How to Sleep with TMJ (Best Sleeping Positions and Remedies)

What’s worse than having aching joint pain, such as TMJ? Trying to actually get to sleep with that joint pain! TMJ, for those who are unaware, stands for temporomandibular joint syndrome. TMJ is a pain in the jaw joint that can be caused by a variety of issues. This joint connects the lower jaw to the skull in front of the ear and is responsible for certain facial muscles that control chewing, according to emedicinehealth.com. Problems with TMJ can lead to head and neck pain, as well as facial pain, ear pain, headaches, and a jaw that is locked in position. You may also have difficulties with biting, jaw clicking and popping sounds when you bite.

The condition can be caused by teeth grinding, clenching continually, and even age-related arthritis. However, the likelihood is that you already know all of this if you’re trying to find a way to sleep with this pain. So, if you do find yourself sleepless thanks to TMJ, there’s no need to fret, as we have a handy guide to get you through the night. Some of our helpful tips include: 

  • Getting specialized pillows
  • Avoid clenching your jaw or chewing gum
  • Eating softer foods
  • Changing your sleep position

Once you’ve finished this article, you should be armed with everything you need to finally get some rest, no matter what havoc TMJ may try to wreak. 

The Best (And Worst) Sleeping Positions

Sleep matters greatly when you’re suffering from any aches or pains. Depending on how you sleep, you could either be healing it or causing it to get worst. Obviously, you don’t want the latter, as this can cause even more tension and pain the next day. Any added pressure on the head, jaw, neck, or shoulders is to be avoided at all costs. Luckily, we have a list of the best sleeping positions to help you tackle your pain and finally get some rest. Although it may be hard to change the way you sleep after getting into a particular habit, we recommend you try your best to get yourself into a new routine.

On Your Back

Sleeping on your back is probably one of the best options as it won’t put pressure on your neck or jaw, and it isn’t as hard to get into the habit of doing. This position is also best for keeping the alignment of your spine, neck, and, head comfortable and without any strain. If this position doesn’t come naturally to you, stay persistent with it and try to train your body to fall asleep in that position without frustratingly turning to a position you prefer that could be damaging to your jaw. 

On Your Side

This is where we get to the sleeping positions that you should try to stay away from. First up is laying on your side – a position that can prove damaging to your jaw in the long run. This isn’t to mention how it can irritate and worsen the pain you feel with TMJ, meaning you are more than likely to wake up with pain the next morning. If you lay on your side, probably with a hand under your pillow, try laying on your back, keeping your hand under the pillow behind your head. This might still give you the same comforting feeling as laying on your side, without the aching side effects. 

On Your Stomach

This is another no-go when it comes to sleeping with TMJ. In fact, its arguably one of the worst positions you can adopt when you’re suffering from the joint pain. This way of sleeping applies more pressure to your face and jaw than normal, as well as giving your neck and spine a great lack of support. This position isn’t really recommended for anyone as it can cause further aches and pains in the long run, even if you weren’t suffering with them in the first place. 

The Best Remedies For Pain Relief

Of course, changing your sleeping position will only do so much to help your situation. You might need some extra help in easing the pain before bed to stop yourself from laying awake distracted by the ache all night. Here are some remedies, both natural and pharmaceutical, to try for yourself:

Use An Ice Pack

Part of TMJ is the agonizing swelling and inflammation which can be a huge obstacle to get over when you’re trying to sleep. One trick you can use to ease this is using an ice pack on the inflamed area for approximately 10-15 minutes. Ice packs can also numb the area and promote healing, just be sure not to place the pack directly on your skin. You should keep the ice pack wrapped in a clean towel or cloth while using it. 

Try Jaw Exercises

It may sound painful to move your jaw when suffering from TMJ, but slow and gentle jaw exercises may help increase your joint’s mobility and healing. Surprisingly, a study found therapeutic jaw exercises bring recovery of jaw function quicker compared to using splints. Speak with your doctor about seeking a physical therapist who can evaluate your condition and help by giving you appropriate exercises based on the severity of your needs. 

Apply Moist Heat

TMJ can make your jaw feel tight and tired, so relaxing it with moist heat can really help improve its condition. Grab a warm, damp towel and place it on the area which feels sore to help reduce pain and improve movement in your jaw. You can also take a warm bath and gently submerge your chin and jaw into the water and allow the muscles to relax, or you can gently apply a heating pad. All you need to remember is to remain extra careful to avoid burning yourself while using heat.

Take Anti-Inflammatories

Although this isn’t a natural remedy or method, it can prove very effective and worth trying alongside other tips. Short-term use of over-the-counter pain medicines or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, can provide relief from jaw discomfort caused by TMJ. Also, you can speak to your dentist or doctor who may prescribe stronger pain or anti-inflammatory medications depending on your condition.

Eat Softer Foods

Just like a teenager with braces for the first time, you may want to try eating a softer diet to rest your jaw temporarily. Try to avoid the following foods:

  • Popcorn
  • Hard taco shells
  • Nuts
  • Hard candy
  • Corn chips
  • Chewy meat
  • Pretzels

Instead, try blended or soft foods, such as:

  • Dairy, such as soft cheese, pudding, milk-based or oat drinks, yogurts, cottage cheese, and eggs.
  • Sweeter treats such as banana bread and muffins.
  • Grains, such as pasta and soft cooked rice.
  • Bread, soft tortillas, and pancakes.
  • Seafood, such as cod, or sushi.
  • Vegetables, including mashed potatoes, steamed veggies, and baked beans.

Practice Relaxing Techniques

Part of why TMJ can keep you awake is because of how distracting the pain can be. Now, we don’t want you to think that relaxation and deep breathing can take away the pain entirely, but it can definitely help you feel more relaxed and ready to get some rest. Some techniques you can try include slow breathing, which dulls pain sensations and enhances relaxation. According to sciencedaily.com, research performed at St. Joseph’s Hospital has shown that controlled breathing at a slowed rate can significantly reduce feelings of pain, making it much easier to finally fall asleep. Try this method of slow, deep breathing to help relax your pain as you drift off to sleep:

  1. First, take a normal breath. 
  2. Immediately after, take a deep breath. To do so, breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. 
  3. Let your abdomen expand fully.
  4. Finally, breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural).

Get The Right Pillows And Mattress

If you find that your pillows and mattresses aren’t serving you well when it comes to sleeping with TMJ, it might be time for a change. There are specialized pillows you can purchase, for example, the Accutrig TMJ Relief Pillow Best Neck and Shoulder Muscle Relaxer Traction. This particular product, and others just like it, can be found on Amazon. They are great at giving you pain relief and realigning your joints as well as helping you stay laying on your back, as it would be pretty hard to move to another sleeping position while your head rests on these securing pillows. 

Your mattress could also be making your TMJ worse by not allowing you to fully extend and align your body in the best way to ease your pain. This might lead you to consider buying a new mattress. If so, we suggest looking at especially soft mattresses, such as ones made from memory foam, or even a waterbed. Try testing out these mattresses before you purchase to see how they compare to your current one, as you may find a simple swap could make a huge difference. 

Hopefully, the advice above can help ease your pain and send you into a sweet slumber!