Why Am I Biting My Tongue in My Sleep?
Medically reviewed by: Sharon Boyd, MA, BS, RDH
This article has been updated and reviewed for accuracy on 06/22/22
Tongue biting is a common problem that affects millions of people
Do you suffer from biting your tongue at night?
Complaints of “biting tongue in sleep” or “biting my cheek” while you’re sleeping are all too familiar to dentists. This habit can be downright irritating and painful. And the more you do it, the more
often you tend to keep irritating that area (making it more difficult to heal.) In fact, you’ll be prone to re-biting it again and again.
Why do I keep accidentally biting my tongue?
Biting your tongue from time to time happens. However, if you’re continuously biting your tongue, there may be a larger problem such as a misaligned bite, a swollen tongue, problem with coordination, or TMJ issues.
The damage caused to your tongue or cheek can be quite painful and even visible. People who bite their tongue while they’re sleeping will commonly bite it on the sides or closer to the tip. The cheek can be bitten so much in the same spot that it develops into a painful sore or raised callous.
Tongue biting can cause pain when you’re speaking and eating.
Tenderness, bleeding, bruising and incessant throbbing are uncomfortable symptoms when you constantly bite your tongue. Fortunately, relieving it is possible. You just have to know how!
Severe tongue biting problems can lead to tongue scalloping, soreness and ulcers. More than likely,
you’ll be able to see a white line down the side of your tongue where your teeth keep biting it.
This can happen at any stage of life.
What causes me to bite my tongue in my sleep?
There are a number of causes for tongue biting while asleep.
One common reason is when your tongue is enlarged or swollen. In this case, it’s easier to bite down on it and even cut the tongue frequently (and accidentally) while you’re eating or talking. But other reasons why people bite their tongue include
All of which are typically involved in involuntary tongue biting.
Additional causes include; rhythmic disorder, nocturnal seizures and sleep bruxism.
Why does my tongue hurt?
Cut on tongue
Sometimes we suffer an injury to the tongue separate from biting it.
Have a cut on your tongue? Depending on the severity of the cut, you may need to seek emergency help. If the cut is not so severe, here are some suggestions for treatment:
- cold compress
- saltwater solution (mix 1 tsp of salt to 1 cup of warm water) rinse
- honey is a natural antibacterial. Rub honey directly on sore area up to 3x per day
- coconut oil. Swish coconut oil around in your mouth for several minutes per day
- wearing a set of soft mouth guards on both the upper and lower teeth will prevent the teeth from damaging the area further and allow for the wound to heal.
Avoid any spicy or acidic food as it can worsen tongue soreness
When we start to break down some of the common reasons for tongue biting, it can help us to better
understand the causes and symptoms.
- Nocturnal seizures (nighttime seizures)
Nocturnal Seizures (Nighttime Seizures)
Having seizures during the night can lead to involuntary biting of your tongue. If a person has
chronic seizures, they are more likely to experience biting on parts of the tongue, especially
the edges. Since seizures can cause muscle tension and jerking movements, it’s common
for these individuals to experience self-induced injuries as part of their episode. Tongue biting is a common symptom in people suffering from seizures.
People suffering from nocturnal seizures may not seem to have any other symptom during
the daytime hours, making it harder to determine the cause of their tongue injuries. However,
the condition can be diagnosed by observing their brainwaves. Prescription medication is the
primary treatment for this medical disorder.
- Rhythmic Movement Disorder
Another potential reason for biting your tongue while sleeping is rhythmic movement disorder. Rhythmic movement disorder involves jerky and rapid movements throughout the body, including the head and neck.
Rhythmic movement disorder is most common in children and doesn’t always result in injuries. But when it’s severe, it can lead to tongue injuries. The movements are involuntary and usually occur just before or during sleep, lasting up to 15 minutes. The victim can suffer
from various injuries, tongue biting included. In serious but rare cases, brain and eye damage may occur.
