Need to wake up and not breathing?

by Janet
(Florence, KY)

As I'm falling asleep I realize I haven't taken a breath for a bit so I initiate the breathing.

When I'm in deeper sleep I feel the need to wake up. I don't know why I need to wake up but I must.

The first time this happened I was exiting my body, and I said, "No please not now Lord". I was back in my body, awake, with tingly lips.

I don't believe in the death experience of leaving your body but can't imagine what this was. This leaving the body, only happened 1 time.

The feeling I need to wake up, happens some nights 5 times and then I may skip a week and then have it happen 1 time. It happens less now that I have a full face mask, but happens at least 1x per week. When I finally get myself awake, I'm not gasping for air but just scared.

When trying to wake up I am aware of household sounds but I cannot move or talk. I keep trying for what seems like 5 minutes and finally make whimpering sounds which wake my husband. He wakes me right up. When he's not home, it's a lot harder and takes longer. Very scary.

I was reading about "Central Sleep Apnea". Could this be what I have? My 24 old son was just diagnosed with slight narcolepsy. I fall asleep many times while driving. I use my cpap every night but generally pull it off in my sleep. My cpap mask is a Mirage Quattro.


When you stop breathing and need to wake up just when you try to fall asleep (stage 1) or "leaving the body" experience make me think about sleep paralysis and hypnogogic hallucinations.

This is something you should discuss with your doctor, but stage 1 sleep is a transition period between sleep and wakefulness. We can be easily aroused back in to wakefulness, and not think or know we are actually asleep. Dreams can occur quickly in stage one - yet seem very real.

Some people often experience hypnogogic hallucinations immediately upon falling asleep. Sometimes they get the "feeling" someone is in their room - and they start talking to them, but no one is there. It can be really creepy and frightening.

These hypnogogic hallucinations are usually accompanied with sleep paralysis - when you awaken and find the body cannot move or speak for a few seconds or minutes.

When in the dream state, the body naturally produces chemicals to render us in a temporary state of paralysis so we do not act out our dreams. This is quite normal - people who sleep walk, sleep talk etc do so because this chemical is not produced.

Hypnogogic hallucinations and sleep paralysis both usually occur at sleep onset or upon waking from a dream at stage one or one of the later stages as well. This is a common occurrence with people who have narcolepsy which is a neurological sleep disorder.

Narcolepsy is not definitively diagnosed in most patients until 10 to 15 years after the first symptoms appear. This unusually long lag-time is due to several factors, including the disorder's subtle onset and the variability of symptoms.

As important, however, is the fact that the public is largely unfamiliar with the disorder, as are many health professionals. When symptoms initially develop, people often do not recognize that they are experiencing the onset of a distinct neurological disorder and thus fail to seek medical treatment.

However, there are many people who experience Hypnogogic hallucinations and sleep paralysis without having signs of narcolepsy. Sometimes it can be genetic cause, and scientists don't have an explanation why people experience this.

As you already experienced, sleep paralysis can be frightening because you don't know what is happening to you in that moment, but actually this is not harmful. After a couple of minutes the sensation of paralysis gradually fades off. And this episode is often stopped by a sound or a touch on the body.

Some people, when they experience the feeling of suffocation (as you did), have a dream about someone or something that is sitting on their chest and they feel not only the sensation of suffocation but also death.

I imagine that these things cause you much anxiety and terror, but you have to remember that there is no physical harm.

Now, Janet... you may want to know how to stop sleep paralysis experiences. In severe cases (like when these episodes take place at least once a week for half a year) you can use special medication. Speak with your doctor about this, or even better...with a sleep doctor.

For mild or moderate cases, you can follow good sleep hygiene, such as:

  • reducing the level of stress from your life

  • make some exercise regularly, but not too close to the time you go to sleep.

  • get enough sleep - if you say that you already have a CPAP machine and a CPAP mask, maybe you have some problems with your quality of sleep.

  • keep a regular sleep schedule.

Sleep is quite fascinating, isn't it!

I hope it helps. Don't be afraid to comment back.

Remy Thierry
Founder of Sleep Apnea Guide

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