8 Embarrassing Sleep Secrets

What your body was up to while you were sleeping might make you blush.

From the WebMD Archives

If you're confiding in a friend about sleep problems, the conversation might turn to topics like not getting enough rest or tossing and turning at night. But what about things your body does during sleep - like drooling, snoring, bedwetting, or passing gas - that you might be embarrassed to talk about by the light of day?

For example, take Kindra Hall, vice president of sales at a network marketing firm in Phoenix. She admits that drooling excessively while sleeping is a major source of embarrassment, especially when she's been caught in the act. Soaked bed pillows and stained throw pillows are constant reminders of her humiliating habit.

"I'm very conscious about saliva control," Hall tells WebMD via email, "but as soon as my eyes are closed and I enter dreamland, all bets are off."

You might not even be aware of your sleeping habits -- until your bed partner clues you in. Sometimes, these behaviors are a part of the natural sleep process. Other times, what you might consider a nuisance -- like snoring -- could be a sign of an underlying sleep problem.

"It's important for people to realize what is a normal phenomenon versus something that needs further evaluation," says William Kohler, MD, medical director of Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Fla.

Here is the lowdown on your nighttime habits - why they happen and when they could be a sign of something more serious.

Habit #1: Snoring

An estimated 37 million American adults snore on a regular basis, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Snoring is caused by airway narrowing and tissue vibrations in the nasal passages and throat. Snoring can be associated with colds and allergies, but can also be a sign of a more serious problem, like obstructive sleep apnea.

"It's not really the loudness [that's concerning], it's whether the obstruction that's causing snoring is also causing respiratory impairment at night," Kohler says.

The verdict: Snoring is a common problem, but if you suspect that it's disrupting your sleep, you should get a medical evaluation.

Habit #2: Drooling

Drooling in your sleep can be a normal phenomenon or it can occur in medical conditions that increase salivation, Kohler says. If you drool regularly, you may want to find out if you are at risk for a blocked airway at night or sleep apnea. The verdict: Drooling can be normal, but it can also be associated with other medical conditions.

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Habit #3: Sleepwalking

"The odd things that happen in the night that get people's attention tend to be things that are scary or potentially dangerous, like complicated episodes of sleepwalking," says Helene Emsellem, MD, medical director of the Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Md.

"We should be paralyzed while we're in the dream phase of sleep. If there's a failure of the normal paralysis that protects us from acting out our dreams, then we can potentially be dangerous and inadvertently hurt ourselves or a bed partner," Emsellem says.

In extreme cases, someone might go into the kitchen, turn on the stove, and forget to turn it off without any memory of the incident.

The verdict: If you're acting out complex behaviors during sleep, it's time to see a doctor to figure out what's going on.

Habit #4: Talking in Your Sleep

Talking in your sleep, whether it sounds like a conversation or just mumbling, is usually harmless by itself. But screaming and yelling with intense fear are associated with night terrors, which are more common in children than adults. They occur during REM sleep, so you will not remember it in the morning. The verdict: Don't lose sleep over talking in your sleep.

Habit #5: Bedwetting

Bedwetting is embarrassing and distressing, but a once-in-a-blue-moon episode is not particularly concerning, especially if you're dreaming about going to the bathroom, Emsellem says.

However, repeated bedwetting could indicate a problem, such as nocturnal seizures. Bowel movements during sleep are unusual, Emsellem says, so one instance should merit a visit to the doctor.

The verdict: You can write off one bedwetting episode, but you should see a doctor if you have repeat performances.

Habit #6: Nocturnal Orgasms

Nocturnal orgasms, sometimes referred to as wet dreams, can occur on a regular basis for men and women, typically during REM sleep. That's a normal phenomenon that occurs throughout our life, Kohler says. The Verdict: Completely natural.

Habit #7: Flatulence

Passing gas can occur during sleep, but most people aren't aware of it. "It depends a lot on the GI tract and what you're eating," Kohler says. "There's nothing pathologic, but it can be embarrassing if your partner tells you about it." The verdict: Examine your diet if you're gassing up the entire room.

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Habit #8: Twitching

When you're nodding off, you may experience a release phenomenon known as a hypnic jerk. Your body may twitch, or you may experience a visual or audio component like seeing flashing lights or hearing a popping sound. The verdict: Hypnic jerks are generally benign.

Time to Seek Help?

"For so many years, we've ignored sleep as being an important part of health," Kohler says. "We talk about nutrition, weight gain, weight loss, and exercise. Sleep is extremely important to our functioning. We need to be aware that both quality and quantity is important."

People also need to be aware of what they're doing while they're sleeping. So stick to this basic rule of thumb: If you're having a persistent problem that is disturbing to you or your bed partner, get it checked out.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 06, 2011

Sources

SOURCES:

Kindra Hall, Phoenix.

William Kohler, MD, medical director, Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Fla.

National Sleep Foundation, "Sleep in America Poll," 2002.

Helene Emsellem, MD, medical director, Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders, Chevy Chase, Md.; author, Snooze...or Lose! Ten "No-War" Ways to Improve Your Teen's Sleep Habits.

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