If you ever wake up in the morning with a tight or sore jaw, fatigue, or sensitive teeth, you could be grinding or clenching your teeth at night.  The condition, known as bruxism, can lead to headaches and dental problems. Teeth grinding can be caused by stress and anxiety,  and it often occurs during sleep, caused by an abnormal bite or missing or crooked teeth. More importantly, bruxism can be caused by sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the throat muscles relax during the night, blocking the airway and interrupting breathing. About 25% of people with obstructive sleep apnea grind their teeth at night, with men more likely to be affected.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, you may be experiencing bruxism:

  • Rhythmic contractions of the jaw muscles
  • A grinding sound at night
  • Jaw muscles that are tight or painful
  • Long-lasting pain in the face
  • Swelling on the side of your lower jaw caused by clenching

If you think you might have sleep apnea, see your doctor to avoid the downstream health consequences, such as heart attack. If you are grinding your teeth for any reason, here are some strategies to help you cope in the short term.

Manage the discomfort.  Address the jaw pain with NSAID pain relievers such as naproxen (brand name Aleve) or ibuprofen.  You can also manage pain by icing the jaw for about 10 minutes.  You may only experience pain on one side of the jaw, which may speak to an issue with your sleeping position.

Protect your teeth. You may need a night guard to protect your teeth from damage due to grinding. You can purchase one at your local drug store.

Manage stress.  If you have stress related bruxism, it is important to manage your stress –  Get regular exercise, eat healthy foods, meditate or do relaxation exercises.  Other great remedies for stress relief include relaxing herbal teas such as chamomile, aromatherapy, acupuncture and massage.

Monitor your sleep.  Many fitness trackers have a sleep feature.  If you are experiencing restless sleep more than 30 times per night, or getting too little REM or deep sleep, you should consider talking to your doctor.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol.  Caffeine stays in your system for quite a long time, up to 12 hours after you consume it, so stop drinking coffee, soda, energy drinks or other caffeinated food and drink after 3PM.  As a general rule of thumb, it takes 1 hour for a serving of alcohol to be metabolized. So, if you have a couple of drinks, the last one should be several hours before bedtime to avoid impacting your sleep.


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Andrea wants to live in a world where the neighborhoods are walkable, bike lanes are plentiful, and the food is fresh, delicious and readily available. A 20-year veteran of the health and wellness industry, she started her career in the fitness industry while earning a master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, and then on to the burgeoning field of worksite wellness. Andrea has competed in collegiate level soccer, worked as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, wellness coach, and master trainer, climbed 14ers, and completed cycling centuries and metric centuries. All of these experiences give her the opportunity to view well-being from many different perspectives. When she’s not helping others to be their healthiest self, you can find her at a farm to table restaurant, down dogging at the yoga studio, or experiencing the Colorado landscape on a bicycle, snowshoes, cross country skis or on foot.