There is nothing worse than a slimy, sticky drool covered pillow being the very first thing your experience as your alarm violently jolts you awake. Even if you have never produced puddle-worthy amounts of drool, you have likely woken up with a damp pillow or a crusty saliva residue on your face, both equally unpleasant results of nighttime drooling.
Saliva in general is a good thing. Our bodies produce it 24/7 to defend against cavities and other mouth-related issues. And while most of us would prefer to keep this saliva inside of our mouths, drooling at night is a fairly common occurrence.
Excessive drooling during sleep is generally not a serious issue and exists more as an annoyance than anything else. However, on occasion, drooling can be an indication or byproduct of a more serious medical condition, something we will explore a bit later on.
But first, the fact that we produce more saliva during the day leads me to wonder, why do so many people wake up looking like they just went swimming in the drool pool?
We Know Dogs Drool, But Why Do Humans?
The reason why a continuous stream of drool seems to pour out of my English Bulldog’s jowls has never been a mystery to me; her mouth hangs open 90% of the time allowing that saliva to escape with ease as she rests on the couch.
But why do I drool at night? When I go to bed, my mouth is firmly closed (I’ve always been scared a spider will crawl in at night, so I go to great lengths to ensure I breath through my nose), so why do I often wake up with a puddle on my pillow?
The Cause: A Wide-Open Mouth
Turns out, the majority of nighttime drool in humans is caused by the same thing that causes my Bulldog to walk around with that permanent drool waterfall – a gaping mouth. Even though I do my best to go to sleep with tightly sealed lips, they most likely part ways somewhere in the night, causing my drool-drenched mornings.
Nighttime drooling occurs most often during REM sleep because it is the stage when your muscles are most relaxed, resulting in the slackening of your jaw and mouth falling open. In addition to the relaxing of your jaw and mouth muscles, your throat muscles take a temporary hiatus at night as well. This means all that saliva that you produce and swallow throughout the day is just collecting in your oral cavity, waiting to escape. 1Essentially, your lips are the floodgates for that excess saliva and fall open as you fall deeper into sleep. And when that happens say hello to a soaking wet morning.
The Fix: In order to close your mouth and breath through your nose, its essential to determine what is causing the mouth-breathing in the first place. Once you pinpoint the cause of your nighttime mouth breathing, you can figure out the proper treatment.
I recently wrote a detailed guide on dealing with nighttime mouth breathing, it’s well worth the read.
Until you are able to determine the root cause of your nighttime mouth breathing, try propping yourself up in bed as you fall asleep. Although it does not sound terribly comfortable, sleeping in an upright position will help negate the impact that gravity has on drawing your mouth open.
The Cause: Side-Sleeper
The perfect storm to create a solid puddle of drool is the combination of a wide-open mouth with sleeping on your side. For all you side-sleepers out there, it turns out that your preferred position for slumber creates an ideal situation for drool to escape.
Side-sleeping encourages a gaping mouth, which we now know is the most important factor in allowing for nighttime drool to occur. From there, gravity really takes care of the rest, causing that saliva to just ooze right out.
The Fix: In order to stop gravity in its tracks and wake up drool-free and dry, you will need to find another position for sleeping. Sleeping on your back is the ideal situation to avoid nighttime drool as it prompts saliva to settle at the back of your throat where it will eventually drain down.
Back-sleepers are less likely to drool than side- or stomach-sleepers 2
Says Robert Oexman, DC, the director of the Sleep to Live Institute in North Carolina.
If you are worried that you will naturally shift to your side throughout the night, try snugly tucking yourself into your sheets before falling asleep, similar to the prank of short-sheeting the bed-only you are in it this time. You could also try lining the perimeter of your body with pillows, kind of building a wall to discourage changing positions. Still struggling? Check out our detailed guide on training yourself to sleep on your back.
Beyond the gravitational pull of drool that side-sleeping causes and the physical allowance of it to escape due to an open mouth, there is a long list of potential medically related issues that may cause the production of excess saliva.
Keep in mind though that if your mouth isn’t open, that drool can’t get out. This means that regardless of whatever medical reasons may be causing excess saliva, an open mouth is the ultimate culprit in allowing for drool to occur.
The Cause: Blocked Nasal Passages
Sinus infections, allergic rhinitis, or even a deviated septum – all of these conditions often result in one frustrating symptom, blocked nasal passages. When your nasal passages are blocked, your body will naturally find another way to breathe, turning you into a bona fide mouth breather. Even though blocked nasal passages don’t actually cause the production of excess saliva, they do force those saliva floodgates (your mouth) wide-open.
The Fix: Depending on what is causing your blocked nasal passages, there are a variety of solutions. First, you must figure out the cause.
Sinus infection? For a sinus infection you will want to visit your doctor and get on antibiotics ASAP
Cold? The common cold can be addressed with over the counter nasal decongestants or check out our guide for other ways to cure a stuffy nose at night.
Allergic rhinitis? Try allergy pills, an air purifier, a thorough dusting in the bedroom, changing the air filters, nasal breathe right type strips, a hypoallergenic pillow or kicking your furry friend out of the room.
Deviated septum or other physical deformity? This one will require you to seek professional medical attention. Usually a fairly simply surgical procedure can remedy these types of issues.
