Help! I Woke Up Thinking I Swallowed Something (What Should I Do?)

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Waking up feeling or thinking like you’ve swallowed something may indicate that you have a sleeping disorder. It could be sleeping apnea or REM sleep behavior disorder. Treatments for sleeping disorders may involve breathing therapy, lifestyle changes, and medications for treating anxiety. Most likely, if you wake up with pain in your throat or chest, it may be best if you look out for other probable causes like acid reflux, sinus infections, lung or even heart-related diseases.

Many people experience waking up thinking that they swallowed objects like pins, locks, keys, even pillows and lamps!

According to them, it felt so real so, their immediate response was to get it out from their throat. It took them some time to realize that they’ve just woken up from a dream.

If you’re experiencing the same thing recently or for a long time then, read more below to find out what could cause you to have these strange episodes or attacks in your sleep.

Sleep apnea

It is a sleeping disorder that causes you to suddenly pause your breathing while you’re asleep due to problems in your brain signals or a blockage in your airway.

Obstructive sleep apnea

Many people who experience waking up thinking that they swallowed something end up diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.

The most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include snoring and waking up for a brief moment at night gasping for air.

It happens because your tongue and the soft palate at the back of your mouth relax, causing your windpipe to narrow down or suddenly close, blocking the flow of air into your lungs.

Central sleep apnea

Another type of sleep apnea occurs when there is a problem with the signals sent from the brain to your breathing muscles. Most health conditions affecting your cardiovascular and nervous systems can cause central sleep apnea.

If you have sleep apnea, you may experience symptoms like:

You should see a doctor if you present these symptoms. When left untreated, sleep apnea may cause mild to chronic cardiovascular and respiratory problems.


Below are some of the common treatments for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and/or central sleep apnea (CSA);

  • Weight loss. It is recommended for people with obesity to manage breathing difficulty associated with obstructive sleeping apnea.
  • Oral appliance. It is a device that will put your jaw in a forward position and/or keep your tongue from blocking your airway.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). It involves a machine delivering mild air pressure into your airways to keep them open.
  • Bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP). If CPAP therapy isn’t effective, your doctor may recommend you to use BPAP machines instead. It pushes an adequate amount of air pressure, depending on your needs, when you inhale or exhale.
  • Positional therapy. Your position when sleeping may need correction as sleeping on your back can worsen sleeping apnea.
  • Surgery. You only have to go to surgery if there is something surgically correctable within your upper airways.
  • Nasal valve therapy. It is a disposable device thus, highly recommended for patients who travel a lot. It delivers a positive air pressure keeping your airways open when breathing in and out.


It is a sleeping disorder that happens when you do unusual things while you’re asleep. You don’t usually remember the incident after waking up.

There are many types of parasomnias which include:

  • Sleepwalking
  • Nightmares or night terrors
  • Sleep-related eating disorder
  • Bedwetting
  • Acting violently
  • REM sleep behavior disorder
  • Other sleep-related behaviors

Among these types, rapid-eye-movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD) happens when you act out your dreams while you’re asleep. Dreams associated with RBD will cause you to wake up easily and recall the events.

You must get a check-up from a sleep specialist and undergo a sleep study to know a diagnosis. REM sleep behavior disorder may even cause you to do dangerous (uncontrolled) things to your body.

Although it is hard to find the causes of this condition, certain factors may trigger you to have RBD, such as:

  • Sleep deprivation or not getting adequate amount of sleep.
  • Drinking alcohol.
  • Using illegal drugs or substances.
  • Having an underlying illness.

You may practice the following steps below to lessen your bouts of having RBD, especially if you haven’t seen a doctor yet:

  • Have a regular sleep and wake time.
  • Keep and follow a regular schedule for meals, medication, chores, and other activities.
  • Avoid heavy meals before bedtime. Instead, meditate, take a warm bath, have a light bedtime snack, or have a 10-minute reading session.
  • Avoid coffee, alcohol, and other high-sugar drinks.
  • Quit smoking or stop using nicotine close to bedtime.

Additionally, keep your surroundings safe from harmful objects and lock your doors and windows if necessary.

Your doctor may prescribe you medicines for anxiety to help you manage the symptoms caused by RBD.

Anxiety and stress

A woman is rubbing the sides of her head with her hands because she is stressing out.

Another factor that you should look out for is anxiety and stress.

Normally, you become anxious when you encounter or detect harm or danger. This is because your body initiates a “fight and flight” response to get it ready to face any potential threats.

However, you may develop anxiety disorder when you present symptoms like:

Stress can be a contributing factor to anxiety. Both conditions affect your quality of sleep leading to sleep deprivation and changes in sleeping patterns which may cause you to have:

  • Nightmares
  • REM sleep behavior disorder
  • Changes in mood such as depression
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

Minimizing factors that trigger stress hormones may also treat your anxiety disorder. You can do self-treatment at your home, which includes:

  • Take a time-out. Do yoga, listen to music, read a book, get a massage, do your hair or nails, or travel.
  • Eat Balanced meals and exercise.
  • Less intake of alcohol and caffeine.
  • Take deep breaths and count to 10. Do this when your anxiety attacks.
  • Surround yourself with positive and happy people.
  • Keep a regular sleep-wake time.
  • Talk to someone. Either join a community, support group, or get professional help.
  • Get a journal. Writing down your feelings or how your day went on would slow down your thoughts. You may also list the things that trigger you to get anxious or stressed and avoid them in the future.

Your doctor may also prescribe drugs like anti-depressants to manage your symptoms. Psychotherapy or talking to a professional is also another good option.

Other causes


If you have asthma, symptoms like breathing difficulties or shortness of breath could make you dream like you swallowed something in your sleep. You may also experience chest tightness or congestion, cough, and wheezing during nighttime.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)

This condition refers to a group of diseases but commonly involves emphysema and chronic bronchitis. A common symptom of COPD includes difficulty breathing which, may interrupt your sleeping pattern.

Sinus infections or allergies

Both conditions may present similar symptoms such as runny or clogged nose, difficulty breathing, headache, sleeping problems, and losing the sense of smell or taste.

You may also experience post-nasal drip which, worsens during the night.

It occurs when there is an excess mucus gathering or dripping down from the back of your throat. You may feel like there’s a lump in your throat or a blockage from your airways.

Heart failure

The symptoms of heart failure usually occur or develop when you are resting or sleeping. If you have a history of heart-related problems, you are at risk of having heart failure.

It is usually characterized by shortness of breath, pain or congested feeling in the chest, fatigue, and swelling in your feet, legs, and abdomen.


Many people experience waking up thinking that they’ve swallowed something for years, and it took them time to find a solution.

However, if you want to stop such things from recurring in your sleep, you must visit your doctor immediately. If they don’t give you a diagnosis, look for a second opinion or see a sleep specialist.

Maybe it’s obstructive or central sleep apnea, or you’re suffering from a REM sleep behavior disorder. With proper diagnosis, you can get treatments that will help you with your symptoms.

Moreover, if you don’t rule this out as soon as possible, it may develop complications in your overall health.

Don’t forget to consider other signs and symptoms associated with your condition, such as pain in your chest or dry and sore throat after waking up. It may indicate acid reflux or problems in your respiratory or cardiovascular system.

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Reana Jean Cuevas
Mabuhay! I'm Reana Jean Cuevas. A healthy body means living well with no worries-just happiness and more life adventures. Taking care of my body and well-being is an investment for my career and future. I was a volunteer at the Philippine Red Cross. I joined the training to become a first-aider and be able to provide other health and safety services in my community. I love discussing anything but mainly first-aid, home remedies, and women's health.

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