Tips to Sleep with TMJ & be Comfortable! 🛌 |

Sleep is quite often a seemingly-routine part of our days, and we rarely give much thought to it. However, everything about sleep changes when one begins to experience sleep disorders and deprivation. The top condition that causes such difficulties is Temporomandibular joint syndrome, commonly referred to by its abbreviation, TMJ. Sleeping in the right position then becomes essential, not only for a good night’s sleep but also to prevent worsening the condition. Below we will discuss what TMJ is, its causes, how to sleep with it and possible treatments.

What is TMJ?

TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome, [1] a disorder affecting the jaw’s muscles and nerves, leading to an inflammation on the temporomandibular joint. The latter is the joint that forms the connections between a person’s skull and their lower jaw (mandible). The joint is located on both sides of one’s head, right in front of their ears, and allows one to eat and speak by facilitating the opening and closing movements.
With the onset of TMJ, the joint becomes inflamed, resulting in crackling, clicking, or popping sounds. Depending on the condition’s severity, one may also experience headaches, nerve inflammation, facial swelling, and bruxism, the involuntary grinding of teeth. The severity of this condition can vary greatly from one person to another, with some requiring more medical attention than others.

Causes of TMJ

The exact cause of the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome is somewhat difficult to determine and may be caused by a combination of factors. A jaw injury, arthritis, and genetics are said to be some of the most prominent causative factors. It is worth mentioning that some people with TMJ tend to have bruxism but not all who have bruxism develop TMJ. Additionally, trauma to the temporomandibular joint is also said to play a role in the syndrome’s development.

Here are the factors said to contribute to the onset of TMJ.

  • Arthritis
  • Birth-related structural jaw joint problems
  • Erosion of the temporomandibular joint
  • Exposure to stressful environments
  • Habitual clenching or grinding of the teeth
  • Inadequate sleep
  • Lack of a balanced diet
  • Postures that strain neck and face muscles
  • The use of orthodontic braces

What are the symptoms of TMJ?

People with TMJ may manifest different symptoms [2] depending on the severity of the condition. That said, the most common symptom is jawbone pain and inflammation of surrounding muscles. Here is a look at other symptoms.

  • Difficulties opening the mouth wide
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Facial swelling, particularly on the sides
  • Feeling as if there is a misfit between the upper and lower teeth
  • Feeling fatigued on the facial muscles
  • Grating or clicking sounds when chewing, opening, or closing the mouth
  • Involuntary teeth grinding
  • Jawbones getting ‘locked’ or ‘stuck’ in the closed or open positions
  • Tenderness and pain around the ears, shoulders, neck, and face that worsens when you chew, speak, or open your jaws wide.

Sleeping Positions and TMJ

Choosing the correct sleeping position is crucial for anyone with TMJ, regardless of its severity. The condition can easily affect the neck, an essential part of maintaining spinal alignment. When you sleep, you can easily lose control of muscular functions related to teeth clenching and grinding, as well as other orofacial muscles. The wrong sleeping position can worsen the condition, leading to more problems.

How to Choose the Right Sleeping Position for TMJ

Before settling for any particular position, you must consider the following factors.

  • The force exerted on the neck, jaw, and head
  • The stress and strain exerted on the shoulder, neck, and facial muscles
  • The support provided to the head and neck

Sleeping on Your Back is the Ideal Sleeping Position for TMJ

For people with TMJ, sleeping on the back is the best position. This is due to the various benefits of reduced strain and pressure on the orofacial and neck muscles. Here is a breakdown of these benefits.

  • One is less likely to clench and grind their teeth while lying on the back.
  • Sleeping on your back ensures there is no pressure on the jawbone.
  • The head, spine, and neck are in a neutral position and in good alignment.
  • The shoulders, neck, and head are sufficiently supported when lying on your back.

It is worth noting that sleeping on your stomach is the worst sleeping position if you have TMJ symptoms. This is because the position knocks your neck, spine, and head out of alignment, effectively worsening the TMJ syndrome.

