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 03/29/23
“I bite my tongue” is a phrase that is commonly heard from many individuals, and it refers to the act of unintentionally biting down on the tongue. It can happen to anyone, and there are several reasons why it occurs. However, while it may seem like a harmless habit, it can lead to issues that can cause discomfort and pain. In this article, we will explore the reasons why individuals bite their tongue, issues that can occur, and how they can stop the action.
Reasons Why Individuals Bite Their Tongue
- Nervousness and Anxiety
One of the most common reasons why individuals bite their tongue is due to nervousness and anxiety. This can happen during times of stress, such as before a presentation, a job interview, or even in social situations. It can also happen during sleep if someone is having a nightmare or experiencing a stressful dream.
Bruxism is a condition where an individual grinds or clenches their teeth, and it can occur during the day or at night. If someone is clenching their teeth too tightly, they can bite their tongue unintentionally. Bruxism is often associated with stress and anxiety, and it can also lead to other dental problems such as jaw pain and tooth sensitivity.
Malocclusion refers to a misalignment of the teeth, which can cause an individual to bite their tongue unintentionally. This can happen when someone has crooked or crowded teeth, and it can also happen when someone has an overbite or underbite.
- Medication Side Effects
Some medications can cause side effects such as dry mouth or muscle spasms, which can lead to unintentional tongue biting. This is especially common with medications that are used to treat neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or epilepsy.
Issues That Can Occur
While biting your tongue may seem like a minor inconvenience, it can lead to several issues that can cause discomfort and pain. Here are some of the issues that can occur:
- Tongue Injury
Biting your tongue can cause injury to the tongue, such as cuts or bruises. This can lead to pain and discomfort, and it can also make it difficult to eat or speak.
If the tongue injury is severe, it can lead to infection. This can happen if bacteria enter the wound and cause an infection. Infections can cause fever, swelling, and pain, and they may require medical attention.
- Speech Impairment
If the injury to the tongue is severe, it can lead to speech impairment. This can happen if the injury affects the tongue’s ability to move properly, which can make it difficult to form words or speak clearly.
How to Stop the Action
If you find yourself biting your tongue often, there are several things you can do to stop the action. Here are some tips:
- Relaxation Techniques
If you bite your tongue due to nervousness or anxiety, practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can help. These techniques can help calm your mind and reduce stress and anxiety, which can help reduce the likelihood of unintentional tongue biting.
- Wear a Mouthguard
If you suffer from bruxism, wearing a mouthguard can help prevent unintentional tongue biting. Mouthguards can help protect your teeth and prevent grinding and clenching, which can lead to tongue biting.
- Correct Malocclusion
If you have misaligned teeth, correcting the issue through orthodontic treatment can help prevent unintentional tongue biting. Orthodontic treatment can help realign your teeth and prevent them from interfering with the movement of your tongue.
- Speak with Your Doctor
If you think your medication may be causing your tongue biting, speak with your doctor. They may be able to adjust your medication to prevent this symptom from occurring.
Tongue biting causes 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 you 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
- sleep apnea
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.
Individuals 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?
1 in 10 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 individuals 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.
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 do not provide a perfect fit, which can potentially cause further tissue irritation. 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.
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. Wearing a day mouth guard will also be beneficial in protecting your teeth and tongue.
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 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.