Do you sometimes wake up with a swollen or sore tongue? Do you have an unexplained tongue ulcer, or bleeding tongue? If so, you may be biting your tongue while sleeping.
Waking up in the middle of the night having bitten your tongue is frustrating, and can be really painful. Although nighttime tongue biting is actually pretty common, if you carry on doing it regularly then it can lead to some nasty problems such as tongue ulcers and even a ‘scalloped’ tongue where the tongue eventually doesn’t grow back on the bitten edges.
To stop biting your tongue while sleeping you should make sure you are fully relaxed and not stressed before bedtime. Relaxation techniques and meditation may help if you think your tongue biting is due to anxiety. A mouth guard at night will also prevent any involuntary tongue biting and will also stop your teeth grinding. Read on to find out exactly why you bite your tongue while you sleep and what you can do about it.
If you already have a bleeding tongue, it is best to see a doctor immediately.
Tongue-biting in sleep happens to more people than you might think.
Most people bite their tongue occasionally in their sleep, and it is usually nothing to worry about beyond having a sore tongue for a few days. However, if you do find that you are biting your tongue regularly, around once or twice every week, then you should seek medical advice as your tongue biting may be the result of an underlying condition such as epilepsy.
Why do I bite my tongue when I sleep?
There are a few reasons why you might bite your tongue while you sleep.
Stress is the most common reason for tongue biting at night. If you are feeling stressed or anxious then you are more likely to bite your tongue in your sleep as you will have tension in your muscles – including your jaw muscles.
Stress can be caused by a number of things, from work to family life. Whatever the cause is on a particular day, remember that it is only temporary and there are always ways you can deal with stress effectively. Although we may not think we feel stressed, it can have an impact on our body in ways we are not aware of.
Facial muscle spasms
You know how you sometimes jerk yourself awake in the night with a musle twitch? Well, the same thing can happen with the muscles in your face. If your jaw muscles twitch when your tongue is positioned near your teeth, you may catch your tongue and accidentally bite it. This can happen more often if you have a large tongue (we aren’t all built alike you know!). Occassional facial muscle spasms at night are nothing to worry about, and you only need to seek medical attention if you experience this repeatedly.
Your dentist may diagnose you as having a misaligned bite, which is one of the common causes of tongue biting. Hereditary chin conditions, jaw injury, and imperfections in the way our adult teeth have come through can all cause misaligned teeth. There are many treatment options for misaligned teeth, which you can find out atbout at your local dental office.
Grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw at night is known as bruxism [article link]. If you find yourself waking up with a stiff jaw, or if your dentist notices wearing or cracking of your rear teeth, then you may be experiencing bruxism.
Although sleep bruxism is mainly associated with teeth grinding, it can also cause tongue biting as you are clenching your jaw in your sleep and may catch your tongue between your teeth.
Bruxism is often associated with stress, so reducing stress should also prevent tongue biting if bruxism is the cause.
If you are a heavy drinker then alcohol may be the cause of your tongue biting. Alcohol relaxes the muscles in your body, including the muscles in your jaw and mouth. This can lead to more tongue biting as your tongue will fall further back into your mouth and may come into contact with your teeth.
Sleep apnea is a condition where you stop breathing for short periods during sleep. This can happen multiple times during the night and can lead to a number of health problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
Sleep apnea is related to tongue biting as many of the underlying problems that cause sleep apnea can also result in tongue biting, such as reduced muscle tone in the jaw, tongue and neck. Alternatively, the jaw may tense as a side effect of sleep apnea when the body is not getting enough oxygen, and may catch the tongue in the process.
The symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, gasping for air while sleeping and choking in your sleep.
If you think you may have sleep apnea, it is important to see your doctor for a diagnosis. Sleep apnea can be treated with a number of different methods, so it is important to get it diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
Non-epileptic nocturnal seizures
Rarely, non-epileptic nocturnal seizures called ‘facio-mandibular myoclonus’ can cause tongue biting at night. [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21393099/]
These seizures are normally seen in children rather than adults. If you think you or your child are suffering from seizures at night then you should get medical treatment to ensure that you aren’t at risk from any medical conditions.
