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Night Terrors Dreaming Of Swallowing Something, Waking Up Coughing and Screaming

by Anon
(Europe/Canada/Australia)

Sorry for the long message. It would be great to have an idea of what this seems like. I can't see a doctor about it until I'm back in my main country.


I have in the past year been having night terrors where the dreams (I usually remember the dreams, but not always) have a certain theme. I get these night terrors several times a month. They vary but can be from twice a month to maybe at maximum about 3 times a week. Usually they are less often (such as 2 to 4 times a month). Sometimes they might have also gone to once a month. They seem to become worse when I'm sleep deprived (from exams, work, jet lag, etc) or stressed but they can also occur when I'm not suffering these things. They can also come on from big workouts in which my muscles are sore.

I exercise regularly (including weight training, cycling, long distance walking, etc etc), and very healthy, have a low normal weight (I'm slim but in the normal range), eat a healthy diet, don't smoke and almost never drink alcohol, and am happy most of the time. I'm running my own small business and am a mature graduate student. I live in two countries for the sake of my graduate studies. I have never snored, and my boyfriend tells me he has never noticed me stop breaking in my sleep. I wake up rested. I never have episodes of feeling tired or nodding off in the day. I am seldom stressed, but I am a sensitive person who can worry easily about things at times; however, I do not have an anxiety disorder.

These sleep terrors involve my usually dreaming that I am swallowing something (usually but not always ball-shaped and small, but the smaller terrors can involve swallowing something more flat like a tiny piece of paper). I'll then think I'm about to die that second. I'll then sit up and try to cough it up (in extreme cases I've coughed my throat raw, but usually I don't), and sometimes I'll scream. It takes me a little while to wake up even if someone reassures me that it's a dream. I don't wake up breathless at all, I can breath fine when I wake up; sometimes the thing that actually wakes me is when I realize I'm breathing so I can't be choking to death. I'll find my heart is beating rapidly and I'm breathing heavily but from anxiety, not gasping for air.

Just one of these terrors, maybe half a year ago, involved my getting up
and walking to the foot of my bed, sitting there and then screaming. I remembered getting up and doing that, I could see the room, but I didn't feel awake at the time; everything seemed hazy. That one didn't involve dreaming of swallowing anything. I haven't done other sleep walking so far.

I've never had sleep terrors, sleep paralysis, sleep walking or other sleep disorders before in my life. And there's been no big shock lately. And I've been doing the overseas living and traveling all of my life since babyhood but much more so in the last 10+ years, so that is not causing it I'm sure.

One thing I can think it might connect to is that maybe 15 years ago I had a major and permanent back injury which also caused internal spams in my neck in which it took a while for swallowed food to go down and sometimes I felt I wasn't breathing in enough air. That got better with exercise and physio and the sports med doctor told me that the injury and symptoms have never caused danger to anyone's life but were just uncomfortable. I found at that time that stress could make it worse and it could sometimes cause me to have difficulty in breathing during exams. I found then also that my throat would feel like it was closing if I lay on my back at night, so I'd have to use two pillows. I've not needed to do that since that time. But I wonder if maybe what's happening now is anxiety related and also related to that injury. I don't have an anxiety disorder but I have had anxiety attacks (when I was in my late teens, from a bad experience; they lasted a couple of years but then I managed to deal with them with some techniques without medication). It's possible since I'm a sensitive person that that is causing all of this.

I said I hadn't had a trauma but the episodes are coming a little after a stressful experience I had a couple of years ago. But they didn't come right afterwards. Another thing is that I took a herb called maca just after that time, not very often maybe once a month at the lowest dose. The herb was quite powerful and I tapered it off. But the dreams seem to have come after that, and I found if I took more of the herb I'd get more of them or more strongly. I seldom take it now.

This could be night terrors rather than actual sleep apnea? Need an opinion.

