Crying in Your Sleep: Why Does It Happen and When to Worry (2023)

Crying in Your Sleep: Why Does It Happen and When to Worry (1)

Have you ever woken up only to find tears streaming down your face? It’s a bit of a shock, especially if it’s never happened to you before.

Crying in your sleep can be confusing and distressing. Does it mean there’s something wrong? What causes it? Should you worry about it?

We’ll be answering these questions and more in today’s article.

How Can I Cry If I’m Asleep?

When you’re asleep, your brain doesn’t shut down. In fact, it’s extremely busy while you sleep, and so is the body.

From stage 1 to 4, we go from being awake to being in a deep sleep. Our brain waves transition from waking state waves to slow waves.

During REM sleep (stage 4 or 5, depending on who you speak to), our brain waves wake up again. But our bodies remain asleep.

In the brain, certain parts light up and get busy.

The hippocampus works on consolidating memory while we sleep. But two other, more unusual areas become active: the amygdala and the cingulate gyrus.

The amygdala is the section of the brain that links the senses with our emotions. The cingulate gyrus controls muscle movement in response to external stimuli.

Even though we’re fast asleep, our emotions, senses, and certain muscle movements are still active.

Depending on the circumstances, this combination can lead to acting out real-world actions. You can talk, walk, laugh, or even cry in your sleep.

(Video) Crying in your dream, Dream Interpretation of Crying, Tears or Sobbing - Dreams Meaning

Who Does It Happen To?

Crying in your sleep can happen to anyone.

In children, it’s likely to be as a result of nightmares or night terrors.

Adults can experience it after a traumatic event. In the elderly, depression can lead to bouts of sleep crying.

So it can happen to anyone, from young kids to older people.

What Causes Crying In Your Sleep?

Crying in your sleep can happen for a number of reasons. Usually, they aren’t too worrying.

Later on, we’ll discuss when you should worry. But the following are common reasons that aren’t very serious and can be easily dealt with.

Night Terrors

Night terrors mostly affect kids between 3 and 12. But they can happen to adults as a result of trauma.

They’re not just a nightmare. Nightmares happen during REM sleep. Night terrors happen during non-REM sleep. They also run in families.

During a night terror, there may be screaming, flailing, or even paralysis. Crying can happen too. In most cases, there’s no recollection of the episode when the person wakes up.

They’re not dangerous, even though it can be scary to see someone else having one.

Emotional Dreams

Have you ever dreamt about a deceased loved one? Or perhaps someone you love dies, is injured, or hurts you in your dream.

Dreams that bring up strong emotion can result in real-life tears. In some cases, you may remember your dream. This will give you an indication of why you wake up crying.

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In other cases, you forget your dreams upon waking. You may be shocked and scared to find yourself crying when you wake up. But it’s nothing more than a reaction to a sad or scary dream.

Suppressed Emotions

We all have strong emotions about things in life. If you don’t deal with these emotions in a healthy way, you may find that they come out while you’re sleeping.

When you sleep, your brain is busy working through the events of the waking world. It’s unfiltered at this point, so emotions you’ve been suppressing may sneak out.

This can lead to crying in your sleep.

Crying in Your Sleep: Why Does It Happen and When to Worry (2)

Stress

Are you unusually stressed during the day? Perhaps your workload is too much. Maybe there’s conflict in the family.

Whatever is stressing you out could be the reason you’re crying in your sleep. You may be keeping it inside when you’re awake. But you can’t always hide it when you’re asleep.

Medication

Some medications can cause strange reactions. If you’ve recently started taking a new medication, it could be the reason.

Changes to meds could also be the culprit. Not all meds have the same effects, even if they’re for the same thing.

When Should I Worry?

In some cases, crying in your sleep may be cause for concern. If you can rule out all of the reasons above, there may be an underlying reason.

You should definitely see a doctor if:

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It Happens Frequently

Crying in your sleep can happen to anyone. If it happens to you now and then, it’s perfectly normal. But if you’re waking up in tears often, there may be something else behind it.

Often is a relative term, though. Many of us have never experienced crying in our sleep. So it's hard to tell what counts as “often”.

If it happens twice within a month, it may be a good idea to get a checkup just to be safe.

You’ve Recently Had a Traumatic Experience

Emotional and mental trauma can manifest in some weird ways. One of those ways is crying in your sleep.

Did your sleep crying only begin after you experienced a trauma? It could be psychological, emotional, or even physical.

This may be a sign that you need to deal with underlying emotions about the trauma you experienced.

In this case, a psychologist may be a better option than a medical doctor. But it may be a good idea to get a medical checkup too.