People with epilepsy frequently experience night seizures which can be part of their overall condition. These seizures can cause tongue injuries such as bleeding, redness and general tongue pain. If you are experiencing epileptic seizures at night then you should seek treatment as soon as possible.
Sleep rhythmic movement disorder
Sleep rhythmic movement disorder (SRMD) is a movement disorder that can cause you to jerk awake during sleep. SRMD is characterised by movements such as kicking, head banging, rocking or waving the arms and legs.
Normally, this disorder is experienced in childhood and is grown out of in adulthood. In the meantime, the rapid movements can lead to nighttime tongue biting.
The use of recreational drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and amphetamines can lead to tongue biting. The drug use can cause you to grind your teeth and clench your jaw, which may lead to inadvertent tongue biting.
If you are using drugs and find that you are also experiencing tongue biting, then it is important to seek help and stop using drugs.
Lyme disease is a condition of the central nervous system which causes a range of symptoms including altering reflexes, which can make sufferers accidentally bite their tongue.
Other symptoms of lyme disease include numbness, headaches, joint pain, fatigue, and slurred speach.
Prescription medicine side effects
Some prescription medications can cause you to grind your teeth and clench your jaw at night, which may lead to tongue biting. If you are taking prescription medications and are also experiencing tongue biting, then speak to your doctor about possible alternatives.
How to tell if you have been biting your tongue while sleeping?
If you wake up and notice any of the following then you may have been biting your tongue while sleeping:
- swollen or sore tongue
- unexplained tongue ulcer
- bleeding tongue
- tongue scalloping
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, then it is likely that you have been biting your tongue while sleeping. If the symptoms persist for more than a few days, then you should visit your dentist or doctor for further examination.
How do I stop biting my tongue during sleep?
Reduce stress and anxiety
As stress is one of the main causes of bigitng your tongue at night, adopting relaxation techniques before bed time can help to relax your whole body, promote sleep, and help you to stop biting your tongue.
You can practice relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing. Alternatively, something as simple as reading a good book or taking a hot bath can help you relax before bed and reduce tongue biting during sleep.
Change sleep position
You may need to change your sleeping habits in order to stop tongue biting at night. For example, you may find that sleeping on your side or neck reduces your risk of misalignments and consequent tongue injuries.
Also, avoid sleeping with your mouth open as this makes it easier for your teeth to come into contact with your tongue.
As always, make sure to speak to a professional before making any drastic changes to your sleeping habits.
Seek treatment for misaligned teeth
There are many treatment options for misaligned teeth, which you can find out about at your local dentist.
You should also check your health insurance policy to see whether you are able to claim compensation for any damage that has been done by tongue biting, as it is often possible to get reimbursed for your medical bills.
Antihistamines can help stop tongue biting
Take an over-the-counter antihistamine to reduce your oral secretions during sleep.
Don’t drink alcohol
Avoid alcohol before bed; it can make you more vulnerable to biting your tongue while sleeping due to its effect on the production of saliva.
As a last resort, you could consider buying a mouth guard to wear during sleep. This should be fitted by your dentist and will protect your tongue from accidental bites as well as protecting your teeth from further damage.
Moldable mouth guards can also be bought relatively cheaply, and can work pretty well without having to get a specially fitted one made at a dental lab. It may be worth buying one of these generic mouth guards to try first, before investing in a custom one.
How do I treat a sore tongue?
If you have bitten your tongue and it is now sore, check in a mirror to see if it is simply red and/or swollen or whether you can see any blood or marks on your tongue.
If you have an ulcer or swollen tongue then you can use a salty water solution to gargle with and prevent any infection. Your tongue should heal within a few days.
If you can see scalloped edges on your tongue or you have caused your tongue to bleed, take a trip to your dentist or local healthcare provider to get more advice.
Conclusion: How to stop biting your tongue while sleeping
If you are frequently waking up with a sore tongue, you may be biting it in your sleep.
The most common cause of tongue biting at night is stress. Try to relax before bedtime, by practising relaxation techniques such as gentle yoga or meditation. Or, try reading a book or taking a hot bath before bed.
If you think your tongue biting might be related to a medical condition, or if you experience seviere tongue pain, seek the advice of a medical professional immediately.