The significance of saliva during sleep and the relevance of oromotor movements

Sleep Med Rev. 2002 Jun;6(3):213-27. doi: 10.1053/smrv.2001.0183.


Saliva is an essential component of the oroesophageal milieu and allows for normal speech, taste, mastication, food bolus formation and swallowing. Saliva has important functions in protecting the hard and soft tissues of the oral cavity from acids and pathogenic microbes. A large number of people suffer either subjective or objective alterations in quantity and/or quality of their saliva that may be secondary to disease, medications, medical treatments or emotional events. Sleep-related xerostomia is a sensation of dry mouth associated with a report of either mouth and/or throat discomfort that induces awakenings for water intake. The prevalence of self-reported dry mouth complaint during sleep (associated with awakening and water intake) in a Canadian survey was estimated at 23%. The biological significance of decreased saliva during sleep is unknown and it is unclear how the oral cavity compensates for this period of relative dryness. The amount of saliva produced is greatest during the waking hours of the day and diminishes dramatically during sleep and may represent another process in the human body that displays a circadian rhythmicity. Salivary secretion during wakefulness is, in part, associated with oromotor activity involving the masticatory muscles. Rhythmic masticatory muscle activity and swallowing are non-disruptive events that occur during normal sleep. We hypothesize herein that lubrication from saliva is necessary during sleep to protect tissue integrity and health of oroesophageal structures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bruxism / physiopathology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / physiopathology
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Masticatory Muscles / physiology
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Saliva / physiology*
  • Salivary Glands / physiopathology
  • Sjogren's Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Xerostomia / physiopathology