Pillow Dribble: Why Do You Sleep With Your Mouth Open?

3 min read

Last Modified 18 November 2021 First Added 10 January 2017

By Chris Clark

Pillow dribble. It’s the bane of the night time sleeper and the most embarrassing way to wake up to. At one stage or another, we’ve all woken up to the sensation of a cold, wet pillow clinging ever so slightly to the side of our face. Why does this happen? Why do we sometimes sleep with our mouths open? And more importantly, can it be prevented?

Image of baby with dribble

The Causes of Dribbling

Everyone dribbles, in the day you naturally swallow any saliva produced in your 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:

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 your pillow and morning self will suffer. Generally, 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 it chance at a quick escape. A failure of nasal breathe can be any of these issues:

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

Your Sleeping Position: This is where gravity works against you and your pillow. 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.

woman sleeping on her side

Related: How To Sleep Better During Allergy Season

The Solutions to Pillow Dribble

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 you Vitamin C. If allergies or a chronic sinus infection are the problem, the best route is to see your doctor about medication.

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 roll over, you can even get pillows and mattresses designed to support any back sleeper. See our Bed and Mattress Guide for more information on sleeping position.

To protect your pillows whilst you try to fix the issue, make sure you have some waterproof pillow protectors and wash your covers regularly.

Image of person changing pillow

While pillow dribble might be embarrassing, it could be worse. If the problem is a longstanding one then your doctor can help you get to the root of your problem, helping you to improve your sleep health, your overall health, and let’s not forget your pillow.

Have you suffered from pillow dribble? Let us know how you overcame it in the comments section.

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