You’ve Recently Suffered a Head Injury

A head injury can alter the way the brain works. A knock to the head can change your brain waves, even if just for a short time.

This could cause strange occurrences, like crying in your sleep. If this happens to you after a head injury, you should see your doctor. Even if the bump was mild.

You Have Other Symptoms

If sleep crying comes with other unusual symptoms, a medical checkup is necessary.

Some symptoms you may experience include:

  • Insomnia
  • Night terrors
  • Sleep apnea
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Unusual irritability
  • Aches and pains

Anything else that’s not normal for you should raise a red flag.

(Video) What Really Happens To Your Body When You Cry

You’ve Recently Changed Meds

Medication can lead to all kinds of strange side effects! Crying in your sleep could be one of them. If you’ve recently started or changed to a new medication, your sleep crying could be a result.

If this sounds like the reason, you’ll need to chat to your doctor about it.

It Disrupts Your Sleep

If your sleep crying is:

  • Waking you up often
  • Preventing you from sleeping
  • Causing you extreme worry
  • Making you afraid to sleep

Then it may be time to get some help. A doctor’s appointment is a good start. You can find out if there are any underlying problems, which could put your mind at ease.

But your doctor can also offer advice on how to get better sleep. Improving your sleep could actually stop the sleep crying.

Crying in Your Sleep: Why Does It Happen and When to Worry (3)

Conclusion

Crying in your sleep can be alarming, but it’s often nothing to worry about. Be thoughtful about it, though. If something has happened to bring it on, it’s best to get it checked out.

But the occasional bout of crying in your sleep isn’t a problem. Don’t let it worry you if it happens. If you are concerned, there are some easy ways to deal with it.

Assess your emotional state and try to deal with any suppressed emotions you may have. Make sure your sleep hygiene is on point. Try to minimize your stress. And see a doc if there are any other concerns.

Happy sleeping!

FAQs

What does it mean when you are crying in your sleep? ›

Crying in sleep can result from nightmares, sleep terrors, and sometimes, you can even cry while dreaming. For the latter, this emotion often happens when the dreamer experiences a dream so intense, it feels real.

What does it mean if you wake up crying from a dream? ›

Waking up Crying From a Dream

The sensations you feel while sleeping and the emotions you experience before bed may cause you to wake up crying. If you wake up crying from a bad dream, that is your body's response to the weight of the suppressed emotion.

Why do I cry at night for no reason? ›

This type of crying may result from a mental health condition, such as burnout, anxiety, or depression. It might instead stem from hormonal imbalances or neurological conditions. If frequent crying for no apparent reason is causing concern, see a doctor for a diagnosis or a referral to a mental health professional.

Why do I wake up crying and anxious? ›

Stress hormones.

Over time, too much cortisol may be linked to such problems as anxiety, depression, and a hard time with memory and concentration. Usually, your cortisol levels spike after you wake up. It may be that your body overreacts to the stress hormone and leaves you feeling down in the mornings.

What does it mean when I wake up at 3am? ›

If you wake up at 3 a.m. or another time and can't fall right back asleep, it may be for several reasons. These include lighter sleep cycles, stress, or underlying health conditions. Your 3 a.m. awakenings may occur infrequently and be nothing serious, but regular nights like this could be a sign of insomnia.

How do you stop night terrors in adults? ›

Lifestyle and home remedies
  1. Get adequate sleep. Fatigue can contribute to sleep terrors. ...
  2. Establish a regular, relaxing routine before bedtime. ...
  3. Make the environment safe. ...
  4. Put stress in its place. ...
  5. Offer comfort. ...
  6. Look for a pattern.
23 Apr 2021

Are night terrors a disorder? ›

Night terrors, also called sleep terrors, are a type of parasomnia, classified as an arousal disorder, that occurs during non-REM (NREM) sleep.

What is stress crying? ›

Emotional tears contain stress hormones and other chemicals, so shedding tears as a response to stress, or any other emotion, can help us let go of them. Research shows that there are even more benefits to crying, too. “It's important to relieve stress in healthy ways.

What are crying spells? ›

Crying spells, crying over nothing at all, or crying about small things that normally wouldn't bother you may be signs of depression. Inability to concentrate. If you are depressed, you may be forgetful, have trouble making decisions, or find it hard to concentrate.

What to Do When You Can't stop crying? ›

Tips for managing crying
  1. Focus on taking slow, deep breaths. ...
  2. Relax your facial muscles so your expression is neutral.
  3. Think about something repetitious, like a poem, a song, or nursery rhyme you've memorized.
  4. Take a walk or find another way to temporarily remove yourself from a stressful or upsetting situation.

