What Causes Choking During Sleep?

Man snoring and choking during sleep beside woman

Last updated on October 24th, 2023 at 10:21 am

What exactly causes choking during sleep?

OSA episode

Choking occurs when your breathing is impeded by a constricted or obstructed throat or windpipe. Choking in your sleep is caused by the relaxation of soft tissue in the neck.

As your throat collapses, air cannot reach the lungs effectively. It causes you to wake up suddenly from the choking. You can stop breathing for around 10 seconds, starving the brain of oxygen.

People who suffer from undiagnosed Obstructive Sleep Apnoea can wake many times every hour from this process.

Does it mean I have OSA?

If you experience frequent choking in your sleep, it is highly likely that you have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)

sleep test should be conducted as soon as possible to confirm, and you can contact your doctor or take a sleep test privately. We have a page dedicated to the difference between the sleep clinic and an In-Home Sleep Test – find it here.

More often than not, the choking does not cause a person to wake up, and so they may be unaware this is happening until somebody else tells them that they were choking. Studies have shown that sufferers can take up to seven years before seeking treatment. Your partner may have signs of Sleep Apnoea; read on to find out more helpful information. 

Choking and Sleep Apnoea

You may have been told or noticed that you suddenly gasp or choke during the night. It is a distressing event to experience and worse to observe. Choking during sleep is a common symptom of the sleeping disorder Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. 

OSA affects an estimated 4 million adults in the UK, and 87% of those people have not been diagnosed and, therefore, do not receive treatment.

Other Common OSA Symptoms:
• Excessive daytime tiredness
• Loud and constant snoring – Read more on how to combat snoring here
• Anxiety and depression
• High blood pressure
• Headache (particularly in the morning)

OSA is also more common in men and associated with overweight individuals (BMI over 25%). 

If you are experiencing these symptoms, you need to take a sleep test. Our In-Home Sleep Test will confirm if you have OSA in 7-10 days. If you do have Sleep Apnoea, you can successfully begin treatment within 2 weeks of taking your In-Home Sleep Test. 

Our Advice: OSA is treatable in almost every case, but OSA must be confirmed, either by a doctor or a sleep test, before treatment or equipment can be purchased. You will receive an email requiring documentation once ordering a CPAP machine.

Are there any remedies to help prevent choking in sleep?

Treatments for sleep choking can vary on the severity of the condition. The first step you should take is to adjust your sleeping position at night so that you are always lying on your side, as this can help reduce the risk.

You may also want to consider modifying your lifestyle by reducing your alcohol intake, avoiding smoking and maintaining a healthy diet.

1. Positional Therapy


Positional therapy is used to treat people who have Positional Sleep Apnoea, primarily when they sleep on their backs. When they sleep on their sides, their breathing returns to normal.

For positional therapy, you will wear a special device around your back or waist. This will keep you sleeping on your side. Or, you might try a small vibrating device on the back of your neck. It won’t wake you up but will start vibrating when you roll onto your back — which sends your body a message that prevents the rollover.

Many people need positional therapy in addition to other Sleep Apnoea treatments.

2. Nutrition, lifestyle and weight loss


If appropriate, a nutrition and weight-loss program can often provide benefits.

Living with a healthier body is known to have a significant, direct positive effect on sleep, OSAHS and many other health issues. A direct link between excess weight and both OSAHS and snoring severity has been shown, so if you are overweight, you may find that weight loss provides an improvement in your OSA symptoms. Different foods can affect your sleep, and some can even help you sleep!

CPAP treatment should then solve the problem of choking in sleep and allow you to sleep properly again.

We will help you with the next step if you are diagnosed.

If you would like any advice, then please contact us, you can call us on 0800 024 8050.