How to Stop Dry Mouth at Night: Understanding the Link Between Xerostomia and Sleep

Approximately one-fifth of the global population suffers from dry mouth, clinically termed xerostomia. Dry mouth can be caused by different factors, including disease, cancer treatments, dehydration, and more. People who suffer from dry mouth often find it exacerbated at night, which can occur because the body naturally produces less saliva during sleep. This, in turn, can cause sleep disruptions throughout the night.


In this article, we’ll discuss why dry mouth might be waking you up at night, dry mouth treatment options, and why it’s important to address dry mouth and any other medical condition that disrupts your sleep on a consistent basis.


When Dry Mouth Wakes You Up at Night

People who experience severe dry mouth at night may wake up due to discomfort or thirst. Keeping a bottle of water next to your bed is a good way to eliminate the need to get up and go to the kitchen for a drink, but it doesn’t solve the problem long-term. Drinking in the middle of the night can also lead to frequent urination, another way your sleep can be disrupted. 


If you’re lucky, you’ll wake up, drink and/or urinate, and go back to sleep. If you’re one of the 50 million Americans who suffer from a sleep disorder, it might not be so easy to fall back asleep. Then you’re left dealing with the discomfort of dry mouth and the consequences of not getting enough sleep (more on that below).


How to Prevent Dry Mouth When Sleeping

During the night, our bodies naturally produce less saliva (which makes sense, as saliva helps with food digestion and we don’t typically eat in the middle of the night). This alone shouldn’t give you the feeling of dry mouth, which is caused when the body doesn’t produce enough saliva. 


Dry mouth symptoms include:

  • Sticky, itchy or burning in the mouth, tongue, and/or throat
  • Dry, cracked, or red lips and/or tongue
  • Mouth sores or infections
  • Increased thirst
  • Hoarseness


If you experience any of the above symptoms, the first things to check are:

  • The way you breathe: Mouth breathing naturally dries your mouth out at night, and can be remedied with nose breathing exercises or nasal spray, which should make it easier to breathe through your nose. 
  • Hydration: If you don’t drink enough during the day, you may feel the results at night. Make sure to drink enough water during the day so your body stays hydrated. 
  • Ambient humidity: A humidifier may be helpful to reduce oral dryness.


If these “home remedies” for dry mouth aren’t working, it’s time to dig deeper and look for a medical reason. 


Dry Mouth and Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea, a condition when your body stops and starts breathing during sleep, is a common sleeping disorder that can cause dry mouth. A study entitled, “The role of dry mouth in screening sleep apnea” examined whether dry mouth is an effective indication of sleep apnea.


At the time of the study (2020), the STOP-Bang questionnaire was used as a screening measure for early detection of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). However, the questionnaire did not include anything related to dry mouth. Researchers hypothesized that adding questions about dry mouth to the questionnaire would improve its accuracy. 


After adding dry mouth questions, researchers found that the incidence of dry mouth in the group of people with suspected OSA was much higher than in the general population group. Their conclusion was that there is a correlation between dry mouth and sleep apnea (as well as snoring) and that the STOP-Bang questionnaire could be improved by integrating dry mouth questions.


Unfortunately, one of the common treatments for sleep apnea, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, can also lead to dry mouth. The Sleep Foundation offers several ways to reduce dry mouth caused by CPAP, but it’s also best to consult a medical professional if your dry mouth persists. 


Additional Medical Reasons You May Be Experiencing Dry Mouth

If you breathe through your nose, drink enough during the day, and don’t have sleep apnea — but still suffer from dry mouth — there is likely a different medical root cause. 


The most common causes of dry mouth are:

  • Medication: Hundreds of medications for a wide range of afflictions can cause dry mouth. These are known as xerogenic medications. 
  • Polypharmacy: Several studies show that one of the biggest risk factors for dry mouth is polypharmacy, taking multiple medications concurrently. 
  • Disease: Several diseases, including Sjögren’s syndrome and other autoimmune diseases, thyroid disease, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, dementia, and others can cause dry mouth.
  • Cancer treatments: Radiation therapy for head and neck cancers, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy can all lead to decreased saliva production or changes in saliva viscosity. 
  • Injury: Head or neck injuries can sometimes damage the nerves connected to salivary

gland function and cause a reduction in saliva.

Xerostomia Treatment Products

While there is no cure for dry mouth, there are plenty of pharmacological and natural treatments available. Some of the most popular are:

  • Electrostimulation as a Non-Pharmacological, Non-Invasive Dry Mouth Treatment

Electrostimulation, such as the SaliPen offers, is a non-pharmacological, non-invasive method of increasing the body’s natural production of saliva. Anyone can do it for themselves at home. Although a recent study has shown it to be particularly effective in treating dry mouth caused by Sjogren’s syndrome, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved SaliPen’s use as an over-the-counter (OTC) product to every person suffering from dry mouth, regardless of the cause.

  • Prescription and Over-the-Counter Dry Mouth Cures

Prescription and over-the-counter options, like chewing gum, throat lozenges, sprays, and mouthwashes, can either increase the body’s natural production of saliva or provide replacement saliva to alleviate discomfort. 


Several prescription medications, mainly pilocarpine and cevimeline, can also increase the body’s natural production of saliva. On the other hand, if prescription medications are causing your dry mouth, consult with your healthcare professional and try to find alternatives, different dosages, or different mixes of medications that might relieve your dry mouth symptoms. 

  • Lifestyle Changes for Natural Dry Mouth Relief

In addition to prescriptions and natural remedies for dry mouth, several basic lifestyle changes can help to alleviate symptoms. These include:

  • Drinking more water during the day
  • Cutting back on caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol
  • Using a humidifier at night


If you are experiencing persistent dry mouth at night, make an appointment with a healthcare professional (typically a dentist, oral medicine specialist, or oral and maxillofacial surgeon) and work on an effective, customized treatment plan.


Is Dry Mouth a Sleep Disorder?

Dry mouth is not typically categorized as a sleep disorder, even though it can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. According to the American Psychiatric Association, sleep disorders “involve problems with the quality, timing, and amount of sleep, which result in daytime distress and impairment in functioning.”


The most common sleep disorders include:

  • Insomnia: Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Obstructive sleep apnea: Breathing stops and starts again, usually coupled with snoring
  • Restless legs syndrome: The urge to move your legs when you rest
  • REM sleep behavior disorder: Acting out your dreams during the REM stage
  • Narcolepsy: The irresistible urge to sleep, which can result in falling asleep suddenly


If you experience any kind of sleep disorder, it’s crucial to see a medical professional. 


Tips for Healthy Sleeping

If you sometimes have a hard time falling asleep, but don’t have a diagnosed sleep disorder, there are several lifestyle adjustments you can make. 

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon
  • Stay away from blue light (television, smartphones, computers, etc.) for 2-3 hours before you go to sleep (if possible!)
  • Be physically active during the day


Why is it Important to Get a Good Night’s Sleep?

The importance of getting sufficient, high-quality sleep consistently cannot be underestimated. Many studies show that sleep affects many aspects of our daily lives, including:

  • Weight 
  • Concentration
  • Heart
  • Sugar metabolism and insulin resistance (associated with type 2 diabetes)
  • Immune system
  • Depression
  • Inflammation
  • Mood
  • Mortality


If dry mouth or any other condition is causing you to wake up in the middle of the night, it’s important to seek help from a dentist, oral medicine specialist, or oral and maxillofacial surgeon. There’s no reason to suffer from dry mouth discomfort and lack of sleep. With the proper planning and dry mouth treatment plan, you can enjoy a higher quality of life both during the day and at night.