Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, or TMJ, is a disorder of the jaw and neck that can cause pain and discomfort in the jaw region. Although the specific reasons are unknown, it is mainly caused by stress and anxiety that often leads to teeth grinding. It can also happen if one clenches one’s teeth too tightly to control a reaction.
While you still have some control over it during your waking hours, you cannot do anything about it while you are asleep. You may grind your teeth hard when you are in the middle of a nightmare or just as an involuntary response to any unpleasant sensation.
You may wake up with immense pain in your jaws and neck, and you may start fearing falling asleep again. You may enter a vicious loop, and it could seem impossible to get out of it. What you need at this point is a proper sleep regimen and a comfortable sleeping position so that you feel relaxed. That will keep the grinding teeth and pain away and help you get a good night’s sleep.
Why is it Difficult to Sleep with TMJ?
Sleeping with TMJ can be challenging because finding a comfortable position that does not place too much pressure on the neck, jaws, and head will be difficult. Although the main reason is stress and anxiety, something as minor as a wrong pillow can trigger the sensation.
Someone affected by TMJ needs to find a treatment plan that should consist of behavioral changes, medication, and sleeping position. Once you fall asleep, you have no control over how to flex your jaws. This is why you may feel more pain soon after waking up.
If the pain starts while you are asleep, you may even wake up from an incomplete sleep, and you will never get the rest your body deserves. Hence, it would help if you kept trying till you find a comfortable sleeping position that works for your TMJ, with emphasis on your neck and head.
Why the Sleeping Position Matters if You Have TMJ?
Your orofacial pain may worsen if you have TMJ and can keep causing strain on your shoulders, head, neck, and jaws. The right sleeping position can help you control it to a great extent. Even if you cannot prevent the clenching of your jaw muscles, a comfortable sleeping position will make your sleep deeper, and you will be less affected by it.
You will be able to complete your sleep, and adequate rest will cause less strain over time, having a healing effect on your TMJ. The right sleeping position will relax the shoulder muscles. It will align your spine, offering greater support to your head and neck.
The frequency of your jaws clenching will go down slowly as the right sleep position will reduce the pressure on the jaws as they rest on the pillow. That is the reason for jaw pain on waking up. With the right position, you can prevent any unnatural angle that could aggravate the pain.
Some Effective Sleeping Positions for TMJ
While not all sleeping positions are effective for everyone with TMJ, there are some that could help particular patients. You can try and figure out which one works for you.
1. Sleeping on Back
Lying on the back is one of the best ways to keep TMJ in check. While you may not have control over changing sides while asleep, you can use pillows to weigh you down to minimize tossing and turning.
Sleeping on your back will not put pressure on your jaws and is the best way to maintain spine alignment. Avoid sleeping on your stomach or sides if you have TMJ.
2. Adjusting your Arms
The best position is to adjust and leave your arms by your side. Raising your arms above your head or beside your head can cause more strain on your shoulders and neck.
Get in the habit of lying on your back with arms by your side to ensure proper spine alignment. If you are a side sleeper, this could take some time, but you will get used to it eventually.
3. Getting the Right Pillow and Mattress
The right pillow and mattress can help you alleviate the discomfort caused by TMJ. You can place one small pillow below the lower back, just below the arch of the spine. And you can place another pillow below your head. That will align your spine with your spine and give you a more comfortable position.
Similarly, choose a mattress that conforms to the contours of the body. A hard mattress will cause strain in the upper neck, right where the skull meets the spine. A very soft one will let your head sag. Hence, choose a firm yet soft mattress to help with your TMJ. A high-quality foam mattress can give you much comfort in such cases.
Tips to Maintain Sleep for TMJ
Once you have figured out the sleep position that best works for you, you can use some additional tips to sleep better. Here are some of them.
- Try to reduce stress in every way. Take a break from your stressful job or consult a therapist if something personal is bothering you. Stress and anxiety are the principal inducers of TMJ, so take special care to address the issue.
- Make your room dark and comfortable. Subdue your bright lights and dim them about an hour before you go to sleep to help your body relax and wind down.
- Switch off your TV, Smartphones, and other devices at least two hours before you go to sleep. The blue light can make it difficult to fall asleep as it resembles natural daylight, which can mess with your circadian rhythm. Try Reading a relaxing book or indulge in some self-care before you go to bed.
- Keep your room temperature comfortable. Experts say that a temperature between 60 to 70 is ideal. It would be best if you also avoided fans or air conditioners on your face directly, as it could cause your nasal passage to dry up and could make breathing difficult, causing you to clench your jaws.
- Avoid stimulants like alcohol or coffee before you go to bed. Stop drinking any of them at least three hours before bedtime. Or else, it could keep your nervous system stimulated, and you will end up tossing and turning due to restlessness, causing an onset of TMJ.
- With the advice of a doctor, you could consider taking mild doses of sleep medication. That could calm your nerves and help you sleep better. However, avoid getting addicted and take them for short periods only to reduce dependency.
TMJ can have a lasting impact on the patient if it is not managed well. Since it affects different people in different ways, there are several questions about it. Here are some of them.
Can side-sleeping cause TMJ?
No, side sleeping does not cause TMJ. However, it will make sleeping more difficult because your spine is not correctly aligned with your head when you sleep on your side. This could aggravate the problem, and a difficult sleeping position will bring on the involuntary clenching of jaws and muscles. Hence, it is best to sleep on your back if you have TMJ.
How do you sleep with TMJ?
The best position to sleep with TMJ is to sleep on your back and with your hands on your sides. This is the most neutral position and will put the least pressure on your jaws and neck. It will also help relieve any past inflammation and pain.
Why is TMJ particularly bad at night?
TMJ is bad at night because you hardly have any control over your jaws flexing and clenching when you sleep. This can cause inflammation and pain in the jaws and the joints of the lower skull. When you wake up, it could cause severe pain.
One way to combat this issue is to wear a mouthguard to sleep, as that will keep your jaws firm. You can also apply ice or heat to the area to soothe the muscles. You can also use some medicines on the doctor’s advice to bring down the swelling.
TMJ can get worse with time, and most of it is because the patient becomes more stressed due to the ongoing symptoms. This sends them into a loop of stress and anxiety that again triggers the TMJ the next time they sleep.
Fear breeds fear, and the best way to address this issue is to ensure a calm and relaxing sleep. By doing so, you can manage the symptoms effectively, and it will eventually subside significantly over time.