For many people, the morning begins by awakening to a wet pillow, followed by the realization and embarrassment of having gone through yet another night drooling in their sleep.
In many cases, drooling in your sleep isn’t cause for concern and can be resolved. This article will provide helpful information to combat nighttime drooling and improve your sleep hygiene, increasing your chances of waking up to a dry pillow.
Is drooling in your sleep bad?
Drooling in your sleep isn’t necessarily bad. Remember: Your body produces saliva 24/7, even during sleep. This lubricates your mouth and throat, allowing for good digestion and overall good health.
But excessive salivation during sleep can be unpleasant and embarrassing for many people. Besides a wet pillow, excessive drooling during sleep can lead to dehydration, bad breath, chapped lips, and dry skin around your lips.
Nighttime drooling doesn’t necessarily mean you have an underlying health condition—but if sudden and frequent drooling accompanies choking or gasping for air, it may be time to speak to your doctor, says Nicole Eichelberger, a Board of Behavioral Sleep Medicine-certified sleep expert.
Why do we drool in our sleep?
Drooling during sleep can be caused by various reasons, such as producing too much saliva, open mouth breathing, or difficulty swallowing.
Individuals with neurological disorders may experience drooling as a side effect of their condition. For elderly adults, drooling can be a sign of a neurological disorder or a side effect of a specific type of medication.
Here are a few of the most common causes of nighttime drooling:
How you sleep can affect whether or not you drool at night. “When you sleep on your side or stomach, gravity can cause saliva to pool in your mouth and leak out, leading to drooling,” says Eichelberger.
Allergies or infections
Allergies and infections can be more than an occasional annoyance. Seasonal allergies, a cold, a sore throat, nasal congestion, sinus infections, and a stuffy nose can all cause drooling in your sleep. These conditions can inflame sinus passages and block airways, making breathing through the nose more difficult, which could lead to excessive saliva production during sleep.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), or acid reflux, occurs when stomach acid frequently travels back into the esophagus. Some people with this condition may produce excessive saliva, leading to drooling during sleep. If you’re battling nighttime drooling and acid reflux, avoid eating large meals too close to bedtime, eat a fiber-rich diet, and consult a healthcare provider if symptoms interrupt sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can impair your ability to breathe well during sleep. This condition forces you to breathe through your mouth, which can increase the odds of drooling during sleep. People with sleep apnea may also grind their teeth, which also increases the likelihood of drooling during sleep. If you suspect you suffer from sleep apnea, it’s important to see your healthcare provider for ways to treat this condition.
Bruxism, or teeth grinding, can cause drooling during sleep. It affects 10% of people and can be triggered by stress and anxiety. Sleep apnea, certain antidepressants, and alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco use can also cause bruxism. Wearing a mandibular device at night can prevent the tongue and teeth from excessive movement, which reduces both grinding and drooling episodes.
Medication side effects
Certain medications, such as SSRIs, a type of antidepressant, can make you more likely to drool at night. Other medications that can cause excessive saliva production are antipsychotic drugs like clozapine, used to treat dementia and Alzheimer’s, and some antibiotics.
Other medical conditions
Certain medical conditions can affect the neurological system and increase saliva production. Conditions like Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, and stroke are just a few that can increase the risk of drooling during the night.
For elderly adults, drooling can be caused by neurological conditions, such as a stroke or a side effect of a certain type of medication.
Other medical conditions that contribute to difficulty swallowing and excessive drooling are:
- Bell’s Palsy
- Huntington’s disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Traumatic brain injury
How to stop drooling in your sleep
Drooling during sleep can be an annoying and uncomfortable experience that disrupts a good night’s rest. But these tips can help improve your sleep hygiene and reduce the chances of waking up with wet pillows.
Change your sleep position
Sleeping on your back is the best way to reduce the chances of drooling during sleep. This sleeping position makes it easier to swallow excess saliva that would otherwise escape your mouth. If you’re a stomach or side sleeper, you may have to train yourself to sleep on your back.
Also, you may want to try sleeping on a wedge pillow. This will slightly elevate your head, allowing gravity to force excess saliva down toward your throat.
Staying hydrated during the day can help reduce the amount of saliva in your mouth at night, says Eichelberger. Aim for at least two liters of pure, filtered water each day. It’s also a good idea to stop drinking water and other fluids at least two hours before bed to reduce the chances of waking to urinate during the night.
Treat your allergies
Since allergies can affect your sinuses and impact your ability to breathe through your nose, try taking an allergy treatment that can open up your sinuses. This can help you breathe through your nose, which may ultimately reduce drooling. If over-the-counter options don’t work, consult your healthcare provider about prescription treatment options.
Try speech therapy
Speech therapy can reduce nighttime drooling by strengthening your jaw muscles, allowing for improved lip closure, tongue movement, and swallowing ability. A speech therapist can also work with you to improve posture and proper trunk and head control, which can also help reduce excessive drooling.
Botulinum toxin injections
There are various medical treatments that you can use to reduce or eliminate the risk of drooling during sleep. According to a study published in the British Journal of Medical Practitioners, the popular anti-aging treatment, botulinum toxin, is an effective treatment option for excessive drooling in adults. The treatment reduces salivary gland function and must be repeated twice annually for continuous results.
Surgery is the most invasive option to control excessive drooling. This option might involve removing the salivary glands. Individuals with excessive salivation may consider surgery a last resort if other treatment options aren’t effective.
What is drooling in your sleep a symptom of?
It’s important to note that drooling in your sleep isn’t necessarily a symptom of an underlying health condition. Salivary glands work around the clock to produce saliva to keep the mouth and throat free from acids and germs. However, if you find your drooling to be excessive, it could be a sign of sleep apnea, teeth grinding, allergies, or another condition.
How do I stop drooling when I sleep?
The good news is that many effective treatment options exist. Perhaps the first step is to change sleeping positions. Stomach and side sleepers are more likely to drool during the night than back sleepers. The downside is that sleeping position is a habit that’s been formed over a lifetime and can be very hard to change.
An alternative to changing your sleep position is to try different types of pillows that slightly elevate your head while supporting your neck. This will allow gravity to do its job and saliva to travel down your throat instead of pooling in your mouth.
Another treatment option includes using a mouth guard to keep your teeth and tongue in place during the night while eliminating teeth grinding, another cause of drooling during sleep. Medication, speech therapy, and even botulinum toxin injections are viable treatment options that can reduce excessive adult drooling.
The bottom line: Drooling during sleep can impair your body’s ability to rest and recuperate. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to take control of your drooling situation and get back to restful sleeping!
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