Why do I Drool When I Sleep?

How many times a week do you wake up to a wet pillow with drool patches? Have you been forced to wonder, perhaps even Google, “why do I drool when I sleep?” Keep reading if these questions make you reflect on your sleep habits a tad too hard.

Cleaning pillows
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How Normal Is Drooling In Your Sleep?

So, how normal is it actually to be drooling in your sleep? Is there any such thing as excessive drooling1? You may rest assured (see what we did there?) that it is, in fact, quite normal to drool a little while asleep.

A person’s saliva production changes with the body’s circadian rhythm, which is the natural process regulating one’s sleep cycle. Even when a person is physically asleep, his body continues saliva production.

This is because saliva is needed to keep the throat and mouth lubricated. Excessive saliva production, however, causes excessive drooling in your sleep. While it is normal, sleep drooling may lead to a dry mouth. Chapped lips, possible bad breath, and embarrassment if you do not sleep alone.

But Why do I Drool When I Sleep?

The possible reasons are the production of excessive saliva, having trouble keeping it contained in your mouth, or having difficulty swallowing. There are certainly other factors that also cause excessive drooling.

1. Sleeping Positions

Sleeping positions
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Believe it or not, one’s sleeping position determines nighttime drool. When you sleep on your back, any excess saliva your body produces remains in your mouth and throat, thanks to ever-present gravity.

But, if you change your sleeping position to lie on your side or your stomach, gravity pulls down the excess drool onto your pillow, and voila2, you wake up on a wet pillow.

Even worse, if you sleep with your mouth open, known as mouth breathing, you are more likely to drool. A change in sleeping position might reduce this, as well as consciously breathing through your nose and avoiding mouth breathing.

2. Nasal Congestion

If your nasal pathways are congested, it is more likely that you will be forced to breathe through your mouth, leading to drooling on your pillow.

3. Seasonal Allergies and Infections

Are you suffering from the common annoyance, which is cold? Do you have a strep throat condition? Is the changing climate causing seasonal allergies? If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, you might have discovered the reason for drooling in your sleep. The abovementioned conditions led to sinus problems and blocked airways, causing excess drooling as you need to breathe through your mouth instead. Sinus infections, swollen tonsils, and nasal congestion often cause excessive drooling.

Sneezing into a tissue
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4. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease(GERD)

Although this sounds intimidating and serious, you may probably know it from its most common symptom, heartburn. What you may not have known, however, is that drooling and swallowing disorders are also symptoms of GERD3.

People with difficulty swallowing often feel like a lump is stuck in their throat. This causes too much saliva to be produced and more drool. Sometimes, the throat may even be irritated or obstructed.

What is GERD?

5. Sleep Apnea

Technically referred to as obstructive sleep apnea, it is a breathing disorder that occurs during sleep and causes temporary pauses in your breathing.

You may have sleep apnea if you snore or choke suddenly in your sleep, wake up at night and have a headache in the morning, feel drowsy during the day, and have difficulty focusing.

There are three types of sleep apnea- obstructive, central, and complex. Obstructive sleep apnea 4occurs when your nasal airways are blocked, either wholly or partially. When your brain does not instruct your body to breathe, it is central sleep apnea.

A combination of both of these is known as complex sleep apnea. All three types cause irregular breathing, encouraging excess saliva production, and thus, drooling occurs.

6. Teeth Grinding

Grinding your teeth while you sleep often causes mouth breathing and painful jaw muscles. Teeth grinding is also closely linked with snoring, short and restless sleep, and sleeping on your stomach.

7. Side Effects of Certain Medications

Certain medications, such as antibiotics, antipsychotic drugs5, and medicines used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, have numerous side effects, which, you guessed it right, include excessive drooling and excess saliva production. If your prescribed medications have led to increased drooling, take professional medical advice to see if you can get different medicine to minimize drooling.

8. Having an Underlying Medical Condition

The nervous system stimulates the salivary glands. If you suffer from an underlying medical condition, such as Parkinson’s disease, neurological disorders6, or cerebral palsy, you may experience excessive drooling.

9. Excessive Salivation

Some people may have sialorrhea, a condition leading to excessive saliva production. It may be drug-induced sialorrhea or may be due to brain injuries, strokes, or other neurological conditions.

10. Suffering from a Neurological Disorder

Excess drool may be the consequence of a stroke or cerebral palsy. Neurological disorders can hinder the effective functioning of the facial muscles so that saliva remains contained. The brain may also fail to inform the body to swallow as often as required.

