When it comes to sleeping with TMJ or TMD, you can find yourself caught in a vicious cycle. Bruxism (grinding your teeth) or clenching your jaw is often caused by stress or anxiety, and it’s proven that a lack of quality sleep can exacerbate stress levels. However, when you are asleep, you’re unable to consciously suppress the exact kind of habits that may lead to TMJ pain—like grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw. This stress/pain feedback loop can make sleeping with TMJ a nightmare, but there are multiple treatments and habits you can perform at home to help you protect your TMJ and finally get a good night’s sleep. Learn more about how to sleep with TMJ in the sections below.
The Difficulties of Sleeping With TMJ
While the exact cause of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder is still unknown, most clinicians agree that it can be caused by undue tension placed on the jaw, head, and neck—usually from the unconscious strain caused by stress and anxiety. The TMJ treatment can help you relieve this pressure with conscious behavioral changes, medication, and other approaches, but it can be difficult to know how to relax your jaw when sleeping. As a result, many TMJ sufferers experience jaw pain when lying down, or wake up with agitated TMJ symptoms. In turn, these symptoms can disrupt your sleep, which can come with a host of other medical issues. Getting quality sleep with TMJ is possible, but it requires a total body approach—starting with the basics.
The Best Sleeping Position for TMJ
If you’re wondering how to sleep with TMJ, start by changing your sleeping position. Studies have shown that the most beneficial position for TMJ sleep is on your back with your head and neck supported by a quality pillow. Sleeping on your back takes the pressure from your neck and jaw muscles—one of the best methods for how to relax your jaw when sleeping.
By contrast, sleeping on your stomach is considered the worst position for sleeping with TMJ, as it requires the muscles in your back and neck to contract to counteract the force of gravity, causing strain or “sleep trauma” to your temporomandibular joint.
Similarly, sleeping on your side with your head supported by your arm causes your jaw to fall to one side, meaning the muscles must contract unevenly to support it. If you sleep for eight hours per night in one of these positions, that means you are inadvertently exacerbating your TMJ for one-third of the day, every day!
Unfortunately, only 14% of the population naturally sleeps on their backs. It can be difficult to change the sleep position that naturally feels most comfortable for you, but certain training techniques like sleeping in a shirt with a tennis ball taped or sewn to the front can prevent you from reverting to harmful sleep positions unconsciously. This self-training may be difficult or annoying in the beginning, but if you find yourself waking up with jaw pain or steadily worsening TMJ symptoms, the temporary discomfort may be worth the benefits.
TMJ And Sleep Apnea
One major caveat to sleeping on your back comes if you also suffer from sleep apnea. In this case, sleeping on your back can worsen your condition as the jaw naturally falls backward, obstructing your airway. If you suffer from both TMJ and sleep apnea, you can try wearing a bite splint while you sleep, which will gently push your jaw forward allowing you to breathe normally and maintain a beneficial sleeping position. Bite splints can also prevent you from clenching or grinding your teeth at night as well.
How to Sleep With TMJ if You Cannot Change Your Sleeping Position
It’s possible that you may have a physical condition that does not allow you to sleep on your back, or simply find that this position makes it impossible for you to sleep. In these instances, it’s recommended that you invest in a quality mattress and pillow that contort to support areas of common strain—your back and neck especially. Doing so can make optimal sleeping positions feel more comfortable throughout the night. If you must sleep on your side, you can also place pillows between your knees or under your arms to alleviate strain.
Sleep Hygiene and Its Effect on TMJ
Aside from your sleeping position, some of the other best tips on how to relax your jaw when sleeping happen before you even lay down. Sleep hygiene is generally referred to as the habits and environments that comprise your nightly routine, some of which can be damaging to your quality of sleep. Since TMJ and stress are linked, habits that undermine your rest can also exacerbate your symptoms. For optimal sleep, try incorporating some of these tips into your nightly routine:
Be Mindful of Light
Studies have shown that the blue-colored light common in smartphones, TVs, or other digital devices closely mimics that of actual daylight—meaning that imbibing in your devices for bedtime can disrupt your circadian rhythm and lead to less restful sleep. Try putting away your devices one hour before bed and reading a book or magazine in the meantime.
Keep an Eye on the Temperature
Most experts agree that the optimal temperature for sleeping is between 60 and 67 degrees. Avoid pointing fans or air conditioners directly at your face, however, as this can dry out your nasal passages leading to irritation.
Stay Away From Caffeine or Stimulants
Drinking coffee or other taking other stimulants before bed can seriously detract from your quality of sleep—even if you partake a few hours before actually sleeping. Try relegating your caffeine consumption to the mornings only.
Simple, light, full-body stretching before bed can relax your muscles and make it easier to fall and stay asleep.
Herbal supplements like chamomile and lavender can help you relax in the evenings, providing you with restful sleep. Melatonin is a natural hormone that gives your body the signal to sleep and is commonly available as an over-the-counter medication.
If you have tried all of these steps and still find yourself experiencing subpar sleep, waking with jaw pain, or otherwise experiencing TMJ symptoms, you may need to visit an orofacial pain clinic and meet with a specialist about further treatment options. If you are looking for TMJ treatment in Reno, Nevada, then the Northern Nevada Center for Orofacial Pain is the only certified treatment center for TMJ and TMD in the area. Our specialists can help you address the root cause of your symptoms and give you the tools and treatments to help you get restful, pain-free sleep, even with TMJ. Call today to make an appointment and let us help you reclaim your sleep.