Millions of people grit or grind their teeth as they sleep. They bite down hard; they grit or grind their teeth back and forth; they clench their teeth. And whatever they do goes on night after night. Technically it is called bruxism. Sleeping with someone who bruxes can make it hard to sleep. What can a person do who can't fall asleep or can't stay asleep because of a partner's grinding or gritting teeth?
Wake Your Partner Up
Some of the people I interviewed for my book Two in a Bed who had a partner who bruxed said that it sometimes helped to wake their partner up. They might push at the partner or lightly shake the partner. One man woke his wife up when he couldn't sleep because of her clenching and grinding her teeth by yelling out "That's enough!" She would usually stop grinding her teeth for a few minutes, even if she didn't wake up, and that often gave him enough time to fall asleep.
Maybe a Dentist or Oral Surgeon Can Help
Grinding teeth can be quite painful. Many people who grind teeth at night have sore jaws during their waking hours. Many have aching or cracked teeth, or they break the fillings or crowns in their teeth. Some have chronic headaches. The pain itself can be quite unpleasant. Plus when they get that sore they can find it extremely painful to eat, yawn, or do other things with their jaw. At some point, many people with bruxism are driven to a dentist or oral surgeon by the pain. And a worried spouse or lover (who may also be losing sleep because of the bruxism) may push their bruxing sleep partner to get that kind of help. And in fact, many people who grind their teeth at night only know that they do that because their sleeping partner tells them about it.
A dentist or oral surgeon may help. Many people use a dentist-fitted night-time mouth guard, a cushioning device shaped for their mouth, that protects the teeth and reduces or eliminates the grinding. Some people have had jaw surgery, which doesn't necessarily eliminate the grinding but helps to reduce the pain that has developed in the jaw joint.
Some couples sleep apart some or all of the time so that the partner of the person who bruxes can get to sleep more easily and stay asleep. Of course, that means they lose the many advantages of sharing a bed--the intimacy and safety, the sexual access, the possibility of night time conversations before falling asleep, and so on. And sleeping apart only works if there is a decent sleeping place elsewhere in the house and if it's far enough away from the bruxer so that the partner who has fled the bruxer can't still hear the bruxing.
Tension Reduction May Help
Sometimes the bruxing develops because of specific tensions in a person's life, and if those tensions can be ended or at least managed differently, the bruxing will stop. For example, in one couple I interviewed the woman's bruxing started when their adult son, his wife, and their baby moved back home. The adult son and his wife were constantly arguing and the baby was often crying. The woman said that is when her bruxing started, and sometimes the only way she could get away from the constant squabbling and crying and to give her husband a chance to sleep free of her bruxing was to go to the backyard and sleep on the trampoline. But eventually she just told her son and his wife to move out, and they did. And then the woman stopped bruxing.
Some people find ways on their own to reduce tensions that underlie their tooth gritting and grinding. Some are helped by a psychologist or other therapist to deal with underlying issues in their lives, anything from how they let work get to them to how they deal with their children or other family members to, well, almost anything. Some learn relaxation techniques, including yoga, meditation, self-hypnosis, exercise, and how to change how they think about the stressors in their lives.