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Disease and Disorders

Biting Tongues in Sleep: 8 Causes and Treatment Options

Most people are used to biting tongues in sleep accidentally. However, did you know? It is common to bite the tongue in sleep too? Conditions like facial muscle spasms can be the reason for biting the tongue in sleep.

Biting the tongue in sleep is a common problem in children. But it can also affect adults as well. When someone bites the tongue during the daytime, he or she is mostly conscious.

But when a person bites their tongue unconsciously during the night, it may be to some underlying medical condition. People who bite their tongues at night are at risk of developing an infection, or ulcers on their tongues.

1. Bite Their Tongues Unconsciously During Sleep

biting tongue in sleep
Photo by Nicole Elliott on Unsplash

There may be various underlying reasons which may result in biting the tongue in sleep.

One common reason is when your tongue is enlarged or swollen. It is easier to bite down on it frequently in this case while you are sleeping.

If one wants to prevent biting the tongue in sleep, the person must first find the cause of it. Frequent biting may be an indication of sleep apnea, bruxism, nighttime seizures, or stress. And it is important to acknowledge that sleep-related disorders can be dangerous and not only affect your oral health but also your entire health.

2. Causes Of Biting Tongues In Sleep

There are several reasons which may result in a person biting his tongue in sleep.

The common causes of involuntary tongue biting are:

2.1. Sleep Apnea

Biting the tongue in sleep is common in many people suffering from sleep apnea.

People with sleep apnea often have a large tongue or the muscles in their mouth are abnormally relaxed during sleep. It causes lapses in breathing and oxygen deprivation.

Common symptoms of sleep apnea are:

  • Snoring
  • A large neck circumference
  • Headaches
  • Teeth grinding

2.2. Nocturnal Seizures

These epileptic seizures are caused by unusual electrical activity in the brain cells. This usually causes the muscles of the body to tighten or weaken temporarily.

Nighttime seizures may be an indicator of epilepsy. These people may not have any other symptoms during the daytime which makes it harder to determine the cause of tongue injuries.

People who suffer from epileptic seizures lose control over their behaviors and movements and tend to bite their tongues unconsciously. These bites usually occur on the tip of the tongue or the sides. If a person has chronic diseases he or she is more likely to experience biting on parts of the tongue, especially the edges. It can cause muscle tension and jerking movements.

2.3.  Sleep Rhythmic Movement Disorder

People suffering from these sleep disorders experience sudden jerks, rapid movements, or twitching when they are asleep. It usually occurs in the head and neck area.

Sleep rhythmic movement disorder is most common in children and can involve head banging, head rolling, and body shaking. This may lead to injuries in the eyes, tongue, and brain. The effect of this sleep disorder decreases with growing age.

They are involuntary and usually occur just before or during sleep and last up to 15 minutes. Brain and eye damage may occur in serious but rare cases.

2.4. Sleep Bruxism

When a person grinds or clenches his teeth involuntarily while sleeping, it is called sleep bruxism. This teeth-grinding habit can lead bruxers to accidentally bite or scrape the tongue. In most cases, it is accompanied by other sleeping disorders like sleep apnea which can cause pauses in breathing.

Frequent teeth gnashing can lead to intense pain, tongue bleeding redness, or a swollen tongue or lip. Some common symptoms of Bruxism are headaches, jaw pain, and flattened or worn teeth. You may also suffer from tongue scalloping due to this disease.

2.5. Misaligned Bite

A misaligned bite can cause bruxism as well as tongue biting while sleeping. It can also restrict the movement of your tongue. It forcefully sits unnaturally in the mouth which eventually results in more frequent tongue biting.

The improper alignment of the upper and lower teeth can cause these painful symptoms.

2.6. Facio-Mandibular Myoclonus

Facio-Mandibular Myoclonus is a parasomnia distinguished by forceful muscle jerks of masticatory muscles in sleep. This problem commonly comes with recurrent nocturnal tongue biting.

It is a rare and under-recognized parasomnia and is often misdiagnosed as nocturnal seizures.

2.7. Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that negatively affects the brain and nervous system. It results in incorrect or misfired nerve signals throughout the body.

People experience involuntary movements while sleeping as a side effect that can cause them to bite their tongues.

2.8. Drug Use

Recreational drugs like MDMA and other stimulants can lead to excessive gnashing of teeth and biting the tongue in sleep.

These drugs speed up the activity in the central nervous system which causes an adrenaline rush. The body reacts by grinding the teeth, clenching the jaw, and biting the tongue and cheeks.

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Photo by Mikail Duran on Unsplash

The drug can increase anxiety at times. As the drugs act at a low level, people don’t often realize the damage they have been inflicting on their oral health.