Quick Sleep Tips

Here are some quick sleep tips for people with TMJ.

Normalize Sleeping on Your Back

Sleeping on your back is easier said than done. Statistics show [3] that only about 14% of the entire population is made up of back sleepers. For most people, this sleeping position is not exactly comfortable. If you are used to sleeping on your side or stomach, it might take a while to normalize sleeping on your back. However, keep in mind that you must figure out how to adjust your sleeping position if you are to avoid worsening the TMJ condition.

Get the Right TMJ Pillows

There are numerous cervical and support pillows designed to provide support to the neck, head, and back for people with TMJ. Depending on your condition’s severity, you might need more than one pillow placed at different parts of the bed. These pillows are meant to correct and maintain spinal alignment by adjusting your back, head, and neck positions while you sleep.

Get the Right TMJ Mattress

The right mattress for a person with TMJ should be relatively adjustable, with some adjustment level on the middle. This makes it difficult to sleep on one’s stomach. Additionally, choose a mattress with high-quality foam that conforms to your body shape. This foam makes it extremely easy to sleep on your back, the preferred position for someone with TMJ.

Learn How to Adjust Your Arms

By now, we have established that sleeping on your back is the best option if you have TMJ. However, this does not mean that your arms are limited to a single position. Adjust them until you find a perfectly comfortable position. Still, avoid putting your arms around your head while you sleep since this can result in unnecessary shoulder strain.

TMJ Treatments

At times, TMJ symptoms can go away without any medical attention. However, if the symptoms persist, Mayo Clinic suggests [4] several treatments which are classified into medications, non-drug therapies, and surgical procedures.


Anti-inflammatories and pain relievers: Your doctor might prescribe them, especially if over-the-counter painkillers are not working for you. Often, these stronger pain relievers are prescribed over a relatively short time.

Muscle relaxants: If you experience muscle spasms due to TMJ, your doctor might prescribe a muscle relaxant to provide relief from the resulting pain.

Tricyclic antidepressants: Amitriptyline is one of the most common tricyclic antidepressants. When administered in low doses, these medications can be used to treat sleeplessness, bruxism, and pain associated with TMJ.

Non-Drug Therapies

Counseling: Sufficient counseling and education can help you figure out the risk factors that exacerbate TMJ-related pain. Learning this then makes it easier to avoid the risk factors.

Mouthguards and oral splints: A person with TMJ can benefit immensely from wearing a firm, soft device over their teeth. However, research is still ongoing as to why such devices are beneficial.

Physical therapy: Your physiotherapist might take you through exercises designed to strengthen your jaw muscles. These exercises often involve the use of ice, heat, moisture, and ultrasound waves.

Surgical and Other Procedures

  • Arthrocentesis: This is a minimal invasion procedure that involves the insertion of small needles into the mandibular joint. A fluid is then pumped into the joint via the needles to flush out any debris that may be causing inflammation.
  • Corticosteroid injections: Injecting botulinum toxin into the inflamed jaw muscle can help relieve pain caused by TMJ.
  • Modified condylotomy: While most procedures focus on the joint itself, modified condylotomy focuses on the mandible. This procedure is particularly useful if the patient frequently experiences locked jaws and pain.
  • Open-joint surgery: If your TMJ seems to be caused by structural problems in the joint, your doctor can suggest an arthrotomy, open joint surgery, to replace or repair the joint. Often, this is only prescribed when other conservative TMJ treatments have failed.
  • TMJ arthroscopy: During arthroscopic surgery, a cannula is inserted into the mandibular joint space, followed by an arthroscope. Tiny surgical instruments are then used to carry out the required procedure on the joint. Generally, this procedure has fewer potential complications and risks compared to open-joint TMJ surgery.


Getting a good night’s sleep is often quite challenging for people with TMJ. However, it does not have to be so. By getting the right sleeping aids and adopting good practices, you can get the quality sleep your body needs. Additionally, one does not have to struggle under the effects of this condition since there are wide-ranging treatments available.


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