If you’re dealing with temporomandibular joint disorder(TMJ), you’ll be all too aware of how much your jaw can hurt after a night spent clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth. What you might not have realized is that your sleeping position could contribute to that pain. If you choose your sleeping position by what feels comfortable when you’re still awake, that’s not unusual. However, trying a couple of other sleeping positions for a while could reduce the amount of pain and other TMJ Disorder symptoms you experience.
Why sleep position matters for jaw comfort
When you sleep, and your neck muscles relax, the weight of your head presses down on whatever’s underneath it, be it your pillow or your arm. That pressure also affects your jaw; as your head presses down into the pillow, your jaw can experience pressure that moves it slightly out of alignment. As a result, when you wake up, your jaw could be even more sore than it would have been had you not slept.
The stress can also extend to your neck, which can become twisted or pressed up at an awkward angle. Any weird misalignment like this only contributes to the stress placed on your jaw.
The optimal sleep position
For someone with TMJ Disorder, with no other contraindicating health issues, sleeping on your back is going to be best. While your lower jaw can still move while you sleep on your back, you won’t be adding any pressure from pillows or arms. If you want your jaw to be left alone as much as possible while you sleep, sleep on your back.
However, this brings up two problems. One is that sleeping on your back can aggravate other health conditions such as sleep apnea — and you may not realize you have sleep apnea because, of course, you’re asleep when it starts to happen. Sleeping on your back may also seem much less comfortable than on your side or stomach (which, by the way, is the worst position to sleep in when you have TMJ Disorder because the pressure that twists your neck and jaw is greatest then).
Give sleeping on your back a try for a few days and see how you feel. If you feel much less rested, wake up with a headache or dry mouth and throat, think you’ve started snoring, or hear from your partner that you’ve been stopping breathing in your sleep, get evaluated for sleep apnea as treatment will help you sleep on your back. If you don’t have those symptoms but experience other pains, you may need to look at getting a new pillow and adding supportive pillows for your knees and lower back. For pain related to conditions you currently have, speak with your doctor about treatments and coping strategies.
Of course, you need to treat the TMJ Disorder, too; changing your sleeping position can help, but it’s not the only action you can take. Call us to arrange for a consultation regarding the types of treatments available.
A MESSAGE FROM DR. AMY HARTSFIELD:
At TMJ & Sleep Solutions of Alabama, our mission is to provide personalized care to restore quality of life, one patient at a time. If you are experiencing issues with pain, don’t hesitate to contact us and schedule an appointment!