How to Relax Your Jaw When Sleeping?

The information in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. [Read our full health disclaimer]

Updated on September 25, 2023

Have you ever woken up experiencing soreness in your facial muscles or with a splitting headache? Have you ever felt like your jaw was sore and tight while chewing or yawning? If your answer on either or both of these questions is “yes,” the issue might be clenching your jaw while you’re asleep without even knowing.

If your jaw is tight, you might feel discomfort or soreness in your ears, face, neck, and head. The pain’s intensity can vary as it’s often described as severe, tender, or achy. However, the pain is usually more intense while yawning or chewing. But pain isn’t the only symptom for a tight jaw; you might also have limited ability opening your mouth, your jaw joint can lock, or the jaw joint can sometimes click.

But what is the cause for tight jaws, and most importantly, how can you relax your jaw? We’ll answer these questions in the following paragraphs, so keep on reading.  

7 Reasons for a Tight Jaw

There are numerous reasons that can cause your jaw to clench while you’re asleep or awake.  Here, we’ll explain the seven most common reasons for tight jaws.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD)

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are dysfunction of the joint that links the lower jaw and the skull, as well as the surrounding jaw muscles. TMJ is the joint which enables you the range of movement that you need in order to speak, yawn, and eat.

Temporomandibular joint disorder can be caused by:

  • Physical injury;
  • Inflammations caused by autoimmune diseases or some infections;
  • Teeth clenching or grinding.

The symptoms for TMJ disorders can be different for everyone, and they usually depend on the cause and how severe the condition is. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Tenderness or pain near or in the jaw, neck, ear, and face;
  • Pain when you chew or open your jaw;
  • Your jaw might pop or click when you move it;
  • Persistent headaches.

Anxiety and Stress

Jaw clenching and muscle tension are often caused by anxiety and stress. Sometimes you might not be aware that you’re grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw, particularly when under stress, and after a period of time this may lead to muscle tightness.

Other signs that show that you’re under stress are fist clenching and muscle tension in your neck and shoulders.

If stress and anxiety have an impact on your quality of life, it’s recommended to consult with a mental health professional, like a psychologist or a psychotherapist, that can help you find the cause of the stress and anxiety you’re experiencing and give you appropriate therapy.

Teeth Clenching or Grinding (Bruxism)

Bruxism is a medical expression for unconscious teeth grinding or clenching, and it can happen while you’re awake or asleep. There are several reasons for bruxism, including anger, tension, anxiety, stress, depression, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, or dental problems like misaligned teeth.

Some of the most common symptoms of bruxism are:

  • Waking up with a soreness in your facial muscles, jaw pain, or headache;
  • Jaw joint is clicking or popping;
  • Teeth sensitive to hot/cold drinks or food.

In severe cases, bruxism can also lead to tooth fracture.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory disorder that can affect all the joints and muscles in the human body, including jaw joints. If you suffer from inflammation of the TMJ you might experience pain and difficulty when opening your mouth, and you might even have a damaged temporomandibular joint including the tissues that surround it. In some severe cases, this inflammation can even cause bone loss in the jaw.

Inflammations, soreness, and stiffness in the joints, tight jaw, and fever are some additional symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

In some rare cases, osteoarthritis can occur within the jaw joint. OA may cause function loss and degradation of the jaw tissue, cartilage, and bone. This can lead to a tight, sore jaw. A person who suffers from this often feels radiating soreness in the area that surrounds the TMJ.


Tetanus is an infection which is caused by a bacteria known as Clostridium tetani. This bacteria is processing toxins in the human body which can cause muscle contraction in the abdomen, jaw, and neck which can be quite painful. In cases when the tetanus infection is more severe, an individual can experience limited ability when opening their mouth and swallowing. However, there are vaccines that help in preventing tetanus infections.

