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Sleeper Types: Clenchers

by BetterSleep
Jul 6 • 4 min read

Waking up with a sore jaw? Have you noticed pain in your face or jaw, especially when chewing? If so, you may be a clencher. Read on to learn more about jaw clenching and teeth grinding and what can be done about it.

Why Do I Clench My Jaw When I Sleep?

Everyone may clench their jaw or grind their teeth during sleep from time to time, especially if they’re experiencing a stressful period in their lives. But if you frequently clench your jaw or grind your teeth during sleep, experts call this bruxism.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, several factors can contribute to bruxism, including but not limited to:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Nervous tension (anger, pain, frustration, etc.)
  • An imbalance in brain neurotransmitters
  • Some medications (like the antidepressants paroxetine and fluoxetine)
  • Certain personality types (competitive or hurried)

Stress and anxiety may be to blame if you only clench from time to time. Some people also experience clenching when they consume too much caffeine close to bedtime.

Is teeth grinding harmful?

We covered why you might clench your jaw when you sleep, but how does this habit affect us? Is it harmful?

Teeth grinding can cause many problems. It could cause fractures, loosening, wearing down, and even teeth loss. It may also cause changes to how you look and your facial profile, and it may harm your ​​temporomandibular joints (TMJ), jaw, and neck muscles.

Damage to your TMJ usually happens with long-term grinding or jaw clenching. Some signs and symptoms of a TMJ disorder include:

  • Aching facial pain
  • Jaw pain or tenderness
  • Difficulty or pain when chewing
  • Pain in one or both of your TMJs
  • Aching pain in and around your ear
  • Difficulty opening and closing your mouth because of the locking of the joint

You may even have a grating sensation or a clicking sound when you open and close your mouth if you have a TMJ disorder. It’s best to consult with a healthcare professional if you have concerns and if you’re experiencing jaw pain and discomfort in that general area.

Who usually develops jaw clenching or grinding?

Bruxism is common in young children, and this habit usually goes away with age. However, other factors may increase the likelihood of someone developing this teeth-grinding/clenching habit.

Family history, a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, and medications and substances can all increase the chances of developing teeth grinding and excessive jaw clenching habits.

Those with certain personality types that fall under the more aggressive, hyperactive, and competitive side may also have a higher likelihood of experiencing this problem. As we mentioned earlier — stress, anger, anxiety, and frustration can also lead to teeth grinding.

People in more stressful situations in their professional or personal life may also have a higher chance of developing this habit.

We have little control over most of the factors we mentioned. However, you can work to alleviate stress, anger, and other emotions that may cause bruxism. And there are steps you can take to deal with disorders like sleep apnea.

How Can I Tell If I’m Grinding or Clenching My Teeth?

If you’re unsure whether you’re a clencher, there are a few ways to investigate the issue.

First, if you share a bedroom with someone else, you can ask them if they’ve heard you grinding your teeth during the night. If they haven’t heard anything, or if you don’t share a bedroom, consider these other signs of bruxism:

  • Your jaw muscles are sore when you wake up
  • You experience pain when you chew
  • You’ve noticed chips and cracks in your teeth
  • Your teeth have dulled
  • You’re getting frequent headaches or toothaches

Any of these signs could indicate that you’re a clencher. If you’re unsure, consult your physician or ask your dentist for their opinion.

How is it diagnosed?

When you have suspicions you may be grinding or clenching your teeth at night, the best way to get a diagnosis is by visiting your dentist. From there, your dentist will look at your jaw muscles, teeth, and TMJ for any signs of grinding or clenching.

Usually, bruxism can be diagnosed solely based on the physical symptoms and the exam. However, sometimes a sleep study called polysomnography is suggested. This study is done to diagnose sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea and more.

4 Tips To Stop Jaw Clenching or Grinding During Sleep

Here’s how you can reduce jaw clenching or teeth grinding:

  • Try a mouthguard: Wearing a mouthguard during sleep can help protect your teeth from grinding and clenching. It can also help with snoring if this is something else you deal with.
  • Try a new sleeping position: If you sleep on your back, try switching positions to sleep on your side. Use some pillows to stop yourself from rolling on your back.
  • Consult your physician: A doctor may refer you to someone who can help with behavioral changes, such as learning to rest your tongue, teeth, and lips. These changes can help you relax your teeth and jaw over time while you sleep. A doctor may also give a prescription for medication or change your current medication if deemed necessary for you.
  • Wind down before bed: Consider implementing a relaxing bedtime routine so you can go to bed fully relaxed. You can try meditation, gentle body exercises, breathing techniques, or soothing sounds to get you in the right mood for relaxation.

What else can you do to stop grinding your teeth?

Because bruxism and sleep grinding can be caused for various reasons, there are also many solutions and paths you can take to deal with this condition.

We know _stress _is one of the biggest factors that can contribute to the onset of teeth grinding and excessive jaw clenching. Managing stress and overall emotions can be a powerful way to counteract this habit.

We mentioned a few earlier when winding down before bed. But in general, you can cope with stress and other emotions that cause teeth grinding and clenching through:

  • Meditation
  • Journalling
  • Exercising
  • Socializing
  • Spending time with a hobby

Another way you may choose to deal with anxiety or stress is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This form of therapy is proven to help reduce stress and anxiety.

It’s also important to avoid certain habits that may increase the likelihood of teeth grinding and clenching.

Consuming alcohol may cause teeth grinding because it can interrupt sleep patterns and alter the neurotransmitters in your brain. This might trigger certain muscles to become hyperactive. Alcohol can cause dehydration which may also lead you to grind your teeth and create sore facial muscles.

Smoking is another habit worth avoiding. Higher levels of smoking create higher levels of nicotine in the bloodstream and dopamine release. This may be related to the onset of bruxism.

It’s also wise to be wary of your chewing and clenching habits during the day. You may reduce teeth grinding and teeth clenching by breaking habits such as chewing gum constantly and biting on pencils or other objects that may reinforce the behavior at night.

Do your best to avoid exercising those jaw muscles with certain daily habits to avoid taking part in it at night.

Closing Thoughts

Many factors can influence the onset of sleep clenching and grinding. When frequently done, this habit is known as bruxism. Bruxism can create health problems if not properly addressed and dealt with.

It’s important to be aware of the symptoms and signs that you may be clenching or grinding your teeth at night. Doing this will allow you to seek the immediate professional assistance needed to deal with the problem.

There are several options available for dealing with it. You can cope with anxiety, stress, and other emotions that cause bruxism through several methods, such as meditation, CBT, journaling, and more.

You may even find use in sleeping in a different position or wearing a mouth guard to bed to prevent teeth grinding and clenching altogether. Or, you might notice that you chew objects or gum often throughout the day, and by slowing down and stopping these habits, you may break your teeth, grinding and clenching at night.

Overall, this situation is fixable, and if you take the proper steps and precautions, you can begin to deal with it healthily. If you’re concerned that you may be grinding or clenching your teeth, we recommend visiting a professional who can give you a proper diagnosis so you can begin getting the treatment and taking the preventative measures you can.

If you need help relaxing before bed, look no further than the BetterSleep App, where you’ll find plenty of meditations, soothing sounds, bedtime stories, and much more. Try it for free tonight!

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