Biting tongue in sleep?

by | sleep disorders, sleep wellness

“I’m biting my tongue in my sleep…,” it’s not something you can complain to a friend about and have a serious conversation.

Spoken out-loud, the problem seems trivial and good basis for jokes and puns.

But when you wake up to an irritated or even bloody mouth, it doesn’t feel like a joke.

Today, we look at it all – from potential causes to what you can do to stop it – including some specific product recommendations.

biting tongue in sleep
When does it become a problem?

Feelings aside, it can be a real problem. In immediate terms, it can interfere with your sleep cycles because, even if you don’t know about it, when you bite your tongue your brain receives a pain signal.

The effects on sleep quality can range from mild to long-term deprivation of deep sleep, which is an essential sleep phase. On the other hand, it can indicate an underlying cause.

Tongue-biting in sleep happens to more people than you might think

There are no precise stats, but the number of people suffering from common causes like teeth grinding or sleep apnea can be a good indicator.

Over 30% of people grind their teeth excessively during sleep and over 20 million suffer from sleep apnea, in the USA alone.

But, if you found your way here, chances are that you’re not like most of them. You are probably biting your tongue beyond the point where you damage it and it feels sore in the mornings. That’s the part of population we’ll be focusing on.

The truth is, this happens to pretty much every one of us while we’re awake. Remember how many times you accidentally bite your tongue or insides of your cheeks, while speaking or eating.

Is your tongue too big for your mouth?

It is true that it’s more common in some people than others, it comes down to the size of your tongue and how your jaw is “put together.” As we said, some people are not even aware of doing it, only realizing that something happened when they feel their sore tongue in the morning.

This disproportion will cause accidental biting to happen often and in other daily situations, for example: when you talk.

Having a “big tongue” problem is not as rare as you might think. You can’t do much about the actual size of your tongue, really, but there are some ways you can address the problem of biting your tongue while you sleep, and we are going to discuss them later on.

open mouth tongue proportion
How often does it happen when you’re awake?

It’s fair to say that if you belong to the later group (people who commonly bite their tongue when they’re awake) chances are that the same reasons are causing it when you’re sleeping.

However, sometimes this little night accidents may do a serious damage, and in some cases be a sign of distinct health conditions.

Potential causes of biting tongue in sleep

If it happens once every few months, chances are it’s accidents and can be attributed to you being a restless sleeper or “living up” your dreams more vividly. We toss and turn while sleeping; our arms and legs sometimes end up in uncomfortable positions, so the same thing can happen to the inside of our mouth. We sometimes grind our teeth, or bite our tongue.

Braces or mis-aligned teeth

If you have misaligned teeth or wear braces, this can easily be the reason why it happens. Elastics used on braces to set your jaw position can be especially uncomfortable.

Unconsciously, while sleeping, you can try to find a better position for your jaw and bite your tongue in the process.

