I'm full of it unless I take my meds.
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replied June 1st, 2013
Shallow Breathing
Well I googled, "shallow breathing keeping me awake at night." And so here I am. For the past two nights, this exact thing has been happening to me. I am overweight and have attributed this problem to that but maybe it is more....my stress level has been way higher than normal. I remember having this before....but my doctor prescribed Ambien and so I usually don't have that problem (or if I do I don't remember). However, I have not taken it the past two nights. The past two nights have been horrible, waking up (what seems) every five minutes and feeling like I am not breathing. Just wondering if anyone else here has a weight problem?
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replied June 4th, 2013
This keeps happening to me too it is so scary!! I am 26 years old, healthy weight. Last night was terrible as im falling asleep I stop breathing and gasp for air. its terrifying, sometimes taking that breath in that I need feels hard. I too cant get an answer from doctors etc but I cant keep going on like this. I will lose my job soon if it continues though lack of sleep. Im shattered. I cant believe there's so many of us going through such an awful thing & no-one has been given a diagnosis. Im scared 1 of these nights im not gonna wake up in time Sad Has anyone else managed to get an answer yet? Hope we all sleep well tonight! x x
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replied June 12th, 2013
The same problem happens with my mother. It is really scaring. She is 45years old and the same thing happened with her last night. I do not understand what the actual problem is. is it sleeping disorder or something else Sad
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