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What’s The Link Between Stress, Bruxism, and Sleep?

Woman experiencing Bruxism effects in bed.

Are you stressed? How is it impacting your body and sleep, and are you experiencing bruxism?

Do you grind your teeth or clench your jaw – especially while you’re asleep?  Not uncommon, these actions are usually in response to stress or emotions such as fear and anger. For some people, clenching or grinding can occur multiple times every day without an obvious stressor. In a few people, especially children, the sensation of grinding their back teeth can even become a habit they consciously activate – but for most, it’s a subconscious action. 

Over time, excessive jaw clenching and teeth grinding can cause an array of problems including damaged teeth and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. Grinding and clenching have consequences for everything from the integrity of your teeth and your general wellbeing to your sleep quality and even snoring.

Bruxism – What is It?

The clinical term for clenching, grinding, or gnashing the teeth is “bruxism”. 

In most people who do it, bruxism is involuntary and it may occur whether they are awake or asleep. Most cases are mild, occur only occasionally, and hence need no treatment. For some, however, it can be severe and/or chronic. Particularly if this happens during sleep, it has certain ramifications:

  • Tiredness during the day.
  • Tooth damage – molar flattening, worn enamel, chipping, cracking, loose teeth, dental pain or sensitivity, and an increased risk of decay and gingivitis.
  • Jaw pain – sore temporomandibular (TMJ) joint/s, TMJ dysfunction, and soreness and tightness of the jaw muscles.
  • Headaches – especially in the temples and at the back of the neck.
  • Facial pain.
  • Over a long time, possible changes to the facial structure.

Stress and Bruxism – What’s the Link?

A study published in 2019 in the Journal of Clinical Medicine reported that bruxism during sleep (“sleep bruxism”) is experienced by approximately 13% of adults. 

There are several potential causes of sleep bruxism:

  1. Biological – including genetics/heredity and brain chemistry
  2. Psychosocial – including personality and character traits, sensitivity to stress, mood, depression, and anxiety
  3. Exogenous – use and consumption of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, certain prescription medicines, and illicit drugs

Sleep bruxism occurs most in childhood. It often decreases as children grow up, but two-thirds of children with habitual sleep bruxism will continue grinding and/or clenching into adulthood. 

As many as 50% of people with sleep bruxism also have a close family member who does it, with no notable difference between men and women. It has been found to occur more often with other sleep disorders as well as cardiovascular disease, some gastrointestinal disorders, and thyroid conditions.

The study referenced above noted that more research is needed to better understand any links between a person’s perceived stress levels and the severity of sleep bruxism. We also have much more to discover about whether stress is indeed a causative factor in sleep bruxism; scientists do know that a distinct association between stress and sleep bruxism exists.

The Impact of Stress and Bruxism on Sleep

Does bruxism cause poor sleep – or does poor sleep quality cause bruxism?

Or both?

Bruxism is a sign of stress. Both stress and bruxism impinge upon the quality of sleep a person gets. But how? 

When we are under any type of stress, it’s common for the jaw muscles to tense as part of the body’s automatic “fight-or-flight” response. This causes involuntary clenching and grinding. Moreover, stress makes getting quality sleep much more challenging – and poor-quality sleep also makes it more likely to grind or clench the teeth while asleep.

90% of bruxism happens during the lighter stages of sleep. Stress and snoring can also prevent REM and deep sleep – so poor quality sleep that is triggered by stress can result in worse bruxism in a “snowball” type of effect.

Tips to Overcome the Impacts of Bruxism

Know the Signs of Sleep Bruxism – these include:

  • Regularly waking with headaches
  • Jaw pain
  • Pain and tightness at the back of the neck at the top of the spine 
  • Shoulder tightness
  • Worn-down, damaged, or sensitive teeth. 

See Your Dentist. You need to maintain regular dentist visits to optimise dental health and help identify signs of whether bruxism is occurring. This is important for the assessment and repair or even replacement of damaged teeth. Some people may benefit from orthodontic treatment – grinding can improve when the teeth are aligned properly. Your dentist may recommend a dental splint, which is used to separate the teeth. It prevents the jaws from being able to clench hard together and takes some of the pressure off the TMJ or temporomandibular (jaw) joint. 

Stress Management is important for improving the stress response in terms of both mind and body. This may include meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, and counselling if you experience a mood disorder or stress is a chronic issue for you. Some people may require medication to manage chronic moderate to severe anxiety.

Exercise is important for the health and well-being of both mind and body, and even a short walk outside every day can have great benefits on your general health, stress levels, and sleep quality.

Behavioural Therapy is a strategy that works to increase bio-awareness and modify the resting position of the mouth and jaw. This can effectively halt the habit of clenching and grinding.

Avoid or moderate the consumption of caffeine and alcohol and stop smoking (including vaping).  Say no to illicit drugs; many of these directly cause clenching and grinding, including cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), opiates (heroin), and methamphetamine (speed).

Certain prescription medicines can lead to bruxism, including some that are used to treat depression, ADHD, and seizure disorders. Know your risk and speak with your doctor for advice.

See a physiotherapist for help to alleviate pain and relax the jaw. Also, try to mindfully exercise and relax the jaw and mouth during the day. 

Massage may help with stress reduction as well as to loosen and relax tight muscles in the head, neck, and shoulders. You could also try complementary treatment methods such as acupuncture, cupping, or aromatherapy to help you relax.

Treat snoring. Snoring disrupts sleep and causes a vast array of issues including daytime fatigue and higher stress levels. It’s also important that you understand and improve your sleep hygiene.

ApneaRx Can Help!

There is a distinct link between bruxism and snoring, as demonstrated by medical studies.

By minimising or preventing bruxism, you may also improve your snoring – and vice versa.

ApneaRx can help.  A biomedically-engineered and patented mandibular advancement device, ApneaRx is worn in the mouth while you sleep. Not only does it effectively prevent snoring’ but it also compromises your ability to grind your teeth while wearing it. It also limits the impact of clenching on the teeth and the jaw, due to its cushioning material. 

ApneaRx may be used to replace night guards or splints designed to prevent teeth grinding and, as such, is a feasible solution for snorers who also clench or grind their teeth.

Understand how ApneaRx works: visit our website today for more information and access to a library of valuable information about sleep and snoring, or purchase online now.