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Every night, after my wife and I say goodnight, I reach for a roll of mouth tape in the drawer of my bedside table. Relaxing my lips my keeping them closed, I place the tape over them before I turn off the lights.
That’s what I thought at first, too, but the health benefits of nose breathing are undeniable.
Using mouth tape forces you to breathe out of your nose (instead of your mouth). This is a simple way to reap the benefits of better sleep and improved oral and dental health.
I noticed that one woman, Eliza, was mouth breathing during an appointment, so I sent her home with some mouth tape.
She mouth taped that night and immediately discovered that it was impossible for her to do so. It was a good indicator that Eliza hadn’t been nose breathing, so she slowly trained herself to do it.
Now, years after finally learning how to nose breathe, Eliza says she has transformed, and so has her health.
She has better focus, memory, and concentration. Her anxiety is greatly reduced, and she also hasn’t had a cavity since.
If you’re breathing through your mouth while you sleep at night, it’s a big deal.
Not only does it reduce the quality of your sleep, but it disrupts the balance of your oral microbiome and makes you more prone to tooth decay.
In fact, I consider mouth breathing the number one cause of cavities—even ahead of poor diet or bad dental hygiene.
Mouth tape is a tool that everyone should have in their medicine cabinet—or nightstand, if you’re like me.
In this post, I’ll provide more info on what it is and how it works to improve health, and I’ll also outline how to get started using mouth tape if you’ve never tried it before.
What is Mouth Tape?
Before I explain what mouth tape is, I want to be sure that you understand what it isn’t.
Mouth tape isn’t duct tape or any other random, store-bought tape that you just slap on your lips.
Mouth taping is minimally invasive, pain-free, and completely safe (unlike trying to sleep with heavy-duty duct tape covering your mouth).
Brands like Somnifix have created special adhesive strips that are designed specifically for mouth taping. They’re hypoallergenic, easily removed by simply opening your mouth, and shaped to sit directly on the lips.
In the past, I’ve opted for plain surgical tape (which also works great!). But I started using Somnifix Sleep Strips because they’re so much less intimidating.
The design is soft and more gel-like than “tape.” Each strip has a vent for the mouth so that, even if your nose gets stuffed up through the night, you can still breathe easily. They also come off with absolutely no residue left on the lips at all.
Regardless of the method used, the idea is to keep your mouth closed and covered while you sleep to ensure breathing through the nose.
If you are a mouth breather, it’s unlikely that your first night of mouth taping will be successful.
The best thing you can do is to keep trying and be vigilant about practicing nose breathing during the day, when you’re more aware.
Becoming a nose breather is a process, but even repeated cycles of just a few minutes of nose breathing can effectively train your body to do it regularly.
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Taping my mouth at night sounds scary—what can I do?
Not quite ready to mouth tape during sleep yet?
That’s okay—a lot of people feel a little freaked out about it at first. Try this instead: after you brush your teeth in the morning, try wearing mouth tape while you finish getting ready and drive to work.
Mouth taping for periods of time throughout the day can help ease your anxiety over nighttime taping. You’ll feel how easy (or challenging) it is to breathe through your nose.
If it’s very hard or impossible for you to use mouth tape, like if you can’t breathe through your nose much or at all, it may be time to set up a sleep study. You can also try a home sleep test to see if you’re snoring a lot or have other obvious signs of sleep apnea.
However, a sleep specialist with data from a full sleep study is the only person who will be able to truly help you get to the root of your problem.
Here’s the thing to remember: If taping your mouth stops you from breathing altogether, something isn’t right.
You should be able to breathe through your nose almost exclusively, unless you’re sick or have some kind of obstruction. For an obstruction, you’ll need medical intervention to find the source.
What’s So Bad About Mouth Breathing?
The simplest way to explain why mouth breathing is bad is to point out how the body was designed: The mouth is for eating, tasting, and talking; and the nose is for breathing and smelling.
When our bodies, or body parts, begin to operate outside their intended function, problems arise.
During mouth breathing, air is forced through the airway at a larger volume than when you breathe through your nose. And when you breathe in air at such a high volume, the collapsible airway tends to collapse.
Children who mouth breathe can have numerous health issues, including abnormal facial growth and development, misaligned teeth, and poor sleep habits that can cause exhaustion and poor mental processing skills. (1, 2)
In fact, the symptoms of mouth breathing in children and teens are identical to the symptoms of ADHD! (3)
Some studies suggest that over half of children diagnosed and treated for ADHD might actually be sleeping with their mouths open (and spending their days that way). (4)
Adults who mouth breathe are more likely to snore and often struggle with sleep disruptions, including sleep apnea. They’re probably the ones drooling while sleeping, too.
