Drooling in Your Sleep? Here’s Why It Happens and How to Treat It

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Waking up in a pool of drool is not only uncomfortable but can be embarrassing and smell unpleasant. Frequently experiencing this could indicate a drooling problem.

We expect to see drooling in babies and toddlers who are teething and still developing muscle control. However, for adults who experience excessive drooling in sleep, several factors could explain this issue.

Salivating, driveling, slobbering, dribbling, and sialorrhea are all ways to describe the saliva that drips uncontrollably from the mouth.

Excessive saliva is typically the result of one of the three factors:

  • The body produces too much saliva.
  • There is not enough muscle control to contain the saliva that the body produces.
  • The body is not adept at swallowing the saliva before it escapes from the mouth.

 

Below we discuss why this might be occurring and how to mitigate the issue so you can wake up comfortably.

Causes of Drooling While Sleeping

Sleeping Position

The positions in which you rest could make you more prone to excessive drooling. Sleeping on your stomach and snoozing on your side are two postures that could be contributing to your condition.

As your body produces saliva, the liquid is more likely to escape from the front or the side of your mouth when it’s facing downward due to mere gravity. So sleeping on your back in bed is a quick way to resolve the issue.

Learn More: How To Properly Sleep On Your Back

llustration of a Man Sleeping on His Back

Nasal Congestion

When the nasal passageways are congested, people are more likely to breathe through their mouths. Open mouths tend to lead to more drool finding its way onto your pillow because of the increased amount of air passing through, thus stimulating saliva, facilitating movement, and forcing it out of your mouth.

Need more info? Learn how to sleep with a cold here.

Gastrointestinal Reflux Disorder

GERD or gastrointestinal reflux disorder is also commonly known as chronic acid reflux.[1] The heartburn that patients experience is due to stomach acid being backed up in the esophagus

As a result, swallowing can be difficult because the patients report that it feels like they have a lump in their throat. The body responds to the irritation in the esophagus by producing even more saliva to try to flush out the irritant, resulting in drool.[2]

Medications

Some medications cause excessive saliva production. The most common instances are antipsychotic medications, particularly Clozapine. The theory behind this phenomenon is that the drug affects the function of the nervous system, producing extra saliva and prohibiting the muscles in the mouth from holding the liquid in or swallowing it down.[3]

Dysphagia

Dysphagia is the term for difficulty when swallowing, and diseases like Parkinson’s, M.S., and muscular dystrophy can be the cause. These diseases can prevent muscles from functioning correctly, prohibiting the mouth from working as it should, thus allowing liquid to escape. However, the issue could be something as benign as a sore throat that makes swallowing uncomfortable.[4]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes someone to stop breathing several times throughout the night. One of the signs of sleep apnea is excessive drooling.[5] Other symptoms include snoring, waking up suddenly during the night gasping for breath, excessive daytime drowsiness, and having a sore throat or dry mouth in the morning.

Treating sleep apnea often results in cessation of drool, but there could be another condition at play in cases where it doesn’t.

Animated Image of a Woman Struggling to Fall Asleep Because Her Partner Has Sleep Apnea

Allergies & Infections

An infection, especially in the sinuses, could also cause excessive drool; this is because infections tend to produce extra saliva in the mouth as the body tries to flush out the foreign invaders attacking the immune system. In turn, if there are blocked nasal cavities, the body resorts to mouth-breathing, which allows a free flow of saliva.

Allergies can also be an issue. For example, blocked sinuses due to allergies can lead to unwanted drainage in the form of nighttime drool.

Other Causes:

Neurological Disorders

A stroke or cerebral palsy could also be the source of the excess drool. These neurological conditions can prevent the muscles around the mouth and jaw from functioning to contain the saliva. In turn, the neurological impairment may also prevent the brain from signaling the body when it’s time to swallow.[6]

Epiglottitis

Epiglottitis is a type of infection in the back of the throat where you can find a plate of cartilage, which swells when infected. As a result, swallowing becomes difficult, and the patient often sits in what’s called a tripod position, leaning forward on their hands with their tongue out for maximum air entry.[7]

Bell's Palsy

Bell’s Palsy is a viral infection that causes muscle weakness in facial muscles. Patients with this condition look like one side of their face has drooped; however, it’s usually temporary and resolves itself within months. During this time, the muscles in the face may become too weak or paralyzed, resulting in excessive saliva excretion.[8]

Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a serious autoimmune condition. The nerve cells become damaged or frayed because the body begins attacking them as a misguided immune response. When the nerves no longer function properly, muscle weakness and even paralysis can occur. Drooling is one of the many manifestations of this disease.[9]

How to Stop and Prevent Excessive Drooling

Change Your Sleeping Position

Sleeping on your back is the best way to prevent excessive drool. However, if you’re a die-hard side sleeper, the thought of sleeping on your back may not sound feasible. If you don’t want to change your sleeping habits, you may consider something like a wedge pillow that elevates your mouth and allows gravity to do its job.

