If you’ve been diagnosed with TMJ or you suffer from TMJ symptoms, you may not think to link those troubles to your sleep. This common joint disorder is characterized by a misaligned bite, resulting in tension and stress on the temporomandibular joint, which connects the jaw to the skull. That tension can damage the fragile, complex joint, as well as cause a number of unpleasant symptoms throughout the body — but the negative effects of TMJ on your body may not stop there.
Is Your TMJ Making You Tired?
When you wake up, do you feel rested, or do you feel like you barely slept? Do you ever start to drift off while doing sedentary activities like watching TV, or even driving? Do you struggle to perform daily tasks through the haze of fatigue? Do you wrestle with memory and focus?
These kind of symptoms can make day-to-day life miserable, but they aren’t even the worst of it. Unpleasant symptoms like this are actually a hallmark of a major medical issue that could cost you your life: Obstructive sleep apnea.
This sleep breathing disorder occurs when the soft tissues in the airway obstruct the passage of air. This causes the sleeper to stop breathing for short periods over the course of the night, sometimes hundreds of times. As a result, the sleeper’s risk of stroke, heart disease, and even organ failure skyrockets.
So what does this have to do with TMJ? Unfortunately, the two disorders tend to go hand in hand.
The Link Between TMJ and Sleep Apnea
The most well known treatment for sleep apnea is CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, a device that increases the air pressure in the user’s throat to prevent the soft tissue collapse that obstructs breathing. But despite being often overlooked in the sleep apnea treatment debate, there are alternative treatments. One such treatment that has been repeatedly proved effective is an oral appliance.
Much like an athlete’s mouth guard, oral appliances are worn overnight to hold the jaw in the ideal position to keep the airway open. Sound familiar? That may be because oral appliances are also used to treat TMJ.
That similarity is no coincidence. Both disorders may stem from a misaligned jaw, which is why studies have shown that more than half of sleep apnea sufferers experience symptoms characteristic of TMJ.
This information could be doubly beneficial: TMJ sufferers can keep an eye out for symptoms of sleep apnea, and sleep apnea sufferers can watch out for TMJ symptoms.
While those with TMJ may be receiving treatment for their jaw disorder, sleep problems due to sleep apnea could still be threatening their lifespan. And while those receiving treatment like CPAP for sleep apnea may be positively impacting their sleep symptoms, they could be leaving dangerous jaw problems untreated.