What are the symptoms of sleep anxiety? ›

Nighttime (nocturnal) panic attacks can occur with no obvious trigger and awaken you from sleep. As with a daytime panic attack, you may experience sweating, rapid heart rate, trembling, shortness of breath, heavy breathing (hyperventilation), flushing or chills, and a sense of impending doom.

What is the main symptoms of anxiety? ›

Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense.
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom.
  • Having an increased heart rate.
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating.
  • Trembling.
  • Feeling weak or tired.
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry.

How can I calm my anxiety? ›

There are a number of things you can try to help combat anxiety, including:
  1. Behavioral therapy.
  2. Deep breathing.
  3. Exercise.
  4. Journaling.
  5. Meditation.
  6. Reading.
  7. Socializing, following pandemic guidelines of social distancing, masking and hand hygiene)
  8. Speaking with your health care provider.
10 Feb 2021

What does it mean when you wake up and see someone looking at you? ›

Hypnopompic hallucinations are hallucinations that occur in the morning as you're waking up1. They are very similar to hypnagogic hallucinations, or hallucinations that occur at night as you're falling asleep. When you experience these hallucinations, you see, hear, or feel things that aren't actually there.

What organ is cleansing at 2 am? ›

One of the most important 2-hour intervals is between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., which is when the liver is believed to be cleansing the blood.

Why do I keep waking up at 4 am? ›

For those of us who are waking up at odd times in the morning, more often than not, it's at the same time every day - sometime around 4am or 5am. This could be because of the simultaneous rise in cortisol levels and the brain's processing of emotional material early in the morning.

Who suffers from night terrors? ›

Night terrors are relatively rare — they happen in only 3%–6% of kids, while almost every child will have a nightmare occasionally. Night terrors usually happen in kids between 4 and 12 years old, but have been reported in babies as young as 18 months. They seem to be a little more common among boys.

What is the root cause of night terrors? ›

The cause is unknown but night terrors are often triggered by fever, lack of sleep or periods of emotional tension, stress or conflict. Night terrors are like nightmares, except that nightmares usually occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and are most common in the early morning.

What deficiency causes night terrors? ›

In our study population, children with sleep terror had lower vi- tamin D levels than the control group. This suggests that chil- dren with sleep terror should be assessed in terms of vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency.

Do night terrors affect brain? ›

Night terrors occur in deep sleep or NREM stage three. During night terrors, the front part of your brain that controls executive functioning and memory is asleep while the back part that controls motor movement is awake. This is similar to sleepwalking.

What age do night terrors start? ›

Night terrors are most common in children aged 2-4 years, but can happen in children aged up to 12 years. Most children outgrow night terrors by the time they reach puberty.

What stage does night terrors occur? ›

Parasomnias can often occur during any stage of sleep; however, night terrors specifically are associated with non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stages in which the person or child is in a transitional state in between sleep and wakefulness.

Does crying affect your heart? ›

Crying Lowers Blood Pressure

Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately following therapy sessions during which patients cried and vented. High blood pressure can damage the heart and blood vessels and contribute to stroke, heart failure and even dementia.

What are 5 emotional signs of stress? ›

Mental or behavioral symptoms include:
  • Being more emotional than usual.
  • Feeling overwhelmed or on edge.
  • Trouble keeping track of things or remembering.
  • Trouble making decisions, solving problems, concentrating, getting your work done.
  • Using alcohol or drugs to relieve your emotional stress.
29 Dec 2020

What happens when you cry too much? ›

When a person cries, their tears drain into small holes in the corners of the eyelids, known as puncta. If a person produces a lot of tears, this drainage system becomes overwhelmed, and tears overflow down their cheeks. Some of these tears can also drain into their nasal passage.

What triggers crying? ›

Empathy, compassion, physical pain, attachment pain, and moral and sentimental emotions can trigger these tears. They communicate your emotions to others. Emotional tears make you feel more vulnerable, which could improve your relationships.

What is a mental breakdown? ›

The term mental breakdown is often used when a person has a mental health crisis that overcomes their emotions. It can stem from other conditions like depression and anxiety but tends to be a severe case.

Is crying a mental illness? ›

While uncontrollable crying can be a symptom of some mental health disorders, it can also be a sign of an underlying neurological issue. As a result, the treatment options and coping strategies that you employ will differ depending on the cause.

What is a word for crying uncontrollably? ›

Verb. Present participle for weep uncontrollably. bawling uncontrollably.

