Alaska Sleep Education Center

TMJ disorders & Sleep: Everything You Need to Know

Posted by Ken Marshall

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on Oct 2, 2019 6:22:00 AM

The quality of your sleep will have a huge impact on your quality of life. A poor night’s sleep will leave you feeling drained and irritable the next day. You might be less productive at work or may suffer from strained personal relationships.

Many conditions can affect your ability to get a good night’s rest, including sleep apnea, insomnia, and temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. In this article, I’m going to outline how TMJ disorders can impact sleep and also what you can do about it. First, let’s take a look at what TMJ disorders are.

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So What is a TMJ Disorder?

A TMJ disorder occurs when the temporo-mandibular joint is damaged or functioning improperly. The temporo-mandibular joint connects your lower jaw, or mandible, to your upper jaw. It’s one of the most complex joints in your body, allowing for both lateral and vertical movement. If the joint is damaged, it can cause a whole host of problems and may affect your sleep.

TMJ disorders have also been linked to sleep apnea. However, keep in mind that correlation does not prove causation. While the two conditions often occur alongside one another, we’re still are not sure how they are linked.

Before jumping into how TMJ disorders can affect your sleep and whether this related to sleep apnea, let’s briefly review some common TMJ disorder symptoms that you should watch for.

Common TMJ Disorder Symptoms

Jaw pain is one of the most common TMJ disorder symptoms, but far from the only one. And in some cases, those suffering from this disorder may not experience jaw pain. Either way, there are many other common symptoms to watch for. Let’s look at some.

  • A popping or clicking sound when the jaw is moved
  • Difficulty closing or opening the jaw, including locked jaw
  • Tension headaches
  • Earaches or pain behind the eyes
  • Difficulty chewing

Pain caused by a TMJ often originates in or around the jaw and then spreads through the face, neck, and shoulders. Headaches, earaches, and pain behind the eyes may occur as the muscles connected to the temporomandibular joint tense up and malfunction. Another common TMJ disorder symptom is bruxism, or teeth grinding. This symptom, in particular, can impact your ability to sleep.

If you find yourself suffering from the above conditions, you may be experiencing a TMJ disorder. And if you’ve been having trouble getting a good night’s rest, problems with your TMJ could be the culprit. Let’s take a look at how TMJ disorders can affect your sleep.

Can a Jaw Problem Really Affect My Sleep?

Many different things can affect your sleep. Stressed at work? You might have trouble falling asleep. Got a headache? It can be difficult to doze through the pain. The same is true when it comes to jaw pain. You’ll have an easier time falling asleep if you’re not in pain. If your TMJ disorder is causing headaches, earaches, or pain behind the eyes, falling asleep could also be more difficult.

Healthy teeth patient at dentist office dental caries preventionIt’s also difficult to treat TMJ pain with over-the-counter pain medications. Sure, a few pills might dull the aches but unless the underlying condition that’s causing your disorder is addressed, the pain quickly come back. Even if you manage to fall asleep, the pain might wake you up once it returns. You could and tossing and turning, hoping for the pain to go away.

Then there’s bruxism. This condition is a common TMJ disorder symptom and can also interrupt your sleep. Bruxism occurs when your jaw muscles clench, exerting pressure on your teeth, jaw, and joints. You may end up grinding your teeth, exacerbating damage to the joints and your teeth. Loud teeth grinding could also make it more difficult for your loved ones to fall and stay asleep.

If your TMJ disorder is causing stress, anxiety, or making it difficult to eat, this could also affect your sleep. You may have trouble both falling asleep and staying asleep.

The Link Between TMJ Disorders and Sleep Apnea

Then there’s sleep apnea. This condition may be affecting 22 million or more Americans at any given time. Studies have found that obstructive sleep apnea and TMJ disorders are often , meaning that they occur alongside one another.

We’re still not positive why this is the case. However, misalignment with the jaw and other issues associated with TMJ disorders may make it more likely that the airways will collapse. And if airways are blocked or restricted, loud snoring and even temporary choking will likely set in.

Those who suffer from sleep apnea will suffer from reduced oxygen flow to the brain and will experience lower quality sleep. Patients suffering from this condition frequently report daytime tiredness, irritability, memory issues, and other problems. Loved ones may also struggle to catch a good night’s rest as well, disturbed by their partner’s snoring.

Sleep apnea may also stunt childhood development. If your child is suffering from this condition, it’s imperative that you talk to a specialist right away.

Getting a Restful Night’s Sleep

Both TMJ disorders and sleep apnea usually require separate, often concurrent treatment. However, if one condition is impacting the other, treating one condition could also improve the other. For example, if your TMJ disorder is causing airways to collapse, by treating the disorder you may be able to reduce sleep apnea.

That said, you’ll still often have to treat sleep apnea and TMJ disorders separately. A TMJ disorder can often be treated with bite orthotics, which can be used to properly align your jaw and reduce strain. Physical therapy, anti-inflammation medicines, and joint exercises can also help alleviate your disorder.

Treating sleep apnea through the use of a CPAP machine is common. This machine will ensure positive airflow, which will keep the airways open. Some patients find CPAP machines uncomfortable. Bite orthotics can also be an effective sleep apnea treatment, holding the tongue in place and encouraging airways to stay open.

Lifestyle changes may result in relief for both sleep apnea and TMJ disorders. If you are suffering from a TMJ disorder, for example, you should avoid eating hard foods. Both sleep apnea and TMD pain have been found to be associated with obesity. Losing weight and leading a healthier lifestyle may reduce risks for both conditions.

By treating these conditions you’ll improve your quality of sleep and thus your quality of life.

Make Sure You Take Your Sleep Seriously

Millions of people suffer from sleep disorders each year. Fortunately they are, in most cases, treatable. You might not think that tossing and turning throughout the night is a big deal. However, every chronic sleep disorder should be treated.

Both sleep apnea and TMJ disorders can have a big impact on your life. Beyond feeling tired, you may be less productive at work and irritability can strain professional and personal relationships. If you are suffering from sleep apnea, a TMJ disorder, insomnia, or any other condition that is affecting your sleep, you should talk to a specialist.

Alaska Sleep Clinic works closely with local Dentists in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Soldotna and Wasilla to help our patients treat their sleep apnea in the easiest way for them individually, whether it is with CPAP or an oral appliance.  This is one of the many reasons why Alaska Sleep Clinic is the BBB's 2018 Winner of the Torch Award for Ethics. To find out more and get your free sleep assessment, call Alaska Sleep Clinic today.

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About the Author: Ken Marshall is a huge fan of living the best life possible. His health is extremely important to him and he currently enjoys helping Restore TMJ & Sleep Therapy, a Houston based TMD and sleep apnea treatment centered dental practice, educate readers and patients about TMJ disorders, orofacial pain and sleep disordered breathing.

Topics: oral appliance, life with sleep apnea, tmj

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