Drooling at Night

man drooling

Drooling, also referred to sialorrhea, is the process of saliva seeping, or in some cases flowing, outside of the mouth. It can occur in adults as well as children.

What causes drooling at night?

During the daytime, most people naturally produce more saliva than they do when they are sleeping. They are also able to “get rid” of their saliva by swallowing. However, when we sleep, we don’t swallow as much, which can cause our saliva to pool into our mouth — which sometimes ends up on the side of our face or our pillow.

There are three main causes of drooling, according to the National Institutes of Health.  Individuals who drool may:

  • have too much production of saliva
  • have difficulties swallowing
  • have a functional or structural problem maintaining their saliva inside their mouth, including a clogged sinus

Other causes of drooling at night include some medications, neurological (nervous system) disorders, pregnancy, gum or teeth infections, and sleep apnea.

Further, a reaction to insect venom, snake venom, or a poisonous chemical (like pesticides) might present itself with sudden drooling.

Are there are risks of drooling at night?

People who drool may wake up coughing or gagging at night. Some of these individuals are at an elevated risks of breathing their saliva into their lungs.

People who have drooling in conjunction with difficulty swallowing and/or fever may have the indication for a more serious medical condition, including strep throat, tonsillitis, retropharyngeal abscess, peritonsillar abscess, or mononucleosis.

salivary glands

What is the treatment for drooling at night?

Waking up with a wet pillow is not something most people want to see or feel first thing in the morning. Fortunately, there are some things that can be done about drooling during sleep.

Depending on the severity of drooling at night, it can be managed and controlled with medication that blocks the excessive drooling. For people with severe cases of drooling, symptoms can be reduced by injecting botox (botulism toxin) or by applying radiation (high energy x-rays) to the salivary glands.

If your drooling is determined to be caused by sleep apnea, treating your sleep apnea, with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for example, may cause the drooling to discontinue. Similarly, treating a gum or tooth infection may reduce excessive saliva during sleep.

If your drooling at night only occurs occasionally and is not caused by a medical condition, there are some practical things you can do to decrease the morning sogginess on your pillow:

1) Sleep on your back. Sleeping on your side lends itself better to the dribbling and drooling of saliva, so try to fall asleep on your back to minimize your drooling at night. To keep you sleeping on your back, tuck yourself in tightly so you’ll be less likely to toss and turn and end up sleeping on your side. Some night droolers go so far as taping a golf ball to the sides of their pajamas to encourage them to sleep on their back.

2) Keep sinuses clear. A clogged sinus means you are breathing through your mouth instead of your nose. As a result, you’re more likely to drool. To clear a clogged sinus, steam your nose with a bowl of hot water, use a menthol vapor rub that will clear your sinus, or use a netti pot to rinse your sinuses. If you have post-nasal drip, try some of the solutions listed in our Ditch the Drip: 5 Postures to Help You Sleep Better.

3) Prop yourself up. If you must sleep on your side, consider using pillows to prop yourself to sleep more upright. This will help collect excess drool in your jaw, rather than on your pillow. Make sure that you also choose the best mattress for side sleepers.

4) Change your mattress. Try sleeping on a friend’s, relative’s, or a hotel mattress. If you find you stop drooling or drool less, your mattress may need replacing with a new mattress.

In many cases, drooling at night is more of an nuisance than a serious concern. However, if you have excess or habitual drooling at night, be sure to speak with your physician to see if there is anything else going on.

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