Excessive chewing

Just as any other muscle and joint in the human body, an individual can feel pain, discomfort, and soreness in the jaw joint and the muscle that surrounds it caused by excessive chewing. So it’s better for you to avoid chewing gums, and any chewy food that leads to overworking the muscle and results in painful muscle contractions in the jaw area, which can even go to the neck. Excessive chewing can also result in temporomandibular joint disorders.

When to Look for Medical Help?

You may ask yourself when the right time would be to consult a healthcare professional for your tight jaw. Well, if you experience some of these symptoms, it’s time to seek for medical help:

  • Acute pain in your jaw and surrounded area which can be worse when you move or chew;
  • Difficulties when opening your mouth or swallowing;
  • Extreme headaches which can be an obstacle for doing your everyday activities.

How to Stop Jaw Clenching?

Here are some tips that can help you cope with a tight jaw.

Jaw Exercises

Facial exercises and stretching the jaw joint can be quite helpful in relieving the tightness of the jaw and enlarging the range of motion. Let’s see what you can do.

  • Stretch the TMJ. Try to relax your jaw by putting the tip of the tongue behind the top front teeth and start to push down the jaw bottom so that the top teeth move apart from the bottom teeth. Repeat this exercise up to ten times. This is a good exercise for relieving the tightness in the neck and jaw muscles.
  • Manual opening of the jaw. First you have to warm up, so open and close your mouth a few times. Then put the fingers on the top of the four front lower teeth, and gradually push down till you start feeling little discomfort on the tight side of the jaw. Stop there and stay in that position for about half a minute, and gradually loosen up the jaw to its basic position.
  • Smile stretch. Smile as wide as you can, but be careful not to feel pain or tightness. Then, gradually open your mouth for approximately five centimeters, and take a deep breath through your mouth, then exhale and at the same time let your smile go.

Massage Your Jaw Muscles

Some of you might find benefit from massaging your jaw muscles since a massage will increase the flow of the blood and will decrease the tightness in your jaw muscles. So, open your mouth and gently rub the muscles that are located next to the ears using circular movements, which is the location of the TMJ. Repeat this multiple times per day, especially before you go to sleep.

Consider Using a Mouth Guard

Mouth guards, also known as dental splints or night guards, are considered as the first line of defense against teeth grinding or jaw clenching. A mouth guard is one of the best relaxation treatments for a tight jaw. It helps in preventing jaw joint and muscle pain. The most comfortable and effective option is the night guards that are custom made so they fit you perfectly. So, if you choose to use night guards, it’s best to visit a dentist and let them make the best guard for your mouth.


Sometimes healthcare professionals might prescribe some muscle relaxants, botox injections, or medications for stress or anxiety that can help relax your jaw muscles while you’re asleep. These medications work by reducing the facial muscles’ activity. However, their effectiveness is still not scientifically proven and what’s more, you can experience some unpleasant side effects. So we recommend you to leave the treatment with medications as a last option before you try all the other less invasive methods, and always use them under supervision of a healthcare professional.

Other Jaw Relaxing Options

Here are some additional treatments that you can try to relax your jaw while you’re asleep:

  • Put cold or hot compress directly on your jaw muscles;
  • Try some stretching exercises for your neck and head;
  • Try acupuncture or acupressure;
  • Relax your jaw using a shortwave diathermy treatment with laser;
  • Try to reduce stress and anxiety with meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, or some aerobic activities, like swimming, dancing, or walking.

Concluding Thoughts

As you can see, a tight jaw isn’t harmful to your health, however, it can be quite uncomfortable and painful. So, if you want to relax your jaw, it’s crucial to find what’s causing it. In this article, we’ve given you seven reasons why you might be suffering from a tight jaw so you can see if any of these apply to you. The next step is to find the right treatment, so it’s best to consult a healthcare professional that can help you with this condition.

Bree Taylor - Lead Editor

Lead Editor

Bree is an interior designer with a passion for helping people improve their sleep quality.

She specializes in creating comfortable and functional bedroom spaces that promote a good night’s rest.

When she’s not testing mattresses or helping people get the best rest possible, Bree loves to travel and explore new cultures.

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