Question of the Week

Why don't we sneeze when we sleep?

Sun, 5th Jul 2009

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Garbo, London asked:

My name is Garbo from London and I would like to know why don't we sneeze when we are asleep?


We put this question to Matt James, University of Bristol:

I work in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Bristol and my interest in sleep is in its role in cognition, so how a good nightís sleep helps us to learn remember things well.  Aerosols spread by sneezesWell, this is a bit like asking if the tree falls in the forest but nobodyís there to hear it because it makes a noise so perhaps we do sneeze in our sleep but not enough to wake ourselves up regularly or to wake ourselves fully.  And what really concerns me as a scientist is that no oneís really done the experiment.  So, the first thing that springs to mind of course was that itís really question whereas the evidence that we donít sneeze in our sleep.  Iíve spoken to friends with hay fever and they reckon, they do sneeze in their sleep on occasions.  Itís firmly the case that during sleep, weíre less responsive to sensory input so weíre less excitable as evidenced by flying around not doing much as opposed.  So if there is stuff around likely to make us sneeze, itís probably less likely to make us sneeze while weíre asleep.  But really, whoever asked this question should do the experiment to find the stimulus, some black pepper letís say, that makes you sneeze when youíre awake and then ask someone to woof it under your nose while youíre asleep and see if it makes you sneeze or not.  Maybe itís just the change in facial, maybe it just takes more pepper to make you sneeze when you sleep.


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I think we do sneeze in our sleep (we also cough in our sleep), thus the eternal question here would be... do we wake up before we sneeze? If so, the query remains... why don't we sneeze while asleep (maybe the same reason why we never sleep while we are awake  ) Emilio Romero, Tue, 30th Jun 2009

Furthermore... could we sneeze during a lucid dream? Emilio Romero, Thu, 2nd Jul 2009

histamine is one of the neurotransmitters that is not released during REM sleep.. so sneezing at this time does not occur.. however during other phases of sleep one would probably wake up to sneeze.

A term to look up is REM atonia.

(thankyou work experience at the sleep centre) JnA, Thu, 2nd Jul 2009

Well, as far as my concern..we don't sneeze when we sleep because all our body cells are at rest, as well..AhAh.!

surendettement katz, Mon, 6th Jul 2009

I am going to have to go with the histamine deprevation during REM. great answer orlandosingles, Tue, 7th Jul 2009

I would think it is because our eye lids are not shut tight which can cause our eyes to fly out...  forex, Mon, 13th Jul 2009

I have allergies to night pollen such as honeysuckle. I often wake up sneezing. I guess you can sneeze in your sleep but it is such an event that you don't stay asleep. I can't say what type of sleep I am in when I sneeze as I am asleep. Perhaps Neil could come around and tell me as he is the sheep that never sleeps. Make it Lady, Mon, 13th Jul 2009

Without listening to the podcast i think it may be due to us breathing through our mouths when we sleep . ukmicky, Tue, 14th Jul 2009

My son has now desided to tape his brothers eyes open and then tickle his nose with a feather. He is hoping to see eyeballs out on springs. Make it Lady, Tue, 14th Jul 2009

not even close to likely. eyeballs cannot fly out by any stretch of the imagination unless the optic nerve is severed. JnA, Wed, 15th Jul 2009

What the hell is up with the nonsensical sentence structure? This guy is a scientist and he screws up something that simple? Kjalvalr, Tue, 1st Jun 2010

Yes you can sneeze in your sleep and not we up ! I was in shock last night my daughter was sleeping and I heard her sneeze & not wake up !! So I believe we do sneeze & don't wake up from it ... Dawn, Sat, 21st Aug 2010

I have just this minute heard my 8 yr old son sneeze in his sleep ...hence how I stumbled upon this site. I too was surprised because he's still completely unconscious and has been asleep around 3 hrs so must be in REM by now. That said, I am currently unwell so he may have the starting symptoms of a cold. Maybe it's different with a cold as there's no requirement for external stimuli. harrys mum, Fri, 28th Jan 2011

Well this is dumb. We get a wrong answer from a "scientist". Lesson to be learned is don't take advice from scientists unless they've actually performed a study. Eric, Sun, 6th Feb 2011

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