How often do you breathe through your mouth at night? It may not always be easy to tell if you do, unless you’re experiencing some of the telltale signs of mouth breathing while you sleep. Some of these may include dry mouth or a sore throat.
Breathing through your mouth while you sleep may seem generally harmless — or even necessary sometimes. We’ve all struggled to get a good night’s sleep with a stuffy nose. But if you often wake up with a dry mouth or a sore throat, you may be wondering how to train yourself to nose breathe at night.
Enter mouth taping— a health trend that’s been picking up steam in recent months. But is it safe, and does it actually work? Let’s take a look.
What is Mouth Taping?
Mouth taping is exactly what it sounds like—using surgical tape to tape your mouth closed. It may sound extreme, but it’s used to encourage nasal breathing (breathing through your nose) while you sleep. People who practice this treatment claim it can treat a number of health problems associated with mouth breathing while you sleep, such as:
- Bad breath
- Dry mouth or sore throat
- Grinding your teeth (bruxism)
- Gum disease and tooth decay
Along with these, mouth breathing may offer additional unpleasant side effects like nighttime coughing, worsened asthma symptoms, and even high blood pressure. According to other studies, including one published by Case Reports in Otolaryngology, mouth breathing in children can affect their growth by potentially affecting their craniofacial growth which could have negative effects on their mental development.
By taping your mouth shut before bed, you encourage yourself to breathe through your nose while you sleep. Of course, this is because with your mouth taped shut, you physically can’t breathe through your mouth so you shift to nasal breathing. (If you are going to tape your mouth before bed, there are specific ways to do it safely which I’ll discuss below.)
While it definitely sounds like a bizarre solution peddled by snake oil salesmen, many people swear by mouth tape for a better night’s sleep. It's recently been gaining traction on social media. But like many viral trends, it may be hard to believe. So is there any truth to this claim, and are there risks?
The Potential Benefits of Mouth Taping
There haven’t been a lot of studies on mouth taping yet, so any current evidence is largely anecdotal. However, many of these claims indicate that mouth taping for sleep can reduce health problems caused by mild apneas and prevent dental health problems. It can also be helpful in preventing snoring, dry mouth, and some sinus issues.
According to a study from the journal Healthcare, mouth breathing during sleep directly influences your oral health and behavioral health; however, more research is needed on the latter.
Is Mouth Taping Safe?
We’ve all seen TV shows or movies where someone has had their mouth taped shut with duct tape, and it never looks comfortable. That’s because it isn’t— especially if you do it improperly.
For best results, do not put a piece of tape horizontally across your mouth. Instead, simply place a small strip vertically, in line with your septum—the cartilage in your nose that separates your nostrils. I recommend using 3M medical tape. It’s cheap and effective, so there’s no need to use other potentially more expensive specialty sleep tape.
Taping your mouth shut can present some unpleasant side effects, and potentially some real dangers, such as:
- Pain while removing the tape, especially if you have facial hair.
- Irritation on or around your lips.
- Anxiety; having tape on your mouth can be stressful.
- Difficulty breathing, especially if you’re experiencing any nasal congestion.
As a whole, mouth taping can be done safely, but it’s important to use your best judgment if you decide to do it. Avoid taping over any facial hair, broken or irritated skin, etc. Remove mouth tape gently to prevent additional irritation. If you become anxious or on edge while wearing mouth tape, remove it immediately.
Three Important Warnings About Mouth Taping
- Mouth taping should be practiced by adults only. Never tape your child’s mouth, or allow them to practice mouth taping.
- You should only use mouth taping for sleep if you’ve first been tested for sleep apnea and have confirmed do not have the disorder. This is important, because sleep apnea is a commonly undiagnosed sleep disorder: As many as 90 percent of people who likely have it are undiagnosed.
You should not practice mouth taping unless you already know that a sleep disorder isn’t the root of your sleep problems. If you think you may have a sleep disorder, it’s vital to get tested, and if necessary, get treatment, as soon as possible: Sleep disorders won’t go away on their own.
When to Seek Help
If you have any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor or a sleep expert. It could be the difference between another night of terrible sleep or a night of rejuvenating rest.
- Loud snoring, coughing, or gasping during sleep.
- Feeling exhausted in the morning, even after a full night’s sleep.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness.
- Taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, and waking up at least once during the night.
- Waking up earlier than you want to.
If mouth taping is out of the question for you, or just seems too uncomfortable to try, there are other ways to improve your sleep:
- Exercise. Physical exercise can improve your sleep quality, help relieve stress, and reduce the severity of sleep disorders like insomnia.
- Exercise your lungs. Breathing exercises can not only strengthen your lung capacity, but they can also help lower your blood pressure and reduce sleep apnea symptoms.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol can relax your tongue and throat muscles, which can cause snoring and obstructions in your airways. Caffeine, of course, can also keep you awake thanks to its stimulant effect. To avoid sleep problems, stop consuming caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime and stop consuming alcohol at least 3 hours before bed.
- Sleep on your side. Sleeping on your back can cause your tongue to fall back towards your throat, obstructing your airway. Sleeping on your side helps keep your airways open and reduces sleep-disordered breathing like snoring.
While mouth taping can be helpful for some, getting a good night’s rest shouldn’t involve jumping through hoops. Restful, deep sleep can be yours with some basic lifestyle changes. If these lifestyle changes don’t help you get a better night’s sleep, you may have a sleep disorder.
Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM
The Sleep Doctor