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Do I need proper tongue position when sleeping?

Having proper tongue position while sleeping is often overlooked but can have a big impact on health and quality of sleep. The tongue naturally falls back into the throat during sleep which can lead to snoring and other issues if not addressed. Understanding optimal tongue placement and techniques to train the tongue can lead to less snoring, better breathing, and improved sleep.

What is proper tongue position?

Proper tongue position refers to holding the tongue up and forward in the mouth while at rest. This is considered the ideal position because it opens the airway and allows for better breathing. Here are some characteristics of proper tongue posture:

  • The tip of the tongue rests behind the front top teeth.
  • The rest of the tongue presses gently on the roof of the mouth.
  • The tongue stays forward instead of falling back into the throat.
  • Jaw and teeth are slightly parted.

This position is considered natural and optimal for airway health. It allows for nasal breathing, keeps the throat open, and minimizes collapsing or obstruction during sleep.

Why does the tongue fall back when sleeping?

There are a few reasons the tongue can fall backward into the airway during sleep:

  • Relaxed throat muscles – The muscles holding the tongue forward relax during sleep allowing it to slide back.
  • Reduced tone – When asleep, there is less tone in the muscles holding the tongue up which causes it to drop.
  • Gravity – The pull of gravity on the tongue causes it to rest at the back of the throat.
  • Sleep position – Lying down flat makes it more likely for the tongue to obstruct breathing.

For those with anatomical factors, allergies, or medical conditions, the tongue is even more likely to block breathing during sleep. Keeping proper tongue position counteracts these effects.

How does poor tongue position affect sleep and health?

When the tongue falls backward, it can have the following negative impacts on sleep and health:

  • Snoring – The tongue vibrating against the throat causes loud snoring.
  • Sleep apnea – The blocked airway leads to pauses in breathing and impaired oxygen intake.
  • Poor sleep quality – Snoring and apnea lead to frequent awakenings and prevent restorative sleep.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness – The lack of quality sleep causes chronic fatigue.
  • Poor concentration – Daytime drowsiness impairs focus and cognition.
  • Hypertension – Sleep apnea is linked to high blood pressure.
  • Heart problems – Low oxygen from apnea strains the cardiovascular system.

Training the tongue to rest in the proper position can help minimize these issues and their associated health risks.

What are signs my tongue position needs improvement?

Here are some signs that indicate poor tongue position during sleep:

  • You wake up with a dry mouth or sore throat.
  • You snore or gasp for air at night.
  • Your partner observes pauses in your breathing.
  • You feel fatigued even after a full night’s sleep.
  • You have morning headaches.
  • Your teeth show imprints of your teeth.
  • You have been diagnosed with hypertension or sleep apnea.

Paying attention to these symptoms and your sleeping patterns can help determine if tongue positioning is contributing to sleep issues.

What techniques improve tongue position for sleep?

It takes consistency and commitment, but the tongue can be trained to maintain proper positioning. Here are effective techniques:

Use a tongue retainer

A mandibular advancement device is worn in the mouth during sleep to hold the tongue forward. This prevents it from blocking the throat while also promoting proper tongue habits.

Perform exercises

Exercises like pressing the tongue to the roof of the mouth strengthen and tone the muscles to better support proper tongue posture. This should be done during the day and before bed.

Try positional therapy

Avoid sleeping on your back which exacerbates tongue obstruction. Side and stomach sleeping are preferable positions.

Improve nasal breathing

Breathing through the nose helps keep the tongue engaged. Saline rinses, nasal strips, and allergy management promote clearer nasal airways.

Watch mouth posture

Keeping the lips gently sealed throughout the day reinforces proper rest positioning of the tongue and trains muscle memory.

Stay hydrated

Drinking adequate water prevents dry mouth which causes the tongue to stick and fall back.

What are the best sleeping positions for proper tongue placement?

Here are the best sleeping positions for keeping the tongue properly positioned:

  • On your side – Sleeping on either side keeps airways open. Avoid tilting the chin down towards the chest.
  • On your stomach – Lying on your stomach allows gravity to keep the tongue forward.
  • Inclined – Elevating your head while sleeping can help prevent the tongue from sliding backward.
  • On your back with chin support – If you must sleep supine, use a chin strap to bring the lower jaw forward.

Maintaining a side or stomach sleeping position is most optimal for keeping the tongue and jaw anterior without obstruction.

Can you correct tongue position without devices or surgery?

Yes, in many cases tongue position can be improved without invasive interventions. Committing to the following conservative techniques can retrain tongue posture over time:

  • Consistent myofunctional therapy exercises to strengthen the tongue.
  • Performing self-massage to stimulate tongue muscles.
  • Jaw and neck stretches to improve musculoskeletal alignment.
  • Making an effort to keep lips sealed and tongue engaged throughout the day.
  • Avoiding tucked chin positions and mouth breathing.
  • Training yourself to sleep in side positions instead of flat on the back.

With dedication and diligence to these exercises, optimal tongue habits can be relearned without medical devices or surgeries in mild to moderate cases.

Should I see a doctor about my tongue position?

You should consider consulting with your physician or a sleep specialist if you have:

  • Moderate to severe sleep apnea.
  • Tried conservative measures without improvement for 3 months.
  • Snoring that disturbs bedpartners.
  • Daytime fatigue affecting work performance.
  • Other signs of obstructive sleep apnea like gasping during sleep.

A doctor can assess the severity of your condition and determine if prescription interventions are appropriate. These may include:

  • Oral appliances like mandibular advancement devices.
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines.
  • Corrective surgeries like uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP).

Medical support should be sought for moderate or severe cases to prevent complications from poor tongue positioning during sleep.


Proper tongue position plays a key role in quality sleep and respiratory health. Letting the tongue fall backward into the airway can lead to problems like sleep apnea, snoring, and poor oxygen intake. Employing techniques to train tongue muscles and posture can improve sleep and minimize these risks. Mild cases can be addressed with conservative measures like tongue exercises and sleeping positions. More severe instances of tongue obstruction may require medical appliances or surgery to correct. Paying attention to proper tongue placement during sleep is an important component of overall health.