Mouth breathing also impacts blood pressure and heart rate, worsens asthma, and deprives the heart, brain, and other organs of optimal oxygenation. (5, 6, 7, 8)
Benefits of Mouth Tape
Now that you know some of the dangers of mouth breathing, let’s take a look at some ot the benefits you can expect from using mouth tape. When your body is trained to breathe through your nose, the results are astounding!
1. Increased nitric oxide levels
Adults and children who mouth breathe care deprived of valuable nitric oxide, which your body produces in the sinuses.
The body produces 25 percent of its nitric oxide from nose breathing, so mouth breathing obviously slashes the amount that your body can access. (9)
Here are just some of the benefits of nitric oxide:
- enhances memory and learning (10)
- regulates blood pressure (11)
- regulates inflammatory response (12)
- improves sleep quality (13)
- increases endurance and strength (14)
- promotes weight loss (15)
- improves immune/gut function (16)
- relieves pain (17)
- reduces heart disease risk (18)
- helps improve symptoms of anxiety and depression (19)
2. Reduced risk of teeth grinding
Many mouth breathers suffer from sleep apnea or some other form of disordered sleep breathing.
When you have disordered sleep breathing, teeth grinding is the body’s natural reflex to force air into your airways. It’s a life-saving reaction, to be sure. The problem is that it also causing lots of damage to the teeth.
Teeth grinding, medically known as bruxism, can lead to decay, premature aging that causes yellowing, and gum recession.
3. Reduced risk of dry mouth
Many people don’t realize that they have a dry mouth. But waking up with a sticky feeling that has you immediately grabbing for water, or having saliva that is thick and ropy throughout the day are signs that your mouth is drier than it should be.
And a dry mouth isn’t just uncomfortable—it’s harmful to the oral microbiome and can negatively impact oral and dental health.
A dry mouth promotes cavities because the teeth are not being bathed in saliva, which contains a certain nutrients that are critical to the the remineralization process.
Dry mouth also lowers the pH of the mouth lowers into the acidic zone, which allows bacteria to flourish and, thus, also promotes cavities.
4. Efficient way to diagnose more serious issues
Mouth tape not only forces you to breathe through your nose during sleep, it’s also a great at-home diagnostic tool.
Many of my patients have sought help from an ENT (an ear, nose, and throat specialist), allergist, or sleep medicine physician after realizing that they couldn’t keep the tape on their mouths all night.
These specialists were able to treat the root cause of the blockage in their noses, helping them nose breathe effortlessly all day and all night long.
These are just some of the reasons to nose breathe.
Myofunctional therapist Sarah Hornsby also wrote a guest post about mouth breathing in children. She outlines more of the important reasons you should nose breathe, and, in particular, make sure your kids aren’t mouth breathing.
(One great method of breathing that fights the dangers of mouth breathing is the Buteyko method, developed by Dr. Konstantin Buteyko. Proponents of this method swear by it for treating asthma and other breathing issues.)
If you can’t keep mouth tape on all night, there’s a chance you have a form of sleep apnea or the less severe UARS (upper airway resistance syndrome). These conditions are serious and impact many areas of health.
That’s why mouth tape is so valuable as a diagnostic tool, too.
How to Mouth Tape for Better Sleep
Mouth taping is as easy as it sounds—you simply tape your mouth shut before bed.
The tape will encourage you to nose breathe even while you’re unconscious in deep sleep. Or, if the mouth tape is removed because you open your mouth to breathe while sleeping, it serves to alert you to an underlying issue.
One great benefit of mouth tape for convenience is that it can cut down on nighttime bathroom trips.
See, when you breathe normally during sleep, your brain shuts down your urges to use the restroom (other than emergency situations). Getting up to urinate in the middle of the night may be a sign your breathing is interrupted.
Plus, mouth taping can help to reverse mouth snoring, although it won’t fix snoring that originates in the nose.
Not sure if you snore through your mouth or nose? If you cover your mouth with a hand and can’t make a snoring sound, then you’re snoring through the mouth.
Here are some additional mouth taping tips:
- Use specially shaped strips that will fix to your lips without interfering with facial hair, like Somnifix.