The movements associated with this condition usually go unnoticed by the sufferer. Rather, the person learns of the problem due to injuries on their tongue or other parts of the body, or another person witnessing the jerky movements. In many cases, children simply grow out of it over time, so medical treatment may not be needed. But in cases that involve adults, controlled sleep restrictions or prescribed medications can be used to treat their condition.
- Teeth Grinding or Clenching (Bruxism)
Bruxism is a common cause of tongue biting during sleep. In most cases, it is accompanied by other sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea, which causes pauses in breathing.
Daytime clenching and grinding can also be caused by chronic stress. If you suspect that you have bruxism, look for symptoms of headaches, jaw pain, and flattened or worn teeth..
- Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a condition that causes lapses in breathing and oxygen deprivation. Snoring, a large neck circumference, teeth grinding, and headaches are common problems that can accompany certain types of sleep apnea. People with the habit of grinding their teeth while
sleeping may accidentally bite their tongue. Especially since apnea can cause your jaws to clench together when your body is deprived of air. Doctors and sleep dentistry providers can administer treatment for sleep apnea to manage symptoms of airway blockage and tongue biting.
- Lyme Disease
This bacterial infection negatively affects the brain and nervous system, resulting in incorrect or misfired nerve signals throughout your body. As a side effect, some people experience
involuntary movements while they sleep, which can cause them to bite their tongue.
- Recreational Drug use (MDMA /Ecstasy)
MDMA, or ecstasy is a synthetic, psychoactive drug that acts as a stimulant to increases energy and pleasure sensations. Many people who use “Molly” eventually experience severe damage to their tongue, gums, and cheeks. The drug can increase anxiety and at times, the
pain felt from tongue biting may even feel pleasurable while on specific types of recreational drugs.
- Side-Effect of Medication
Prescribed medications like antidepressants can sometimes have negative reactions or side effects that lead to tongue biting during sleep. If you’ve noticed tongue biting being worse after taking certain medications, be sure to speak to your doctor about it.Other causes of tongue biting include swollen tongue, ulcers, tobacco use, or nervous disorders.
More on Nighttime Tongue Biting
Nighttime tongue biting is a problem that can be painful, lead to constant sores, and leave you feeling frustrated all day long. Everyone has bitten their tongue at one point or another, but it’s typically accidental (and happens when you’re eating or talking.) It’s also normal to occasionally bite
it while you’re sleeping. Having a large tongue or misaligned teeth can make you more susceptible.
But habitual nighttime tongue biting can lead to chronic problems.
How common is it to be a tongue chewer?
Millions of people around the world suffer from tongue biting at night.
Some people are never aware of it but deduct what’s going on because of the chronic sores and pain. Determining the underlying cause can be difficult, especially if it’s linked with some type of
disease or illness. Working with your dentist and/or doctor can help you determine if the habitual injuries are due to something like bruxism, epilepsy, or sleep apnea. What are the statistics of each?
One in Five People Suffer from Excessive Teeth Grinding.
Millions of people suffer from epilepsy. Sleep apnea afflicts more than 20 million in the United States alone. If all these people suffer from excessive tongue biting as a side-effect of their condition, then
there are millions of people also suffering from nighttime tongue biting.
Damage Caused by Tongue Biting
1. Visible marks and/or scars along the lateral borders (sides) ofyour tongue that’s
called Morsication lingarum.
2. Bleeding due to constant trauma from the biting edges of your teeth.
3. Sores or “ulcers” on your tongue or an infection on tongue
4. A generally sore tongue
Biting the Tongue While Eating
When there is swelling or constant irritation, it can be challenging to eat certain types of foods, especially spicy ones. Speaking, eating, and swallowing may be difficult.
Prevent Damage from Tongue Biting
How To Stop Biting Your Tongue During Sleep
While biting can’t always be controlled, there are measures you can take to prevent damage to your tongue.
One of the most effective prevention methods for tongue biting is to wear a soft, thin, custom-made night guard on both the upper and lower teeth. Please note, these guards are not to be worn while eating or drinking.