Comments for Night Terrors Dreaming Of Swallowing Something, Waking Up Coughing and Screaming

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Nov 20, 2015
I feel that too NEW
by: Ingrid

Yeah, I know that feel. It doesn't happen often but when it happens it feels like I had swallowed something, mostly paperclips or little metalic things and I wake up trying to induce it back effortless. Then I realize it didn't really happen. Now sometimes I just think about it and that feeling returns for a moment and I can't tell if I had swallowed something or not, until I realize that would be impossible. I start searching about it right now because I just had one of these feelings. I think a dreamt about it last night and now I remembered. Even though, that's really weird. I have no breath problems, only little stomach ones, could be it. But I'm not sure.

Mar 02, 2017
night terrors NEW
by: Jim

I've had choking night terror dreams for about 10 years. It seems the object that I'm choking on is always larger or more in numbers than the last dream. The dreams are always about something that I've come in contact with during the day, eating late evening makes them more violent and more real. Last week the dream was choking on 8 inch plant marker that I used when I started my tomato seeds as I do every year. When I finally woke up I was bent over sitting on the side of the bed coughing, choking and trying to remove the plant marker with my fingers reaching into my throat. When I do get awake I have to tell myself that this is not real, only a dream and trying to slow my heart rate. I'm actually fighting for my life and I'm afraid I'm going to have a heart attack.

Aug 08, 2018
I can relate NEW
by: Anonymous

This has been happening to me for 10 years. Usually I'll wake up thinking I've swallowed something like a bottle cap, a sucker..something like that. Usually takes my husband fully waking me for me to realize I'm not choking. My therapist thinks it's connected to my obsessive compulsive disorder.

Sep 04, 2018
Swallowing dream NEW
by: Mazza 1950

It was so comforting to read this article about night terror dreams! I am 68 years old and my first episode occurred when I was about 16. I have always suffered periods of anxiety and depression but the swallowing dream is rare-in fact it almost disappeared.
The trouble is, it's started happening again all these years later. Several nights recently, I have woken up shouting 'I've swallowed it!' My husband tried to help by asking what I'd swallowed but of course, there wasn't anything physically blocking either my airway or oesophagus. I try to rationalise it, tell myself that it isn't real and nor does it automatically mean that I am descending into depression again (a big fear).

I haven't been sleeping well recently (due to go on a long and much anticipated road-trip in a few weeks) so perhaps that's playing a part.

Anyway, thank for the opportunity to get this down in writing-it has really helped.

Nov 08, 2018
It happens all the time NEW
by: Anonymous

This thread is a tad old but I’ve found it after looking for so long and finding nothing that compares to what I go through. So this is very comforting for me. When I was 9 I was staying the night at my grandmas house and was eating a butterscotch and I started choking on it. I finally screamed so loud and hard it came out. But ever since then my number 1 fear is choking. And very recently I’ve started having these dreams where I’ll have something in my mouth, it varies to what it is, and I’ll feel like I have to swallow and can’t stop it and when I swallow I swallow whatever is in my mouth and I wake up screaming trying to get it out. I’ve never talked to a therapist about this but I guess I should. It’s becoming so bad that when I’m eating I start actually feeling like I can’t swallow so I have to have a drink every time I eat or I will choke. It’s absolutely terrible.

Nov 08, 2018
It’s affecting my life NEW
by: Anonymous

This thread is a tad old but I’ve found it after looking for so long and finding nothing that compares to what I go through. So this is very comforting for me. When I was 9 I was staying the night at my grandmas house and was eating a butterscotch and I started choking on it. I finally screamed so loud and hard it came out. But ever since then my number 1 fear is choking. And very recently I’ve started having these dreams where I’ll have something in my mouth, it varies to what it is, and I’ll feel like I have to swallow and can’t stop it and when I swallow I swallow whatever is in my mouth and I wake up screaming trying to get it out. I’ve never talked to a therapist about this but I guess I should. It’s becoming so bad that when I’m eating I start actually feeling like I can’t swallow so I have to have a drink every time I eat or I will choke. It’s absolutely terrible.

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