braces teeth on girl

Disorders and health conditions that may be causing it

  • Stress can cause all sorts of sleeping disturbances, among them teeth grinding, which can occur and lead to tongue biting. Stress can be caused by hormones, tight schedule at your work place or school, or any other problem bothering you. We often exclude it right away, but it can really be the number one cause. Whatever is the reason behind it, try to relax, and if you can’t do it by yourself, talk to your doctor about treatment that can help you. Once you sort out the cause of the stress and get it under control, you will stop biting your tongue during sleep.
  • Teeth grinding is a common disorder that is closely tied to the problem. Since it imitates chewing, you get how possible it is to hurt your tongue during these jaw movements while having no control in your sleep. In difference to occasionally grinding your teeth, if you have a disorder, it will need to be treated more serious. Teeth grinding or bruxism is usually a symptom of anxiety and stress, which can be treated with therapy and drugs. you can read more about it on WebMD here.
  • Nocturnal or night seizure is basically a state when person makes uncontrollable jerking movements of limbs without conscious consent, while sleeping. All seizures are caused involuntarily, and can include stiffening of the muscles and losing control of bladder or bowels. Some seizures might manifest in calmer ways, without any movements, therefore be harder to notice. The traces of tongue biting might be noticed on the side of the tongue. A person may not have seizures during the day, so diagnose can only be done by doctors through the observation of brainwaves. To treat this condition, medication is prescribed. When taken, medication will stop the seizures and tongue biting.
  • Rhythmic movement disorder – in this case, all the movements are usually restricted to the head and neck area. It includes sudden repeated shakes and banging of the head, while unconscious, and as a result can have severe injuries, including ones caused by strong bites. This can happen before or in the middle of sleep, and one seizure can last few minutes. It affects children the most, and although there is medical treatment, they usually stop completely as child gets older. You can read more about it here.
  • Sleep apnea is, as you’re probably aware, a condition that causes problems with breathing during sleep, including shallow breaths and long pauses between each breath. With that happening, a tongue tends to relax, so it can slip between the teeth, which can lead to injuries. Each episode of sleep apnea (and there can be many of them during the night) can bring new tongue injury, leaving you with bloody traces in the morning. There are effective treatments for this condition.
  • Lyme disease affects the nervous system and the brain itself, and with those two inflicted and not working properly, muscles receive wrong signals and they start to move involuntarily and unpredictably.

Other causes

  • If you have dentures and the fitting is not right, this can also be a cause behind the problem. If that’s the case, you will need to visit your dentist to make proper adjustments.
  • Taking psychoactive substances, often leads to people grinding their teeth, biting their tongues and inner cheeks. With their increased energy and changed state of perception, they can do this even for pleasure, since the receptors for pain are influenced by drug and are not working properly. This can cause to serious injuries.
  • Some antidepressants and other medication can cause night seizures and movements that may cause a problem. When the medication is changed, this usually stops.

Damages you may suffer from biting tongue in sleep

In most cases, the damage comes down to pain. However, complications are a real danger because the injury is in our mouth, which is full of bacteria.

If you think the situation is serious, you should immediately visit a doctor.

If it happens often, or you did it once, but with a lot of strength, you will probably notice some nasty results from it. Soreness and bleeding are most common, but there is also possibility of developing ulcers, that can take days to heal.

Morsication lingarum is a condition that affects borders of the tongue, when it’s being physically injured by chronic biting. In this case the sides of tongue are irritated and painful, and it needs to be treated.

“Biting my tongue in my sleep”

How to talk to your physician

As we said, it can be nothing but like with all problems that might seem trivial but persevere, you’ll want to talk to your doctor. In these situations people tend to try and “steer” the opinion of the doctor by either diminishing or exaggerating the problem.

The best practice here is to visit a doctor right after an episode so that they can see the damage and be very precise about how often it happens.

This can as simple as taking pictures after each episode. This will give them useful insight into how often it happens and the extent of the damage it causes – it’s the frequency and the severity that tell the full story.

How to fix the damage?

There are ways to treat the injury or relieve the pain before going to the doctor’s.

Applying ice cubs or anything cold on your tongue will help with soreness and numb the pain. You would also want to rinse your mouth with salty water to clean the wound and protect from infection. Repeat the process few times or until you feel better.

Rest of the day avoid eating spicy and hot food, and restrain yourself from meals that require much chewing.

Can you prevent tongue biting?

We said that it can be caused by some disorders and illnesses, in which case the conclusion is that the cure for the tongue biting is the treatment for the initial cause/health issue.

Whatever is the reason behind the issue, you’re probably wonder if there’s something that can actually protect your tongue from being damaged?

The answer is yes

There are several types of mouth guards or night guards. Boil and bite guards, that you need to boil in water before using to soften the plastic they’re made from, and partially custom fit them to your mouth. They can be found in some stores.

tongue guard biting prevention

Back to you

We hope that reading this guide helped you find useful advice and clarity on the matter.

If you are biting your tongue in sleep, or have any experience related to this issue, please do share with us and comment in the section below.

Sleep tight and don’t bite,

The Sleep Studies team