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Where should your tongue be when lying down?

Proper tongue posture is an important but often overlooked aspect of oral health. The position of your tongue when lying down can affect breathing, saliva flow, teeth alignment and more. This article will examine optimal tongue placement when sleeping or resting supine and provide tips to help train your tongue to rest in the right spot.

What is proper tongue posture?

Ideal tongue posture involves keeping the tongue pressed lightly against the roof of the mouth. More specifically, the tip of the tongue should be positioned just behind the front teeth along the gumline while the middle and back rest against the hard palate. This allows the tongue to fit naturally within the structure of the mouth.

Proper tongue posture serves several purposes:

  • It keeps the airway open for smooth breathing
  • It allows saliva to coat the teeth and neutralize acids
  • It provides upward support for the teeth and facial structure
  • It exercises and strengthens the tongue muscle

Conversely, improper tongue placement can lead to issues like snoring, sleep apnea, crooked teeth, mouth breathing and poor oral health. When lying down, keeping the tongue posture in the right position can be especially challenging.

Where should your tongue go when lying on your back?

When lying in the supine position, optimal tongue posture involves keeping the tip of the tongue on the ridge right behind the front teeth. The rest of the tongue should lightly press against the hard palate or roof of the mouth. This may feel unnatural at first but allows the tongue to fit properly within the oral structure.

Benefits of this tongue placement when on your back include:

  • Keeping the airway open by preventing the tongue from partially blocking breathing
  • Allowing saliva to coat the mouth and teeth overnight
  • Providing upward support for proper craniofacial development
  • Avoiding facial deformation from pressure of improper tongue posture over time

Training yourself to rest your tongue in this position when sleeping on your back can take time. Using a reminder like placing the tip of the tongue between the lips can help ingrain this placement.

What about side sleeping tongue posture?

When sleeping on your side, the ideal tongue posture is slightly adapted but remains pressed lightly against the roof of the mouth. Because the head is turned to the side, the tongue can rest against the palate on that side rather than centrally.

The tip of the tongue should still rest just behind the front teeth but on the ridge of the teeth on the same side you are sleeping on. The rest of the tongue can drape comfortably along the hard palate on that side. Pay attention to keep the tongue relaxed, not strained.

This allows the benefits of proper tongue posture while accommodating the physical dynamics of side sleeping. Airflow remains open on the upturned side of the face and saliva distributes normally. The tongue supports the teeth and dental arches in alignment.

What about stomach sleeping tongue placement?

Stomach sleeping is generally not recommended as it twists the neck and spins the jaw open. But if you must rest on your front, aim to keep proper tongue posture against the palate.

This can be accomplished by turning the head to one side and placing the tip of the tongue on the gumline as described for side sleeping. Try to keep the tongue pressing upward but relax it rather than straining the muscle.

The tongue will likely slide around more when stomach sleeping but maintaining any upward pressure against the palate can help uphold proper positioning. Rotate the direction you turn your head each night to balance out the tongue posture. Using a very thin pillow to elevate the forehead can also help mimic proper posture.

Tips for training tongue posture while lying down

Conditioning the tongue to rest properly when you are in supine positions takes repetition and conscious effort. Here are some tips:

  • Place the tip of the tongue between the lips as a reminder for where it should be.
  • Say lingual sounds like “sing” and “ring” to activate the tongue muscles.
  • Gently close the teeth and notice where the tip of the tongue rests.
  • Chew a small hard gum or candy to strengthen the tongue position.
  • Swallow saliva and pay attention to where the tongue wants to rest afterwards.

With consistent practice, proper tongue posture can become an unconscious habit when you are lying down. Be patient with yourself in the training process.

Why you should avoid mouth breathing when sleeping

Proper tongue posture helps facilitate nose breathing which is ideal when sleeping. Mouth breathing is linked to numerous issues:

  • Dry mouth – Excessive mouth breathing can dry out the saliva leading to bad breath and tooth decay.
  • Impacted sleep quality – The mouth can fall open during sleep leading to loud snoring and sleep disruptions.
  • Muscular imbalance – Constant mouth breathing overdevelops some facial muscles leading to orthodontic issues over time.
  • Reduced oxygenation – Mouth breathing does not process air as efficiently so the body and brain are not optimally oxygenated.

Keeping proper tongue position against the palate naturally promotes nose breathing. The tongue acts as a natural block against the mouth falling open. This allows you to gain the benefits of nasal breathing overnight.

Signs you may have improper tongue posture

Here are some indications that you may need to work on optimizing your tongue posture when lying down:

  • You often wake up with a dry mouth and bad breath
  • You snore or make other noises when sleeping
  • Your teeth appear crowded or crooked
  • You have been diagnosed with sleep apnea
  • Your face appears narrow or malformed
  • Your tongue thrusts out when swallowing or at rest

These issues can arise from improper resting tongue posture and the associated mouth breathing. Consulting with your dentist or orthodontist can help diagnose the role of tongue placement in dental and facial development issues.

Devices that can help train proper tongue posture

Certain devices are designed to facilitate improved tongue posture, especially while sleeping. These include:

  • Tongue retaining devices – These hold the tongue in place to prevent it falling back into the airway.
  • Mandibular advancement devices – These bring the lower jaw forward to open the airway space.
  • Tongue trainers – These strengthen and exercise tongue muscles.
  • Lip tapes – Tapes gently stick the lips together as a reminder for tongue placement.

Talk to your dentist if you are considering an appliance and to ensure proper fit and use. Proper tongue posture training can also reduce the need for devices long-term.

The importance of swallowing correctly

Swallowing patterns directly impact resting tongue posture. Healthy swallowing should involve the following:

  • Tip of tongue presses behind front upper teeth
  • Tongue elevates to palate
  • Lips seal closed
  • Jaw moves slightly upward
  • No cheek, lip or tongue movements

Ideally, these motions should become unconscious habits. Pay attention to your swallowing technique throughout the day. Place a gentle hand on the face to monitor any extraneous muscle movements.

Learning to swallow correctly develops the proper tongue movements necessary for ideal posture when lying down. Exaggerating the tongue to palate elevation can train proper placement overtime.

Common oral problems related to tongue posture

The following dental and orthodontic issues can be caused or exacerbated by improper resting tongue posture:

  • Malocclusion – Misalignment of the upper and lower teeth. The tongue is necessary to provide upward support and pressure against the palate for proper alignment.
  • Open bite – A space between the upper and lower front teeth when biting due to lack of vertical tongue support.
  • Crowding – Crooked or overlapped teeth from pressure imbalance on the dental arches.
  • Narrow palate – Constricted upper arch which can compress the tongue space. Proper tongue posture and pressure can expand the palate width.
  • Sleep apnea – Repeated throat closing and loss of breath during sleep. Improper tongue posture narrows airways.

Consult your dentist if you notice any of these issues, as restoration of proper tongue function is often part of the treatment.

The takeaway

Where your tongue rests when you are lying down matters more than most people realize. Optimal tongue posture involves pressing the tongue gently against the roof of the mouth. This opens your airway for proper breathing, distributes saliva, provides upward dental support and benefits musculoskeletal development.

Be patient with yourself while training proper placement. Use reminders like placing the tongue tip at the gumline and swallowing consciously. Address bad habits like mouth breathing. With consistent practice, ideal tongue posture can become natural in all sleeping positions.