Sleep Awareness Week: Bruxism And The Subconscious Mind
Why You Grind Your Teeth When You Sleep
Finding out that bruxism is the culprit behind your morning jaw soreness is one thing, but the question of why something so persistent and potentially damaging can occur while you’re asleep has a lot of people scratching their heads. The reason-behind-the-reason, the driving force behind bruxism? Stress.
Unconscious vs. Conscious Stress
There are occurrences in our daily lives that we can objectively, consciously identify as stressors: Everything from heavy traffic to deadlines at work to conflicts in our personal relationships. But whether we’re aware of these stressors is largely irrelevant to whether we experience nighttime grinding. That’s because our bodies are designed to respond to stressors in both conscious and unconscious ways. Even if we’re making conscious changes to our daily lives—say, by taking time off work or discontinuing toxic relationships—our brains signal our bodies to respond to stress in ways of which we’re not necessarily aware.
The prime example: Jaw muscles. When we’re stressed, our brains, without us making any sort of decision on the matter, will instinctively tighten. Especially when we process anger—your jaw clenches in such a way that can be habit-forming, and without you even knowing! When we’re awake, we can thankfully make a conscious decision to unclench. But the same mechanisms triggering the initial clench are still active even after we fall asleep.
Protecting Your Mouth
We may have decided that our bodies are done for the day, but our brains keep at it 24/7—you might be “out,” but your brain is definitely still on. So that same instinctive mechanism of clenching that you were able to stop while awake can still be motoring on, whether you’re well into a REM cycle or just nodding off. So we always recommend a Custom Night Guard as the very clear, present, immediate way to at least stave off the fallout of something that—hey—you can’t even control. Put differently: You might unconsciously grind, but you can consciously protect your teeth.
Protecting Your Mind
You’re going to experience stress at some point. And your brain will still do its instinctive thing of trying to protect you—activating muscles without you choosing to activate them. But that doesn’t mean you can’t train your brain to go a little easier on you when stress inevitably surfaces. Making strides toward regularly centering yourself and improving your wellbeing, with time, will help make your brain process emotions more efficiently. You’ll still feel sadness, anger, and anxiety, but your brain’s response—because you’ve put conscious effort into training it—will be much more reasonable in terms of the physical response.
Tonight, take a moment to determine whether you’re still focusing on the stress that you may have experienced throughout the day. Make a conscious effort to “trick” your brain into bringing something more positive into the forefront, and see what wonders it’ll do for your unconscious body and mind.