3. Symptoms Of Biting Tongues In Sleep

The habit of biting the tongue while sleeping can be downright irritating and painful. People who bite their tongue, do it on the sides that are closer to the tip of the tongue.

You can more likely observe a white line down the side of your tongue where your teeth keep biting it. It can also cause pain when you are speaking or eating. It can happen at any stage of life.

You cannot easily determine that you have been biting your tongue in sleep. However, there are various signs which indicate that you suffer from this problem. These may include:

• Tongue ulcer in that region
• Redness or a swollen tongue
• Tongue bleeding
• Pain
• Raw, scalloped edges on the tongue
• Cuts or marks on the tongue

4. Treatment For Biting Tongues In Sleep

Tongue biting can cause injuries. The healing process depends on the severity of the injury. Minor tongue injuries heal on their own within a week. But severe injuries may require medical attention like stitches or medication. This may take several weeks or even months to fully heal.

Nighttime tongue biting may bleed. Usually, we don’t require medical treatment for this as they heal normally. If the bite is minor, you can treat it at home. However, there are certain treatments recommended too.

4.1. A Sleep Study

You can consult your neurologist if you suspect having seizures in your sleep. They will conduct a sleep study for you to determine what is exactly happening in your brain when you are asleep.

The sleep study consists of an EEG machine that monitors your brainwave activity in the different stages while sleeping. This will disclose the many possible reasons for your tongue-biting habits and make it easier to find a cure.

4.2. Apply Ice To Affected Areas

If you suffer from tongue injuries like swelling, cuts, or redness, you can topically apply ice on the affected area. Treating the area with a cold compress will reduce the pain. Ice will also reduce the inflammation and swelling in the tongue.

4.3. Rinse Mouth With Salty Water

If you have an open wound, you can use a warm salt water rinse for about 20 seconds. The warm and salty water will kill the bacteria and prevent any infection to creep in. It also speeds up the healing process.

4.4. Mouth Guards And Splints

Having night guards and splints can be an effective tool to prevent biting the tongue in sleep. For a person suffering from bruxism, mouthguards are the best option to prevent further damage.

The problem of clenching or biting the tongue can be easily solved if one buys a custom-fitted mouthguard for tongue biting. 

4.5. Reduce Stress

Anxiety and depression are precursors of bruxism. Tongue biting may be associated with high levels of stress and anxiety. One can learn stress management through yoga, meditation, or other relaxation methods.

4.6. Meet a Doctor

If you suspect that you have done serious damage to your oral health, you must visit a doctor. They can help to assess the state of your mouth and identify any underlying problems.

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Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

5. Time For Immediate Medical Attention

One should get immediate medical assistance on facing these symptoms:

• Tongue appears red or swollen
• It is very painful
• Tongue starts bleeding excessively
• Looks visibly deformed
• When the tongue bleeds for a second time after the original bleeding has stopped
• When it feels warm
• Is accompanied by a fever
• When you see red streaks or pus on the tongue

6. Conclusion

Many people are unaware of these issues and detect what’s going on because of chronic sores and pain. It is important to determine the underlying cause of the pain and treat the condition accordingly.

It’s important to note that while occasional tongue biting during sleep may not be a cause for concern, frequent or severe biting episodes could lead to complications or indicate an underlying issue. If you have persistent symptoms or concerns, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.

Take measures to prevent your tongue from biting and visit the doctor if needed.


1.  What causes people to bite their tongues in their sleep?

A: Biting the tongue during sleep can occur due to various factors, including teeth grinding (bruxism), jaw clenching, sleep disorders like sleep apnea, or involuntary movements during sleep. It can also be a result of stress or anxiety.

2.  Are there any complications or risks associated with biting the tongue during sleep?

A: Biting the tongue during sleep can lead to discomfort, pain, and swelling. In some cases, tongue bites can be severe and cause bleeding or infections. If you frequently experience tongue biting during sleep, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for evaluation and appropriate management.

3.  When should I seek medical attention for a bitten tongue during sleep?

A: While most tongue bites heal on their own within a few days, you should consider seeking medical attention if:

  • The bleeding doesn’t stop after applying pressure for an extended period.
  • The tongue bite is deep, severe, or shows signs of infection (increased pain, redness, swelling, pus).
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  • Jasmine Mary Ekka
  • Apeksha soni

    Apeksha is a dedicated health writer and advocate, committed to sharing valuable information and empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their well-being. Apeksha is pursuing B.Tech in Computer Science. She delves into a wide range of topics, including nutrition, fitness, mental health, preventive care, and alternative therapies.

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