Quality sleep on a nightly basis is imperative for good health. Often, people think they can get a good night’s sleep by simply going to bed early or getting comfy pillows and a quality mattress. While having a good pre-bedtime routine and making the bedroom more conducive for sleeping helps, sometimes they might not be enough. Some sleeping problems are caused by an underlying condition. One example of that is temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, simply known as TMJ. Can TMJ cause sleep problems? If it does, what can you do about it?
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint refers to the joint that connects the jaw to the skull. Located near the front of the ears, it acts like a hinge that opens, closes, and allows side to side movement so you can speak, yawn, chew, and swallow food. Problems in the jaw that cause it to malfunction, such as the TMJ disorder, can be truly problematic as it can easily affect the daily functions of the jaw. In many cases, the problem can affect sleep quality.
The tricky thing about TMJ though is that its culprit can be quite complicated. It can be caused by a number of things, such as a misaligned bite, trauma to the jaw that led to injury, damage, missing or loose teeth, and nighttime mannerisms like bruxism or teeth grinding and jaw clenching. TMJ can also be caused by snoring, better known as sleep apnea, a sleep disorder where one wakes multiple times throughout the night from jolting caused by a disruption in the breathing pattern. Sleep apnea, in particular, robs you of the quality sleep you need to function through the day.
Symptoms of TMJ
TMJ disorder is pretty easy to notice. Here are some tell-tale symptoms of the condition:
- Pain, discomfort, soreness, and tenderness around the jaw joint
- Discomfort and pain that extends all the way to the ears, neck, shoulders, or even headache
- A clicking and popping sound from the jaw each time you open your mouth to eat, which may or may not come with pain
- Soreness of the face, especially around the jaw area
- Poor bite alignment that caused the shifting of the jaw joint
- Pain and swelling on the side of the face, especially near the jaw area
If you are experiencing these symptoms, especially if it affects your ability to speak and eat, then it is important that you seek help from your primary care physician or dentist as soon as possible. Both can provide proper diagnosis and discuss your treatment options.
Exactly how can TMJ cause sleep problems?
Sleep quality can be affected by a number of different things. Daytime stressors such as pressure from work can definitely affect your sleep. Pain, like a headache, can make it difficult to sleep. The same goes for pain in the jaw. Obviously, you will sleep better if you are not in pain. If the TMJ disorder causes pain, such as headaches, earache, or pain behind the eyes, you will have trouble falling asleep due to the discomfort.
Pain caused by TMJ is extremely difficult to treat. Sure, some over-the-counter pain relievers can dull the aches, however, unless you address the underlying condition, the pain will never go away. The medication may help you fall asleep, but as soon as its effect wears off, you will wake up and find yourself tossing and turning in your bed, hoping for the pain to go away. Before you know it, the sun is on the horizon.
Then there is a condition called bruxism, characterized by jaw clenching and teeth grinding. Often, this condition is associated with daytime stress, which is called daytime bruxism. However, at nighttime, it’s a common symptom for TMJ disorder, which can definitely impact your sleep. Bruxism happens when the muscles around the jaw exert too much pressure on the teeth, jaw, and joints. Subsequently, teeth grinding exacerbates damage to the teeth and jaw joint. The grinding of the teeth can also make it difficult for a partner to fall and stay asleep.
Signs that TMJ is Affecting Your Sleep
Waking up tired and feeling sluggish throughout the day is a tell-tale sign that the pain in your jaw is depriving you of a good night’s sleep. Other signs that TMJ affects sleep quality include:
- Tension headaches or migraines, especially in the morning
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Clicking or popping sound of the jaw
- Difficulty chewing
- Jaw pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain
- Earaches, or pain behind the eyes
How does TMJ cause sleep problems like sleep apnea?
There is also a link between TMJ disorder and sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common and widely spread sleep disorder.
Research suggests it affects more than 22 million Americans at any given time. Subsequently, more and more studies show the strong link between sleep apnea and TMJ disorder, suggesting they could occur alongside one another.
Sleep apnea is characterized by snoring and temporary choking, which happens when the airways are blocked or restricted due to misaligned bite, collapsed airways, etc. When this happens, the instinct of the body is to force the airway to open by pushing the lower jaw forward. This happens multiple times throughout the night, which puts continued stress and tension on the joint, aggravating the TMJ.
Subsequently, those who suffer from OSA also suffer from reduced oxygen intake to the brain during sleep. This affects the quality of sleep, leading to frequent daytime tiredness, memory problems, and other health issues. Loud snoring at night can easily disturb your partner’s sleep.
Sleep deprivation is a serious health risk. If you are not getting enough sleep on a nightly basis, your body will suffer from health problems such as a compromised immune system, digestive problems, stress, mood swings, low energy, and a higher risk of health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and even depression.
Thus, if you often find yourself tired in the morning, even after a full night’s sleep, it’s best to talk to your dentist or doctor. This is true especially if you wake up with a headache and pain. If your sleeping problem is indeed caused by TMJ, getting proper treatment is your ticket to getting a restful sleep at night.