- Pucker your lips out, then attach the sticky side of the strip to your lips. You should notice your lips sitting comfortably as they normally would.
- Try opening your mouth after putting the tape on. If it’s not fairly easy to open your mouth with just a little pressure, try again to get a better fit.
- If you find yourself taking off the tape before you wake up, don’t despair! This is great information. Work with your doctor or dentist to understand what’s preventing you from nose breathing. Some of the most common culprits are a stuffy/dusty bedroom, allergies, or a deviated septum, which is easily fixed with a common surgical procedure.
Anything worth doing takes time, and learning to mouth tape is no exception.
People often find it takes a few weeks to get used to mouth taping, so don’t give up if you find your mouth is open when you wake up for the first few days.
I want to also point out that there are no contraindications for mouth taping. Children and pregnant women can mouth tape safely without fear, particularly if using gentle tape like Somnifix or surgical tape.
If you encourage your children to mouth tape, just make sure they can easily open the mouth if necessary. I wouldn’t suggest this for very young children or babies, though.
Where To Buy Mouth Tape?
Because mouth tape isn’t as widely used as it should be (yet!), ordering online is probably the best way to access multiple options.
I’ve personally tried a lot of different brands of mouth tape. In my book, The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox, I recommend Snorless Strips (which are available on Amazon), but I’ve recently discovered two options I like much better.
Somnifix is the only strip specifically designed for mouth taping, so they fit right over the lips. You also don’t have to worry about taking off skin when you peel them off because the glue has just the right amount of stickiness and leaves no residue behind.
Sleep Strips by SomniFix
These strips are made with a specially-engineered adhesive that allows you to easily apply and remove the strip without leaving any residue behind
A more budget-friendly option is Micropore tape. It’s more like a standard medical or surgical tape that comes in a dispenser for easy use.
My Favorite: Budget Pick
3M Micropore Tape
I’ve personally used Somnifix and surgical tape. I find neither of them irritate my skin, and it’s very simple to use strips each night. Surgical tape is available online or at your local drugstore, if you prefer not to order online.
How Long Do I Need to Mouth Tape?
Even though I’m a good nose breather, I still mouth tape every single night.
Some people mouth tape just long enough to see that they wake up with their mouths closed, but there’s no reason to stop, in my opinion.
Ultimately, unless you have a cold, allergies, or other breathing disruption, you’ll get all the air you need through your nose.
If you have a CPAP machine or oral appliances, you should mouth tape forever. Using a CPAP makes dry mouth even more likely, as it can be more difficult to keep your mouth closed than usual.
That’s why some of the biggest proponents of mouth tape use it in conjunction with a CPAP device.
What if Mouth Tape Doesn’t Work for Me?
As I’ve said, if your mouth tape is separated when you wake up, it’s a sign you’re still sleeping with your mouth open.
This is likely to happen on occasion to anyone. But if you notice it’s happening for several weeks at a time, I would recommend speaking with an ENT, myofunctional therapist, or your dentist.
Why? Because there’s no reason using mouth tape wouldn’t work, unless you’re wearing creams or lotions on your face that won’t allow the tape to attach.
Forcing your mouth open at night all the time is a sign that you can’t breathe properly through your nose.
I believe mouth breathing is one of the most likely causes of dental caries (cavities) and gum disease, which is why I recommend that everyone mouth tape at night.
And while some people give up mouth taping once they no longer wake up with an open mouth, you can—and should—mouth tape forever. It’s safe for everyone and has no negative impact if you’re using the proper tape.
There are many varieties of mouth tape available online, but I personally use surgical tape or Somnifix strips.
Using a tape that is gentle on skin but strong enough to keep your mouth closed can help increase your nitric oxide levels. This can directly improve your sleep quality and overall health, in addition to the health of your teeth.
If you find that you are still waking up with your mouth open after trying mouth tape for several weeks, think about your nighttime routine.
Are you applying creams or lotions to your face that can stop the tape from attaching? If not, it may be time to consult with a specialist to find the root cause of your mouth breathing.
I hope this article leaves you confident to develop a new habit that will benefit you and your children for the rest of your lives. Tape up!