Mouth Devices

Mandibular Device

A mandibular device is another word for a mouthpiece or oral device; these can be used to prevent various conditions like drooling, snoring, or teeth grinding. Some can be purchased at a drug store, while others require a prescription from a doctor or dentist.

View Our Full Guide: Best Mouth Guard for Teeth Grinding

CPAP Machine

Continuous positive airway pressure CPAP machines are used to treat sleep apnea. If the apnea is the cause of the drooling, then using this device should help. If a patient is still producing excess drool, then it’s time to explore other causes.

illustration of a woman sleeping with CPAP mask on

Treat Allergy and Sinus Problems

Drool caused by allergies or sinus issues should be able to be alleviated by treating those issues directly. These problems could clear up on their own as the stimulants lessen or seasons change. Alternatively, you may elect to take medication to alleviate symptoms.

Talk To Your Doctor About Other Options

Medications

Medications that affect the salivary glands could help adults who struggle with drooling. The most commonly prescribed medication for this is Scopolamine, which is also known as Hyoscine.[10] This drug is primarily used to reduce motion sickness, vomiting and is sometimes given before surgery to reduce saliva production.

Speech Therapy

If the tongue and jaw muscles aren’t experiencing a full range of motion, your doctor may recommend speech therapy. This course of treatment is also recommended for patients whose lips don’t connect when they close their mouths. This solution isn’t an overnight cure, but it could help a patient improve over time.

Botox Injections

Botox is the Botulinum toxin that is commonly known as a facial injection to smooth out wrinkles. The muscles under the skin that contract create wrinkles as we age, and botox paralyzes these. The same principle applies to the salivary glands, so by injecting Botox into the glands, they will cease to function and stop creating saliva.[11]

Surgery

The last resort is to explore surgery, which is only recommended when there’s an incurable neurological condition responsible for the drool. The most common method is to remove the salivary glands, and recovery can vary from a few weeks to a few months.[12]

Complications from Drooling

Not only is drooling embarrassing, especially if it occurs during the day, but drooling can also be ultimately harmful to your body. Some of the resulting complications include:

  • Dehydration
  • Chapped lips or skin around the mouth
  • Degradation of the skin’s surface from constant exposure to moisture
  • Lung infections in cases where the saliva stays caught in the throat
Illustration of a Person with Breathing Disorder Sleeping on Thier Back

Frequently Asked Questions

Is drooling normal in adults and the elderly?

While it may be common in elderly citizens, it’s not considered normal, and there’s typically an explanation for the drooling. Drooling is often due to either a neurological disorder or a side effect of a medication. For example, a senior adult who is taking drugs for dementia or Parkinson’s could produce excessive drool as a result of the medication.[13]

Often in the case of elderly patients, the drooling occurs during the day as well, whether it’s due to a neurological condition or a side effect of their prescriptions. Because this can be extremely embarrassing as well as a potential health hazard, drooling as an adult should be addressed immediately.

Is drooling common in babies and toddlers?

Babies and toddlers are expected to drool as they’re still gaining control of their muscles. Drooling also becomes more pronounced during teething, which typically begins between the ages of three and twelve months and continues as late as two or three years old.

Can drooling be caused by a sore throat?

Yes, drooling could be an issue as a result of a sore throat. The issue happens because when sore throats are extremely painful, people might avoid swallowing to avoid pain.

The excessive drooling could potentially lead to further complications like dehydration or a new infection. A numbing spray like Chloraseptic is extremely effective at numbing the throat to allow for comfortable swallowing.

Sources and References:

Content Writer | + posts

Rachael is a content writer for Sleep Advisor who loves combining her enthusiasm for writing and wellness. She’s had a passion for writing since she was a kid when she wrote awful poetry. She’s honed her craft quite a bit since then and considers herself a lucky duck to get paid to do what she loves.

Embracing the remote work life, she occasionally takes her work on the road and lives out her travel writer pipe dream.

In her free time, she attempts to meditate regularly, rides her bike to Trader Joe’s, and enjoys trying every type of food that she can get her hands on.

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