Bruxism has long been an actively discussed topic in dentistry, but the observations and definitions created for dentistry may not be adequate for diagnosing bruxism due to a sleep disorder.

sleep bruxism causes

No one can really tell you what causes bruxism, but you can ask your patients about their history and habits to help pinpoint the risk factors that contribute to their nocturnal bruxism.

What habits and traits raise the chances of developing nocturnal bruxism?


Patients that smoke on a regular basis are twice as likely to develop nocturnal bruxism than your non-smoking patients. Similar to the causes of this condition, there really isn’t an answer as to why smoking cigarettes can lead to bruxism.

Drug/Alcohol Use

Just like cigarettes, the ingestion of drugs and alcohol also double a patient's chance of developing nocturnal bruxism. You may have the occasional patient that drinks a glass of wine or two before going to bed to help them sleep – but in reality, alcohol is known to break up sleeping patterns. If your patient sleeps poorly, this triggers their muscles to hyper-activate and the teeth to grind.

Sleep Disordered Breathing

As it was mentioned above, patients who sleep poorly are more likely to grind their teeth while they sleep than those who get a good night’s rest. If your patient is a snorer, or if their significant other is one, they are also twice as likely to exhibit nocturnal bruxism. Shallow breathing and/or snoring triggers their brain to respond which causes them to wake frequently during the night.


To most people, caffeine is considered a stimulant to help keep them energized during the day. What some people don’t know is that caffeine has a half-life of three to 12 hours after it’s consumed. Caffeine triggers muscle activity, which can cause frequent waking periods during the night that can contribute to nocturnal bruxism.

The habits and traits that are listed above have only been proven to likely cause sleep bruxism. Not all patients who take part in one or two – or even all of the likely causes – will actually grind their teeth at night.  However, if you notice significant wear on a patient's teeth, it’s important to ask them about their habits and investigate all possible etiologies in order to treat them effectively.

Dr. Martin Mendelson, D.D.S., Spear Faculty


Commenter's Profile Image Chris Morgan
June 22nd, 2012
Silly question, but does nocturnal bruxism include non-grinding clinchers?
Commenter's Profile Image Jon
February 27th, 2014
I had all of the aforementioned symptoms and have greatly reduced all of them; my case was pretty bad and I actually chipped some of my teeth. It didn't take mouthguards, botox, or DVD's of jaw excercises to relieve my symptoms. All I did was simply change my sleeping position. By sleeping on your back your jaw will be in a relaxed state, whereas sleeping on your side (which I almost always did) or on your stomach WILL cause bruxism. Why? By sleeping in those positions you put pressure on your jaw and misalign it because your jaw wants to be in a relaxed state during sleep. Daytime bruxism is almost always the result of night bruxism because during the day your jaw is trying to realign itself. It worked for me. This isn't my theory, this is what a doctor stated in his article.
Commenter's Profile Image Lynne
August 16th, 2014
I also have noticed that when I sleep on my side I clench my jaw muscles, which has led to a great deal of neck pain. I seem to clench less when sleeping on my back. Your comment has confirmed my observation and I am now determined to avoid sleeping on my side.