Why am I so sensitive and cry easily? ›

Crying easily can be a symptom of depression, anxiety, or a lot of stress in your life. Since HSPs feel so deeply and can experience sensory overload, we're more susceptible to strong feelings of depression or anxiety. We might feel alone in our sensitivity or isolate ourselves to reduce excess stimuli.

Is it normal to cry every night? ›

Prolonged crying that persists without reason is not normal and may indicate a serious condition requiring treatment. Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones talks about tears, crying, and emotions that are uniquely human.

What does it mean when I wake up at 3am? ›

If you wake up at 3 a.m. or another time and can't fall right back asleep, it may be for several reasons. These include lighter sleep cycles, stress, or underlying health conditions. Your 3 a.m. awakenings may occur infrequently and be nothing serious, but regular nights like this could be a sign of insomnia.

Are night terrors a disorder? ›

Night terrors, also called sleep terrors, are a type of parasomnia, classified as an arousal disorder, that occurs during non-REM (NREM) sleep.

What is it called when you scream in your sleep? ›

Sleep terrors: If you experience this sleep disorder, you wake up suddenly in a terrified state. You may scream or cry in fright. Sleep terrors are usually brief (30 seconds), but can last up to a few minutes.

Is it normal to cry every night? ›

Prolonged crying that persists without reason is not normal and may indicate a serious condition requiring treatment. Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones talks about tears, crying, and emotions that are uniquely human.

What does it mean when you wake up and see someone looking at you? ›

Hypnopompic hallucinations are hallucinations that occur in the morning as you're waking up1. They are very similar to hypnagogic hallucinations, or hallucinations that occur at night as you're falling asleep. When you experience these hallucinations, you see, hear, or feel things that aren't actually there.

What organ is cleansing at 2 am? ›

One of the most important 2-hour intervals is between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., which is when the liver is believed to be cleansing the blood.

Why do I keep waking up at 4 am? ›

For those of us who are waking up at odd times in the morning, more often than not, it's at the same time every day - sometime around 4am or 5am. This could be because of the simultaneous rise in cortisol levels and the brain's processing of emotional material early in the morning.

What are the dangers of night terrors? ›

Some complications that may result from experiencing sleep terrors include:
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness, which can lead to difficulties at school or work, or problems with everyday tasks.
  • Disturbed sleep.
  • Embarrassment about the sleep terrors or problems with relationships.
  • Injury to oneself or rarely to someone nearby.
23 Apr 2021

Do night terrors affect brain? ›

Night terrors occur in deep sleep or NREM stage three. During night terrors, the front part of your brain that controls executive functioning and memory is asleep while the back part that controls motor movement is awake. This is similar to sleepwalking.

What deficiency causes night terrors? ›

In our study population, children with sleep terror had lower vi- tamin D levels than the control group. This suggests that chil- dren with sleep terror should be assessed in terms of vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency.

Can anxiety cause night terrors? ›

The cause is unknown but night terrors are often triggered by fever, lack of sleep or periods of emotional tension, stress or conflict. Night terrors are like nightmares, except that nightmares usually occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and are most common in the early morning.

When do night terrors start? ›

Night terrors usually happen in kids between 4 and 12 years old, but have been reported in babies as young as 18 months. They seem to be a little more common among boys.

How do you stop night terrors? ›

If sleep terrors are a problem for you or your child, here are some strategies to try:
  1. Get adequate sleep. Fatigue can contribute to sleep terrors. ...
  2. Establish a regular, relaxing routine before bedtime. ...
  3. Make the environment safe. ...
  4. Put stress in its place. ...
  5. Offer comfort. ...
  6. Look for a pattern.
23 Apr 2021

What happens when you cry too much? ›

When a person cries, their tears drain into small holes in the corners of the eyelids, known as puncta. If a person produces a lot of tears, this drainage system becomes overwhelmed, and tears overflow down their cheeks. Some of these tears can also drain into their nasal passage.

What is stress crying? ›

Emotional tears contain stress hormones and other chemicals, so shedding tears as a response to stress, or any other emotion, can help us let go of them. Research shows that there are even more benefits to crying, too. “It's important to relieve stress in healthy ways.

How can I stop crying myself to sleep? ›

But if you do want to stop your tears try this:
  1. Focus on your breathing. It may feel very restricted or uneven. ...
  2. Distract yourself. Can you say the alphabet backwards? ...
  3. Change the music. ...
  4. 1) Make some changes. ...
  5. 2) Get some help. ...
  6. 3) Time is the greatest healer.
19 Jan 2019

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