As you can see, the solution for blocked nasal passages is as varied as the cause. It may take a trip to the doctor and some trial and error, but experiencing your first drool-free sleep will be more than worth the effort.
The Cause: Acid Reflux or GERD
If you suffer from acidity or GERD, you probably experience excess saliva during the day as well as at night. Acid reflux or GERD cause a backflow of stomach acid. When this stomach acid reaches the esophagus, the body will often produce excess saliva to wash it away and relieve the irritation.
During the day, you are able to swallow all of this excess saliva down and (hopefully) refrain from it exiting your mouth unintentionally. At night however, swallowing stops and the excess saliva needs somewhere to go-usually, your pillow.
The Fix: Treatment for acid reflux or GERD range from over the counter medication to potential surgery. If you experience mild acid reflux, you might start by trying an over the counter medication combined with losing weight, changing your diet, and quitting smoking. If the condition persists, a trip to your doctor might be in order where you may receive prescription medication or discuss GERD surgery options.
The Cause: Tonsillitis
Your tonsils are those low-hanging glands located in the back of your throat. When tonsillitis occurs, these glands become inflamed and can block the natural drainage of saliva down your throat.
Aside from drooling, symptoms of tonsillitis include a sore throat, swollen and tender lymph nodes, a low-grade fever or headache, and trouble swallowing.
The Fix: Although the occasional bout with tonsillitis can be treated with antibiotics, repeated cases of this illness may require surgery to remove the tonsils. If you suspect tonsillitis and are having trouble swallowing, breathing, or experiencing excessive drool, skip the doctor altogether and head straight for the emergency room.
The Cause: Dental Issues
As we learned earlier saliva is the body’s natural defense mechanism against oral-related issues. When you are dealing with an infection of your teeth or gums, such as toothache cavities, gum disease, or gingivitis, the body naturally produces more saliva to help wash out the excess bacteria. More saliva means more drooling if your mouth is open at night.
The Fix: First and foremost, head to the dentist!
If you are dealing with any kind of oral infection or discomfort, the dentist should be your first stop. In addition to visiting the dentist, be sure to practice proper oral hygiene. It is essential to brush, floss, and use bacteria-fighting mouthwash twice (if not more frequently) daily. Once you solve the root of your oral issue, the excess saliva will likely cease.
The Cause: Poisoning or Rabies
Although uncommon, rabies is a virulent killer spread via saliva, often from an animal bite. Rabies is an incredibly serious viral infection and if not treated prior to symptoms (like excessive saliva) presenting themselves, it is almost always fatal.
Excess saliva is also a symptom of being poisoned. Whether the poisoning occurs due to a venomous bite from an insect or reptile, mercury or arsenic poisoning, or food related poisoning like mushrooms, salivating excessively is often a common symptom.
The Fix: As a rule of thumb, if you have been bitten by an animal that you suspect has rabies, bitten by a poisonous insect or reptile, or ingested poisonous substances or foods seek medical attention.
Do not go to sleep at any time prior to seeking serious medical care.
If you are turning in for the night and noticing excess drool possibly due to one of these very serious issues, get out of bed and go to the hospital. These health concerns should be treated before drooling is ever observed.
The Cause: Medication
Certain medications may generate an overproduction of saliva as a side effect. The list of medications that potentially cause excess saliva or drooling include antidepressants and medications that act as a depressant to the central nervous system such as clozapine or ketamine. Morphine may also cause drooling due to the relaxing effect it has on muscles and muscle control.
The Fix: When it comes to medications, do not change or alter anything until you speak with a doctor. Changing or altering the manner in which you take medications can be potentially dangerous.
If you suspect that your excess saliva or drooling may be caused by a particular medication that you take, discuss it will your physician in order to determine a course of action.
The Cause: Neurological Disorder
Drooling can often be a symptom of a much more serious neurological disease such as Parkinson’s disease, ALS, cerebral palsy, facial paralysis, Autism, Down Syndrome, a stroke, or MS. People who suffer from any one of these conditions may not have the brain control that is needed to coordinate and control muscle movements in the face or mouth, often resulting in drooling.
If you have been diagnosed with one of these disorders, you are likely familiar with the troublesome drooling as a byproduct. If you are noticing extremely excessive drooling, this may be a sign that you are suffering from one of these disorders and you should seek medical attention.
The Fix: While many of these serious conditions are incurable, there are various methods used to help control and treat excess saliva and drooling. For many people, relief can be found in participating in speech and swallowing therapy, though this is generally only a good option for those with mild impairment and who are intrinsically motivated to fix their drooling.
For more severe cases, anti-cholinergic medications have proven very helpful. Another option for cases of severe drooling is Botox injections in the salivary glands. These injections act to paralyze the muscles that push the saliva out. As a very last result for only the most severe cases, surgical removal of salivary glands has been performed.
Are You Drowning in Drool?
For most of us, nighttime drooling is simply a gross inconvenience that we learn to live with by washing our pillowcases more frequently or keeping face wipes by the bed so that our saliva crusted faces don’t frighten our partners.
For some people, though, nighttime drooling is a result or indication of a more serious medical condition. If you find yourself needing a life raft in the morning due to near drowning in the puddles of drool that you produce, you may want to explore the possible underlying causes with a professional.
Do you drool at night? Don’t be embarrassed, many of us do! Let’s help each other stay fresh and dry by sharing any tips or tricks to curb nighttime drooling!