How Mouth Taping Affects Sleep + What To Know Before Getting Started
If you've ever had difficulty falling (or staying) asleep, you've probably tried quite a few sleep-better hacks in order to get more quality rest. Thankfully, these days there's no shortage of products that can help you achieve deeper zzz's. But even with all the bedtime bells and whistles you can collect, sometimes the issue with your sleep comes down to how you're breathing.
That's where mouth taping can come in. Designed to train your body to breathe through your nose rather than your open mouth, this is an inexpensive, easy way to improve your sleep hygiene. Here's what you need to know about mouth taping, including how to try it safely.
How mouth breathing affects sleep.
Breathing through your mouth can be detrimental to sleep quality, and it tends to be linked to more sleep concerns, says Lauri Leadley, CCSH, president and clinical sleep educator of Valley Sleep Center.
That's because when you breathe through your mouth, you're bypassing your body's natural buffer system by not properly using your nose, says James Nestor, New York Times bestselling author of Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. "When we take air through the mouth, we are denying our bodies the filtration, humidity, and pressure that happens with nasal breathing. The nose protects our lungs from pathogens, dust, pollen, and mold but also helps control our breathing. It's much harder to over-breathe when you're breathing through the nose."
Nestor adds that as humans, it's estimated we're supposed to sleep about a third of our lives, and 60% of us mouth breath to some extent. The result is a whole lot less sleep that we desperately need.
How mouth taping works.
Mouth taping is exactly what it sounds like—gently taping your mouth so that you breathe through your nose instead of opening your mouth during sleep.
"When you think about breathing through your nose during the daytime, it's a lot easier because you can consciously tell yourself to do it," says Nestor. "When you fall asleep, not only are you unconscious but your muscles and tissues relax, which makes it easier for the mouth to open."
By changing the way you breathe at night to nasal breathing, you're ensuring you are delivering the appropriate amount of oxygen to the body.
"More oxygen isn't always better, just like eating more food isn't always better for more energy," says Nestor. "Your body will be able to upload more oxygen if you're breathing in line with your metabolic needs. For most people, this means you need to breathe slower and deeper. The nose helps with this because it pressurizes air, slowing the rate it enters the body and allowing the lungs to have more time to extract oxygen."
Allowing extra time for the lungs to tap into oxygen also releases more nitric oxide, which helps cells to deliver oxygen throughout the body, improves circulation, and widens the blood vessels to enhance blood flow and promote healthy blood pressure.
Benefits of mouth taping.
Aside from helping you get a sound night's sleep, mouth taping may improve other areas of your health, says Leadley. These include:
- An increase in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep: REM sleep is important for learning and memory, and it stimulates areas of the brain that retain and store knowledge. There is some initial evidence that those who breathe through their mouths1 during sleep spend less time2 in the essential sleep stage.
- Quieter sleep: In a study of 30 mouth breathers who slept with a porous oral patch, their breathing was quieter3 after the intervention.
- Improved dental hygiene: By keeping certain bacteria out of the mouth, nose breathing may result in better health of our teeth and gum tissue4, studies suggest. It also may foster a less dry mouth environment and/or improve your breath by increasing saliva production while you sleep.
Side effects and safety of mouth taping.
Depending on the kind of tape you use, removing mouth tape may cause skin irritation or slight discomfort, especially if you have facial hair (think of it as a free waxing service?). To prevent this, Leadley recommends applying a thin layer of Vaseline to your lips before applying the tape.
Alex Dimitriu, M.D., a double board-certified doctor in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine and BRAINFOODmd, warns that in some instances, particularly if you have subpar airflow through your nasal passages, mouth taping may result in worsening your sleep quality, so he often doesn't recommend it to his clients.
This is where common sense is key, says Nestor. "If you have trouble breathing through your nose, don't tape your mouth," he says. "Some people may also have structural issues with their nose which can make nasal breathing difficult. Mouth taping may not be the best option for them, and they should consult with a healthcare provider first."
Dimitriu adds that mouth breathing can often be avoided by a proper assessment of nasal airflow. If you deal with frequent issues, it's worth speaking to an ENT and/or allergist.
How to start mouth taping.
Interested in trying mouth taping? Nestor says it's best to go slow. "Start with a little piece of tape and wear it for 10 minutes during the day while answering emails," he says. "Gradually extend that time until you're comfortable transitioning to nighttime use."
As for what kind of tape to buy, there are a few options. Both Leadley and Nestor recommend the following:
Most importantly, remember that a little goes a long way. If you're using 3M tape or a similar brand, you just need a small piece, one that can pop off with your tongue without much resistance.
Alternative methods for deeper sleep.
Nestor says it's important to keep in mind that mouth taping likely won't be a silver bullet for your sleep. Everyone responds differently, and what works for a friend may not be the route for you.
As for other ways to reduce or combat mouth breathing, Leadley says elevating your head and upper back or trying nasal dilators may help open the nasal passages during the night.
The bottom line.
The connection between breathing and sleep is an important one, and if you tend to breathe through your mouth at night, mouth taping may provide a cheap, effective option for you. Speak to your health care provider about mouth taping to see if you may be the right candidate for it to start sleeping more soundly.
Colleen Travers is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in health, nutrition, diet, fitness, and wellness trends for various publications and brands. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, SHAPE, Fit Pregnancy, Food Network, and more. She lives on Long Island with her two kids, two rescue pets, and husband.