11. Bell’s Palsy

The viral infection in a person with Bell’s palsy leads to weakened facial muscles. One side of the patient’s face looks like it droops, and since the muscles are too weak, excess saliva is produced.

Is it Harmful to me if I Drool at Night?

Thus far, we have identified the answers to your question, “Why do I drool when I sleep?” Yes, it is normal to drool, but is it harmful? Frequent and excessive drooling can have physical and psychological complications.

These include dehydration, bad breath, low self-esteem due to embarrassment, chapped, irritated and broken skin around the mouth, and even pneumonia if you inhale the excess saliva that gathers in the back of your throat.

How can I Stop Drooling?

Drooling does not require treatment. However, if it is severe, causes embarrassment to the individual, or interrupts his way of life, there are some routes of help available.

1. Therapy

Some types of therapy can help treat excess drooling. For people with trouble swallowing, swallowing therapy can help them through exercises for stronger mouth and throat muscles.

A healthcare provider or a medical professional can also help people understand techniques of eating and drinking that lessen drooling. Speech therapy is also designed to improve the mobility of the tongue and jaw muscles.

2. Mouth Devices

If you suffer from sleep apnea, a mouth device may help you. A continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) or a mandibular advancement device may be used to prevent drooling.

3. Botox Injections

To reduce saliva production, a healthcare professional can inject the salivary glands with Botox. However, this treatment does not always work. It is also not permanent, as the effects of Botox will wear off with time, making the salivary glands function as they used to.

4. Medication

If allergies are the reason you are drooling at night, medication for those allergies can reduce excessive saliva.

A doctor may prescribe medication to reduce saliva production if you have a neurological condition. Although some drugs have several damaging side effects, they can be effective at stopping you from overproducing saliva.

5. Home Remedies

Biting on a sour lemon wedge may help you drool less. It is believed that citrus thins our saliva and makes it less likely to gather in the mouth. Saliva is also thinned out by drinking more water and staying adequately hydrated.

Lemon wedges - Why Do I drool when I Sleep
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6. Treating Acid Reflux

Acid reflux can also be treated with home remedies and lifestyle changes. If you frequently experience discomfort from acid reflux, you should increase your fiber intake and eat smaller meals.

7. Changing your Sleeping Position

Although this is quite difficult, try to get into the habit of sleeping on your back. If you struggle to achieve this, aim to sleep with your mouth closed so that you avoid breathing through it.

8. Propping up Your Head

Elevating the level and angle of your head can help reduce the occurrence of drooling as you sleep.

You can change your pillow and ensure that your head is comfortably aligned with the rest of your body.

9. Getting a Mouthguard

A mouthguard or mouthpiece can be used to treat drooling or grinding of the teeth. A dentist will help you to know if it would be helpful for you to get one.

It might increase drooling initially, but as your mouth gets used to it, it will help you control excess drooling.

10. Surgery

Surgery is the last resort for any doctor treating excessive drooling. It usually involves the complete removal of the salivary glands.

Takeaway

Drooling in your sleep is normal and usually not a cause for concern. Certain physiological factors have an impact on your sleep habits.

Some medications and health conditions also cause high production of saliva. If this bothers you and you want to seek treatment, do contact a medical practitioner for further evaluation and diagnosis.

  1. van Wamelen, Daniel J., et al. “Drooling in Parkinson’s disease: prevalence and progression from the non-motor international longitudinal study.” Dysphagia 35 (2020): 955-961. ↩︎
  2. Fahs, Ali J., Guillaume Pierre, and Erik Elmroth. “Voilà: Tail-latency-aware fog application replicas autoscaler.” 2020 28th International Symposium on Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation of Computer and Telecommunication Systems (MASCOTS). IEEE, 2020. ↩︎
  3. Maret-Ouda, John, Sheraz R. Markar, and Jesper Lagergren. “Gastroesophageal reflux disease: a review.” Jama 324.24 (2020): 2536-2547. ↩︎
  4. Gottlieb, Daniel J., and Naresh M. Punjabi. “Diagnosis and management of obstructive sleep apnea: a review.” Jama 323.14 (2020): 1389-1400. ↩︎
  5. Gottlieb, Daniel J., and Naresh M. Punjabi. “Diagnosis and management of obstructive sleep apnea: a review.” Jama 323.14 (2020): 1389-1400. ↩︎
  6. Feigin, Valery L., et al. “The global burden of neurological disorders: translating evidence into policy.” The Lancet Neurology 19.3 (2020): 255-265. ↩︎

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Mehnaaz Hussain

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