Sneezing is an involuntary reflex, which means that people complete the response without consciously thinking. Although a person may wake up and sneeze, it is not possible to sneeze during sleep.

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Sneezing is a reaction to irritants and a way for the nose to get rid of germs.

Common irritants include:

A person may wake up and sneeze at night, but it is not possible to sneeze during sleep. Sleep causes paralysis of the reflex muscle contraction, meaning the relevant muscles become inactive.

This article explores the different stages of sleep and how they affect the involuntary body function of sneezing.

Sneezing does not have any effect during sleep. The process that causes a person to sneeze shuts down while sleeping.

However, if a person has a condition that causes them to sneeze regularly, such as allergic rhinitis, sneezing may make it difficult to pass the wake stage when entering sleep.

The body cycles through four different stages during sleep. Doctors distinguish these stages as rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.

As the night progresses, fewer NREM stages occur, and the duration of REM sleep increases. Sneezing is unlikely to occur during the REM stage, as the muscles enter paralysis.

The stages of sleep are as follows:

  • Stage wake: This is the period before sleep, during which drowsiness increases and the eyes close.
  • Stage 1 (N1): This is the first and lightest phase of sleep, lasting around 1–5 minutes.
  • Stage 2 (N2): In this stage, sleep becomes deeper and both heart rate and body temperature decrease.
  • Stage 3 (N3): This is the deepest phase of sleep. During this stage, the body tissues repair and grow, muscle and bone build up, and the immune system becomes stronger.
  • REM: In this stage, dreams occur and the skeletal muscles become limp and inactive. Only the eye and breathing muscles continue to move.

A 2021 article suggests that the reason why the body shuts down during REM is a safety mechanism. Paralysis prevents the body from acting out dreams and ensures the body can reach deeper stages of sleep.

Sneezing is not the only response that sleep suppresses. Other urges include:

However, unlike sneezing, the body does not maintain functions such as continence by relaxing the muscle. While many nerves become inactive during sleep, some neurons in the front of the brain become active, enabling bowel and bladder control while unconscious.

Circadian rhythm is a pattern of mental, physical, and behavioral changes that occur over a 24-hour period. Sleep is part of the circadian rhythm that follows the pattern of natural light.

Circadian rhythm changes throughout a person’s life. As a result, sleep patterns change, and people require different periods of sleep at different ages.

Children’s sleep and wake cycles are not yet regulated as their sleeping patterns are still maturing.

Because of this, children move more during the NREM stages, particularly during N3, showing behavior such as:

  • sleepwalking
  • eating
  • dressing
  • urinating

As a result, children may be more likely to sneeze during their sleep than adults.

A sneeze occurs when there is irritation in the mucus membranes in the throat or nose.

In response to the irritation, the person unconsciously inhales air deeply and rapidly. They then use the back of the tongue to partially close off the passage between the mouth and throat.

With the channel to the mouth closed off, the lungs suddenly force out a large burst of air. This air picks up the irritants as it travels up the throat and through the passage. The air then carries the irritants from the body through the nose.

Three main triggers can cause a person to sneeze:

  • Direct irritation: This is irritation that occurs through foreign particles in the mucus membrane in the nose.
  • Facial nerve irritation: This is when nerves in other areas of the face trigger irritation in the nasal nerve.
  • Bright light: Bright lights affect people with a gene that causes photic sneeze reflex. This includes sunlight.

Research suggests it is not possible to sneeze during sleep. However, there are different stages to sleep, during which the mental state varies between levels of consciousness and the physical body experiences changes.

There are two classifications of sleep stages. These are REM and NREM.

During REM sleep, the body shuts down, and the muscles enter paralysis. As the muscles are not actively functioning, it becomes impossible to sneeze. Only the eye and breathing muscles remain operational during this stage.

Children are more likely to move during sleep as their sleep cycles are maturing. Therefore, they may be more likely to sneeze during their sleep than adults.