Overview

Drool is excess saliva that comes out of your mouth. While it can feel uncomfortable when it happens, most of us drool once in a while, especially during sleep. At night, your swallowing reflexes are relaxed just like the rest of the muscles in your face. This means that your saliva can accumulate and some can escape through the sides of your mouth. The medical terms for drooling too much are sialorrhea and hypersalivation.

Though drooling while you sleep is fairly common, sometimes drool is a symptom of a neurological condition, sleep disorder, or other health condition. You might drool more after a health event like a stroke, or as a result of cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis (MS). To find out more about why you drool and ways to stop doing it, keep reading.

What causes this?

Sleep position

The most common cause of drooling while you sleep is so straightforward, you might never have thought of it — and it has to do with gravity. The position that you sleep in often leads to drool pooling inside your mouth. People who sleep on their side, or on their stomach, are more likely to drool when they sleep. Especially if you tend to breathe through your mouth, or if you have narrow sinus passages, the accumulated drool can begin to slip out from your lips when they open to breathe.

Blocked sinuses

If you have nasal congestion due to a cold or an infection, you might find you’re drooling more than usual. If you have regularly inflamed or blocked sinus passages, or narrower sinuses than other people, you might find yourself drooling all the time. Blocked sinuses make you more likely to breathe through your mouth while you’re sleeping, and “mouth breathing” leads to more drool escaping your mouth.

GERD

Gastrointestinal reflex disorder (GERD) is a digestive condition in which the contents of your stomach flow back into your esophagus, damaging the lining of your esophagus. GERD can cause dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) or make you feel like you have a lump in your throat. This feeling leads to excessive drooling for some people. Here are some tips for improving your sleep if you have GERD.

Medication side effects

Some medications can make you more prone to drooling. Antipsychotic drugs (especially clozapine) and medications used to treat Alzheimer’s have been shown to cause excessive drooling. Some antibiotics can also result in sialorrhea.

Swallowing disorders

Dysphagia is the term for any condition that creates a difficulty in swallowing. If you’re drooling excessively, your drool might be a warning symptom. MS, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy, and even some kinds of cancer can cause dysphagia and lead to difficulty swallowing your spit.

Sleep apnea

When you have sleep apnea, your sleep is interrupted because your body stops breathing occasionally during the night. Drool can be a risk factor for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can be very serious and should get a proper diagnosis. If you’re drooling a lot at night, ask yourself if you have any of the other signs of sleep apnea, such as:

  • loud snoring
  • waking up feeling startled or out of breath during the night
  • attention problems or difficulty focusing during the day
  • drowsiness during waking hours
  • a sore throat or dry mouth upon waking

See a doctor if you have one or more of these symptoms in addition to drooling.

Treatment options

1. Sleep position

The first thing to try is to switch up your sleep position. By sleeping on your back, you’ll be able to better control the flow of your saliva so that it doesn’t end up on your face or soaking your pillow. If you’re having trouble sleeping on your back, if might be because it’s harder for you to breathe when you’re in a new position. Take note of whether you’re feeling “stuffy” or if you get acid reflux while you’re trying to sleep on your back. Simply paying attention to how you feel while you’re falling asleep might hold the key to figuring out if there’s a deeper problem.

2. Home remedies

It’s important to maintain a healthy balance of saliva in your mouth. Saliva plays a vital role in protecting your body from infection, according to the American Dental Association.

If you’re trying to drool less, you might want to bite on a lemon wedge. Some people believe that citrus can thin out your saliva, making it less likely to pool. You might also consider drinking more water, as staying hydrated will thin out the saliva you produce.

3. Mandibular device

A mandibular device is an oral appliance. It’s something you put in your mouth — like a mouthguard — to make you sleep more comfortably and cut down on drool and snoring. These devices are available for purchase online or in some specialty surgical supply stores.

4. CPAP machine

If the drooling is an indication of sleep apnea, you’ll need to seek treatment. The most recommended treatment for sleep apnea is something called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. A CPAP machine will not only help you get a deeper sleep, it will make sure that you’re positioned safely and breathing properly at night. You may drool with your CPAP machine on; speak with a sleep apnea treatment specialist about how you can stop this from happening.

5. Botox injections

Some people choose to take an aggressive approach to hypersalivation. One treatment is to inject Botox into the saliva glands that surround your mouth. This keeps the glands from overproducing saliva. This treatment isn’t permanent, as eventually the Botox will wear off and your glands will become functional again.

6. Surgery

There are cases in which a doctor recommends getting your saliva glands removed. People who need their saliva glands removed usually have underlying neurological issues that are far more serious than simply drooling in their sleep. These surgeries are generally successful at curbing hypersalivation, but people considering surgery for this symptom will be advised to try other treatments first.

The takeaway

Drooling in your sleep is nothing to be embarrassed about, and there are simple steps you can take to try to improve this habit. If you’re concerned about how much you are drooling in your sleep, or have reason to believe that your saliva is a sign of another health diagnosis, bring the issue to your doctor’s attention. Waking up often during the night, never feeling rested, and having frequent headaches and other sleep problems could indicate that something serious is at play.