The Best Sleeping Positions for TMD Patients

A good night’s sleep helps the body reenergize and repair itself so it can give you energy and stamina to get through your day. But sleep does so much more than simply make you feel rested and alert. Getting enough sleep is crucial for lowering the risk of health problems. In fact, medical research is finding more ways that lack of sleep could be damaging your well-being. Just a few examples of this include:

  • A study in the journal Pain, which found that just one night of total sleep deprivation led to increased pain and mood changes in those who suffer from chronic pain. This is important for people who suffer from the pain of TMD!
  • An article in Health Psychology, which found elevated stress hormone levels in people after they were deprived of sleep. Given the known link between stress and TMD, this is also an important finding to note.
  • A number of articles, including this meta-analysis in the journal Sleep, which suggest that lack of sleep could increase a person’s risk of obesity.
  • An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which suggests that sleep deprivation raises the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.


Sleep and TMD – A Difficult Pair

You know you need sleep, but how can you get it if you’re suffering from TMD symptoms? We recognize the connection of sleep to overall health — and the reality that many TMD patients struggle to get enough quality sleep. For this reason, we focus on giving our patients the information and tools they need to get the rest their body requires.

Getting quality sleep with TMD is possible. There is no simple answer, but one of the ways to get started with better sleep is to evaluate sleeping position. Something as simple as the position you sleep in could affect your TMD — for better or worse.


Why Your Sleeping Position Matters

The way you sleep can cause certain muscles to tense or become sore throughout the night, leaving you with pain and tension the next day. Any strain on the face, head, jaw, neck or shoulders can cause TMD-related conditions and orofacial pain to worsen. And you probably aren’t even aware of it: some of the worst straining happens when you’re asleep and unable to control things like teeth clenching or grinding.

Sleep position impacts several important aspects of your health, including:

  • How the muscles in the head, neck, and shoulders are stretched, aligned, or strained
  • Proper support of the head and neck – or lack thereof
  • Gravitational forces that are put on your head, jaw and neck regions
  • Your likelihood of clenching or grinding your teeth

If you wake up with pain or a headache or your TMD is aggravated, your sleeping position is likely contributing to the problem.

Proper sleeping position has an added benefit beyond TMD relief: it can improve your overall quality of sleep. Imagine waking up and feeling rested and refreshed, ready to take on the day. Indeed, the right sleep position will keep you from waking up during the night in discomfort. In short, you’ll sleep better and longer and give yourself the gift of deep, restorative sleep that is needed to help the body heal and rejuvenate.

The Best Sleeping Position for TMD Patients

Sleeping on your back is the best choice if you suffer from TMD or orofacial pain. Lying on your back has a number of benefits:

  • It won’t put pressure on the jaw.
  • It will offer proper support to the head, neck and shoulders.
  • It provides the best alignment of the body keeping the spine, neck and head in a neutral position.
  • You will be less likely to clench your jaw or grind your teeth.

Lying on your stomach is typically the worst position for sleeping, followed closely by sleeping on one side with an arm under your head. In these positions, you risk throwing the back, neck, and jaw into unnatural and uncomfortable positions. These areas are closely linked to the jaw, so any misalignment or soreness can easily translate into aggravated TMD symptoms.

For people who have to sleep on their side, extra pillows can be used to your advantage. Pillows can be used to support areas of common strain, such as between the knees or under the arm or shoulder.

Back sleeping isn’t for everyone, however. If your jaw is prone to fall back due to gravity, this also can strain the joints and make TMD symptoms worse. These people may wish to consider a reclining bed with adjustable angles.

Getting in the Habit of Sleeping on Your Back

Sleeping on the back may not feel comfortable to some people, especially at first. But it can be done, and it’s well worth the effort for TMD relief.

Only 14 percent of people are natural back sleepers. But you can use the tips below to help yourself adjust to sleeping on your back. The results could mean better sleep, control of TMD symptoms, and better health overall.

  • Get the right kind of pillow– A small pillow placed under the arch of the spine and/or under the knees can make back sleeping more comfortable and therefore easier to get in the habit of doing nightly. You’ll also want to make sure you have a TMJ-friendly pillow for your head.
  • Get the right kind of mattress– A mattress that is adjustable so that the middle has more give will make it more difficult to sleep on your side or stomach. A mattress that conforms with the body can also make it more comfortable to sleep on your back. Before purchasing a mattress, try out different types in the store and consider one that has a good return policy if you decide it’s not for you.
  • Adjust your arms– Arms have a lot of flexibility for back sleeping. Lying with your arms at your side is best for your neck, but putting them over the abdomen is also comfortable for many people. Avoid having arms over the head, which can cause shoulder strain.


Good Sleep Hygiene is Key

If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you’re not alone. The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine estimates that 30 percent of the population has one or more symptoms of insomnia.

Besides finding the right sleep position that alleviates your TMD symptoms, there are some good sleep habits most people should adopt to improve their sleep quality and quantity each night. They include:

  • Be mindful of lights. Blue light from computers and smart phones can suppress sleep hormones, keeping you awake longer and disrupting sleep. Turn off computers, televisions, smart phones, and other devices two hours before bed if possible. Read a paper book or magazine to help you wind down instead.
  • Keep the room cool. Most experts suggest that 60 to 67 degrees fahrenheit is the ideal temperature for sleep. But, don’t point fans or air conditioners right at your face. This can leave your throat and nasal passages too dry, leading to inflammation and discomfort.
  • Kick caffeine to the curb. Coffee, tea, and chocolate in the afternoon or evening can still be in your system hours later, leaving you too alert to get your rest.

A special note for those who use a CPAP machine: we suggest TMD patients should wear their CPAP mask without the chin strap, while also wearing their TMD occlusal device. This is the best combination for a comfortable jaw and a night of quality sleep.


TMD Treatment Requires a Whole-Body Approach

Sleeping is just one factor in managing and improving TMJ pain. Patients in the Houston area can visit MedCenter TMJ for a complete diagnosis of TMJ pain and a comprehensive, customized treatment plan that gets to the underlying cause of the problem. Our staff can also provide additional advice on what you can do at night to get better sleep!


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