Pillow Dribble: Why We Do It and How to Avoid It

5 Min Read | By Chris Clark

Last Modified 10 March 2023   First Added 10 January 2017

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.
What’s left of any extra saliva that fled your mouth while you were sleeping is drool. Every one of us regularly produces saliva, even while we sleep. If you’re pondering what saliva is, it’s mostly water. The rest of it is made up of digestive enzymes, uric acid, electrolytes, proteins, and cholesterol – essential substances for our health.
women sleeping

Why do I dribble in my sleep?

Occasionally we all drool in our sleep, and this is because we can produce too much saliva. During the day we naturally swallow any saliva produced in our mouth while at night this process is meant to slow down. But for the unlucky, dribbling continues at a rapid pace throughout the night. In fact, there’s even a name for the condition of producing too much saliva: sialorrhea.

There are 2 main causes of pillow dribble:

1. Your sleeping positions

Your sleep position can greatly impact how much you drool. If you sleep on your front or side, your mouth is likely to hang open, letting saliva drip freely. Whereas if you sleep on your back, the saliva will pool at the back of your throat and activate your swallowing reflex. As Christopher Y. Chang, an ear, nose and throat surgeon says: ‘The mouth is the path of least resistance. The lips are right there.’

More severe problems that can lead to pillow dribble include neurological conditions that can lead to partial or full facial paralysis.

2. Breathing through your mouth

Unfortunately, you are unconscious when this happens to it’s tricky to know for sure if you tend to open your mouth during the night, but if you are a mouth breather, you are likely going to dribble, and you may find your pillow is wet regularly. In general, you will breathe through your mouth because your nose is failing to provide enough oxygen to your body, so your lungs opt for Plan B and use your mouth for air, which is when saliva takes its chance at a quick escape.

Why do I sleep with my mouth open?

If you have sleep apnea, it’s common to sleep with your mouth open to help take in oxygen. You may also open your mouth throughout the night due to stress and anxiety as it activates your sympathetic nervous system. It may also be due to a failure of nasal breathing which can be caused by any of these issues:

  • Nasal Congestion, particularly during a cold
  • Sinus Infection and Inflammation
  • Allergies
  • Deviated Septum
  • Certain Medications
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking

How to prevent pillow dribble at night

1. Sleep on your back

We know you’ll be unconscious, but your position in bed can be regulated. Start the night on your back, and wedge pillows to your side to prevent any rollover, you can even get pillows and mattresses designed to support any back sleeper. To protect your pillows from drool whilst you try to fix the issue, make sure you have some waterproof pillow protectors and wash your covers regularly.

2. Stop breathing through your mouth

Start by identifying the cause of your mouth breathing. If you have a cold or any amount of nasal congestion, then invest in a decongestant to relieve blockage. This will be temporary, for those colds remember to drink plenty of water, get some rest and top up on your Vitamin C. If allergies or a chronic sinus infection are the problems, the best route is to see your doctor about medication.

3. Try mouth taping

If you’re comfortable, some people have found taping their mouths shut at night can help them sleep better! By using tape, you can ensure that your mouth stays completely closed while you sleep, which helps to stop mouth breathing, snoring, and drooling. Find out more with our guide to mouth taping for better sleep.

Nose breathing vs. mouth breathing

Nose breathing allows your body to receive the oxygen it needs. It produces nitric oxide: this enhances the lungs’ capacity to take in oxygen and their capacity to carry oxygen throughout the body. And that’s not all, here are some more advantages of breathing through our nose:

  • It releases waste and carbon dioxide
  • It strengthens our immune system
  • It leads to regenerative sleep

Mouth breathing does not have any benefits. in fact, it can cause a whole host of health issues including gum disease and tooth decay. Your body only resorts to mouth breathing when nose breathing isn’t possible. Here are some more home remedies to help you stop breathing through your mouth:

  • Consciously try and practice breathing through your nose
  • Blow your nose regularly, in order to keep it clean
  • Exercise and stay fit
  • Meditate to reduce stress (or practise any activity that makes you feel calm) this will help to prevent gasping through your mouth
woman meditating

If you continue to wake up with pillow dribble after trying to combat it yourself, then your doctor can help you get to the root of your problem. And help you to improve your sleep health, and your overall health, and let’s not forget your pillow.

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