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Why Do I Bite My Tongue When I Sleep

by Kristin Beck
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Why Do I Bite My Tongue When I Sleep

Why Do I Bite My Tongue When I Sleep

“You wake up in the middle of the night with a splitting headache. You reach for your medicine bottle to take two aspirin, but as soon as you touch it, your hand freezes. Why? Because you’re awake! We’ve all been there — waking up not feeling well-rested at all. And if you don’t feel rested when you first wake up, chances are pretty good that by midmorning, you’ll be irritable and grumpy. The reason why is because we humans have evolved to become extremely efficient at sleeping, yet our brains have no idea what’s going on. Our bodies shut down production like an off switch and our brain waves slow from high frequency (beta) to low (delta), which makes us drowsy. So what happens when someone wakes up suddenly out of deep REM sleep? They may experience something called parasomnia, a catchall term for any disorder characterized by abnormal behavior while asleep. About one third of people who suffer from this category will develop symptoms such as twitching, jerking movements, vocalization, arm flailing, leg kicking, rocking back and forth, teeth clenching, lip biting, chewing and swallowing, snoring, limb thrusting, and even violent nightmares.
Parasomnias aren’t usually thought about much until they start occurring during sleep. This is where tooth grinding and clenching comes into play. Teeth grinding and clenching, also known as bruxism, occur when muscles in the jaw contract involuntarily without control from the part of the central nervous system that regulates them. These involuntary actions can damage teeth, gums, and bones and lead to headaches, painful jaw joints, muscle cramps, swollen salivary glands, and dry mouth.
People who grind their teeth at night while they sleep are said to have primary insomnia, which means that they have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the entire night. Primary insomniacs report waking up several times each hour due to discomfort. Secondary insomnia occurs when someone has trouble getting to sleep at bedtime but then does fall asleep eventually. People who only wake up once every few hours aren’t considered insomniacs; instead, they just need more time to wind down before they go to bed. A combination of both types of insomniacs are those who wake up frequently throughout the night. If you find yourself among these categories, read on to learn how to get some relief.
How To Get Relief From Your Insomnia

If you do decide to try treating your insomnia through medication, it should be done under your doctor’s supervision. Medicines used to treat insomnia include benzodiazepine sedatives such as Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, Librium, Halcion, Dalmane, Sonata, Seroquel, Restoril, Ambien, Lunesta, Rozerem and zolpidem (Ambien). Nonbenzodiazepine medications include melatonin receptor agonists such as Ramelsartam and agomelatine, alpha blockers, trazodone, buspirone, and antidepressants such as Prozac. Antihistamines can help treat allergy-related sleeplessness. Stimulants such as caffeine are helpful for insomniacs who suffer from anxiety disorders. Melatonin supplements may work best for chronic insomniacs who want to stay awake later than usual. If none of these tips works, talk to your health care provider, who may prescribe a prescription sleep aid.
If you’re wondering whether or not you actually are able to stop your teeth grinding and clenching, here’s a quick test: Go ahead and close your eyes right now. Now imagine someone tapping your cheek lightly. Keep imagining this tap until you begin to see images in your mind’s eye. Did you notice anything unusual about the tapping? Most likely, you imagined the tapping so vividly that you felt it. As you learned earlier, your brain shuts down production when it enters delta wave activity. That’s why dreaming is so vivid. In order to put the brakes on your nighttime antics, you must first train your brain to remain alert. Start by doing something that feels pleasant, but make sure it doesn’t involve exercise. For example, listening to music, reading, taking a warm bath, meditating, daydreaming, watching television, learning new things, spending time with family and friends, exercising, or having sex would all qualify. Once you’ve trained your brain to stay alert, you can slowly transition into enjoyable activities that require less mental energy, such as hobbies, relaxation techniques, watching TV shows, or even closing your eyes. After training your brain, avoid alcohol, nicotine, and other stimulant drugs, especially ones containing caffeine, as these substances increase the risk for insomnia.
As mentioned previously, bruxism isn’t limited to teeth grinding and clenching. Lip bites are another type of oral parafunctional activity that can happen while sleeping. Cheeks, lips, and tongues can also be damaged by excessive pressure or rubbing. Like clenching and grinding, lip biting can also result in severe pain and swelling. Painful episodes can last anywhere from minutes to days depending on the severity of the condition. Some sufferers may feel no pain whatsoever. If you suspect that you might be suffering from either clenching or lip biting, consult a dentist or medical professional immediately. Bruxism treatments can range from over-the-counter products, such as Tylenol PM and Excedrin Extra Strength, to special dental apparatuses that fit around the lower front of your upper jawbone and attach to your teeth.
Tooth grinding, clenching, and lip biting can cause serious problems for anyone, but they don’t have to prevent you from enjoying a restful night’s sleep. All you need to do is follow a few simple steps. First, keep your environment comfortable for sleep. Make sure your bedroom temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Second, set a regular bedtime. Don’t allow yourself to lie in bed too long after dinner. Instead, sit in a chair and relax for 10 minutes. Finally, stick to your scheduled bedtime. Avoid strenuous physical activity within four to six hours of bedtime and keep away from excess noise and light. Above all else, remember that this is supposed to be fun. Enjoy your sleep!”

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