Can the cheaper, one size fits all mouth guards at the drugstore protect my tongue?
Over-the-counter night mouth guards don’t provide a perfect fit, which can potentially cause further tissue irritation. Or, you can visit your dentist in person to take dental impressions, create a mold, and then send it to a dental lab for a mouth guard tailored specifically for your bite. Although custom, this is the most expensive route. For a more affordable alternative, you can make your mouthguard purchase online.
How to Heal a Cut Tongue Fast
Sometimes, we bite our tongue while chewing, talking or eating. If you’ve experienced damage to your tongue, cheeks, or lips because of tongue biting, there are steps you can take to ease discomfort and minimize further damage.
As long as there are no open wounds, consider rinsing with warm saltwater. Simply mix one teaspoon of table salt in a tall glass of warm water then rinse with it until you’ve used most of the
solution. Saltwater helps to draw out inflammation, reducing swelling so that you’re less prone to re-bite those swollen areas.
For a temporary numbing action, you can hold a piece of ice against the area for a few seconds to reduce pain and soreness.
Try to avoid spicy foods until your tongue heals.
Most importantly, to prevent further damage, invest in soft dental night guards to wear on both your upper and lower teeth. These soft, very thin guards are unobtrusive and easier to sleep in. For the best level of comfort and protection, you want a guard set that’s
custom fitted to your mouth.
Why does the tip of my tongue hurt?
Preventing tongue biting in sleep
The best way to prevent tongue biting problems is by treating the cause. Or, taking steps to prevent
those sources from happening in the first place.
Treatment for Rhythmic Disorder.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) with a licensed professional counselor is recommended for treating some types of sleeping disorders. Fortunately for people who suffer from rhythmic movements, symptoms usually disappear as the person gets older. If not, pharmacological treatment
could be necessary.
Treatment for Seizures.
If your nighttime tongue biting is caused by seizures, the normal course of treatment should be prescribed by a medical doctor. Medications can reduce the frequency and severity of seizures. If treated successfully, the treatment will consequently prevent tongue-biting.
Treatment for Daytime Bruxism
Bruxism tends to be habitual. For daytime grinding and clenching, cognitive behavior therapy can be
beneficial. Especially since anxiety and everyday stress are major causes of bruxism. Feeling more
relaxed can reduce the chances of clenching your teeth together.
Protecting Your Tongue During Sleep Using a Night Mouth Guard.
Regardless of the causes for tongue biting, mouthguards allow you to protect yourself from more damage. These safe, BPA free plastic mouth appliances are made to snuggly fit over your specific teeth. When worn, they help to reduce trauma to your tongue, should it get caught between your teeth.
Some people call these appliances bite splints, night guards, or night dental guards. There are several types of appliances available on the market.
Standard or Boil & Bite Athletic Mouth
(Not a dental night guard)
These are the types of mouth guards used during athletic activities. They’re made from tough, rigid plastic (to prevent fractured or knocked-out teeth). Over the counter designs can be slightly conformed to the shape of your mouth by using hot water and manual manipulation. They are
available in most sports stores and are NOT recommended for wearing at night.
Standard Dental Night Guards
These are one-size-fits-most, mass-produced night guards designed for nighttime use. Although affordable, they typically feel bulky and uncomfortable, causing people to remove them while they
sleep (and making them ineffective.)
Boil & Bite Mouth Guards
These are made from a special kind of plastic to provide a semi-custom fit. They’re softened with hot water and then adjusted to fit your mouth. They are available in most drugstores.
Custom-Fit Mouth Guards
Custom fit mouth guards are made in a dental lab to precisely fit your mouth. A dentist takes an
impression of your teeth and then creates a model, which is sent to a lab where your custom guard
is created. Or, you can take your own dental impression in the convenience of your own home
and order them online. Sentinel dental lab’s convenient mail-order system makes getting a custom
dental night guard easier than ever.