Did you know that you might be making your TMJ worse overnight than during the day? It’s true. Even if you’re not spending eight hours in bed, you’re still spending a prolonged block, and you might spend much of your time in a single position. When you’re asleep, you’re not conscious, which means you can’t intervene if you start clenching your jaw like you would during the day when you’re stressed. You might also be less aware when you’re in a position that is putting adverse pressure on the temporomandibular joint or your jaw muscles. You can’t control how you sleep all night long, but you can at least make sure you start in the right position.

young man sleeping peacefully in bed

The Best Sleeping Position for TMJ

To reduce sleeping trauma to your TMJ, it is best if you sleep on your back. This minimizes the force on your jaw. Sleeping on your side or your stomach puts some of the weight of your head and neck onto your jaw, pushing it to one side or backward, but if you sleep on your back, the only weight on the jaw is the jaw itself.

Sleeping on your back is also good for putting your neck and back into a relaxed position. The muscles of the jaw and neck work together which minimizes neck strain. It will also reduce tension in the jaw.

We understand that it can feel difficult to fall asleep on your back if you’re not used to it though. We highly recommend getting a comfortable pillow for sleeping on your back and forcing yourself to sleep on your back every night. After a few nights, it will feel more natural and comfortable to sleep on your back.

Sleeping with Shoulder and Neck Pain

Sleeping on your back might feel even more difficult if you suffer from shoulder and neck pain. Both shoulder and neck pain are common symptoms of TMJ. To sleep on your back with shoulder or neck pain, you will likely need to find the right pillow. A memory foam pillow is probably your best option because it molds to the perfect shape of your head and neck to provide adequate support.

Why You Should Avoid Side and Stomach Sleeping

We know that sleeping on your back might not feel as comfortable as sleeping on your side or stomach. However, sleeping on your side or your stomach can cause more jaw discomfort and actually make your TMJ worse. When you sleep on your stomach or your side, it puts pressure on your jaw which pushes it out of alignment. You then sleep with your jaw out of alignment for however long you sleep which can cause you to wake up with an incredibly sore jaw. Sleeping at an awkward angle that isn’t your back can have a huge impact on your TMJ disorder. The best sleeping position for TMJ will always be laying on your back.

Sleeping On Your Back and Sleep Apnea

There is one group of people that won’t benefit from sleeping on their back: those at risk for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when your airway collapses, cutting off your air supply. For many people at risk for sleep apnea, sleeping on their back makes sleep apnea worse, and therefore it can actually make TMJ worse.

If you have sleep apnea, one thing your body does to attempt to keep your airway open is to clench your jaw. When your airway collapses hundreds of times a night, you might significantly increase the amount of time you spend clenching your jaw if you sleep on your back, and more clenching of your jaw means worse TMJ. Your sleeping habits might be making your TMJ and headaches worse.

How Should I Sleep With TMJ? With Help From Your Columbia, SC TMJ Dentist

The good news is, there are solutions for nighttime TMJ. The best solution for TMJ at night is a bite splint. It will hold your jaw in a relaxed position and provide additional support for your joints and muscles, helping you to feel better in the morning. For most TMJ sufferers, wearing a splint at night will provide a large measure of relief and maybe the only TMJ treatment necessary.

By wearing a bite splint, you don’t have to learn how to sleep on your back or invest in tons of different pillows to find the right one. Wearing a bite splint will hold your jaw in the correct position no matter how you rest in your bed at night. Within a few weeks, you will notice your neck, shoulder, and jaw pain begin to go away. You will likely also notice other symptoms improving too like less frequent headaches.

To learn how we can help you overcome sleeping with TMJ, please call (803) 781-9090 for an appointment with a Columbia, SC TMJ dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry today.