We spend a third of our lives sleeping (if we’re lucky — for most American adults it’s closer to a quarter), and spending all that time in an unhealthy position could significantly worsen TMJ and other similar chronic pains. Here’s a guide to sleeping positions that can help.
The Best Sleep Position for TMJ-Related Jaw Pain
If you are experiencing jaw pain related to TMJ, sleeping on your stomach will put pressure on your jaw joint, pushing it back into your skull if you sleep with your head forward, or pushing it laterally if you sleep with your head to the side. The extra tension associated with turning your head to the side can also contribute to jaw pain.
Sleeping on your side can cause similar lateral pressure on your jaw.
That’s why sleeping on your back is best for TMJ and related jaw pain. Just make sure you don’t have your head elevated too much, which can be caused by putting your hands behind your head. Your pillow should cradle your head and support the proper curve of your neck.
This won’t help with sleep bruxism, but it will help reduce the extra tension that sometimes comes with sleep. It also won’t help if you have sleep apnea, because sleeping on your back can make sleep apnea worse. Have your partner note if back sleeping increases snoring or leads to choking episodes, and you should talk to a doctor if sleeping on your back causes you to wake up more often.
How to Sleep If You Have Neck Pain
Neck pain can also be helped by sleeping on your back. Sleeping on your side can also be good for neck pain.
But whether you sleep on your back or your side, you need to make sure that your neck is adequately supported. Many people recommend feather pillows if you have neck pain because the soft pillows will naturally curve around your head and neck, but there are many other types of pillows that can do this, too.
Some people will try to cobble together a solution using multiple pillows, but it’s better to just get one good pillow that molds to the proper shape. It’s easy to get your head propped up too high if you’re using multiple pillows, and any multipillow arrangement can easily be disrupted during sleep.
How to Sleep with Shoulder Pain
If you wake with shoulder pain, it’s likely not your shoulders that are to blame — it’s your neck. Remember, the muscles of the upper body work together, and if the neck isn’t properly supported, the shoulder muscles will have to work harder to help out (this is similar to the chain reaction that causes TMJ-related shoulder pain in the first place). So make sure your neck is adequately supported to reduce shoulder pain.
What If Pain Continues?
It’s good to start out trying home remedies for some of these minor pains, but if you find that your pain persists over a week, starts to get worse, or isn’t responding to over-the-counter medications, you need to get professional care.