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For Further Reading:
- Close Your Mouth: Buteyko Clinic Handbook for Perfect Health
- Attention All Mouth Breathers – 5 Important Reasons Why You Must Breathe Through Your Nose
- Basheer, B., Hegde, K. S., Bhat, S. S., Umar, D., & Baroudi, K. (2014). Influence of mouth breathing on the dentofacial growth of children: a cephalometric study. Journal of international oral health: JIOH, 6(6), 50. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4295456/
- Benninger, M., & Walner, D. (2007). Obstructive sleep-disordered breathing in children. Clinical cornerstone, 9, S6-12. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17584620
- O’brien, L. M., Mervis, C. B., Holbrook, C. R., Bruner, J. L., Smith, N. H., McNally, N., … & Gozal, D. (2004). Neurobehavioral correlates of sleep‐disordered breathing in children. Journal of sleep research, 13(2), 165-172. Full text: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2004.00395.x
- Huang, Y. S., Chen, N. H., Li, H. Y., Wu, Y. Y., Chao, C. C., & Guilleminault, C. (2004). Sleep disorders in Taiwanese children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of sleep research, 13(3), 269-277. Full text: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2004.00408.x
- Jefferson, Y. (2010). Mouth breathing: adverse effects on facial growth, health, academics, and behavior. Gen Dent, 58(1), 18-25. Full text: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/da7a/4cc31d9502ce9028442eb2b02f4cd9cee36e.pdf
- Guilleminault, C., Khramsov, A., Stoohs, R. A., Kushida, C., Pelayo, R., Kreutzer, M. L., & Chowdhuri, S. (2004). Abnormal blood pressure in prepubertal children with sleep-disordered breathing. Pediatric research, 55(1), 76. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14605262
- Bresolin, D., Shapiro, G. G., Shapiro, P. A., Dassel, S. W., Furukawa, C. T., Pierson, W. E., … & Bierman, C. W. (1984). Facial characteristics of children who breathe through the mouth. Pediatrics, 73(5), 622-625. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6718117
- Chaves, T. C., e Silva, T. S. D. A., Monteiro, S. A. C., Watanabe, P. C. A., Oliveira, A. S., & Grossi, D. B. (2010). Craniocervical posture and hyoid bone position in children with mild and moderate asthma and mouth breathing. International journal of pediatric otorhinolaryngology, 74(9), 1021-1027. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20566222
- Settergren, G., Angdin, M., Astudillo, R., Gelinder, S., Liska, J., Lundberg, J. O. N., & Weitzberg, E. (1998). Decreased pulmonary vascular resistance during nasal breathing: modulation by endogenous nitric oxide from the paranasal sinuses. Acta physiologica scandinavica, 163(3), 235-239. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9715735
- Weitzdoerfer, R., Hoeger, H., Engidawork, E., Engelmann, M., Singewald, N., Lubec, G., & Lubec, B. (2004). Neuronal nitric oxide synthase knock-out mice show impaired cognitive performance. Nitric oxide, 10(3), 130-140. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15158692
- Rees, D. D., Palmer, R. M., & Moncada, S. (1989). Role of endothelium-derived nitric oxide in the regulation of blood pressure. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 86(9), 3375-3378. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC287135/
- Nussler, A. K., & Billiar, T. R. (1993). Inflammation, immunoregulation, and inducible nitric oxide synthase. Journal of leukocyte biology, 54(2), 171-178. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7689630
- Noda, A., Nakata, S., Koike, Y., Miyata, S., Kitaichi, K., Nishizawa, T., … & Yokota, M. (2007). Continuous positive airway pressure improves daytime baroreflex sensitivity and nitric oxide production in patients with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Hypertension research, 30(8), 669. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17917313
- Saunders, C. J., Xenophontos, S. L., Cariolou, M. A., Anastassiades, L. C., Noakes, T. D., & Collins, M. (2006). The bradykinin β2 receptor (BDKRB2) and endothelial nitric oxide synthase 3 (NOS3) genes and endurance performance during Ironman Triathlons. Human Molecular Genetics, 15(6), 979-987. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16461337
- Morley, J. E., & Flood, J. F. (1992). Competitive antagonism of nitric oxide synthetase causes weight loss in mice. Life sciences, 51(16), 1285-1289. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1383664
- Konturek, S. K., & Konturek, P. C. (1995). Role of nitric oxide in the digestive system. Digestion, 56(1), 1-13. Abstract: https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/201214
- Meller, S. T., Pechman, P. S., Gebhart, G. F., & Maves, T. J. (1992). Nitric oxide mediates the thermal hyperalgesia produced in a model of neuropathic pain in the rat. Neuroscience, 50(1), 7-10. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1407561
- Kuhlencordt, P. J., Gyurko, R., Han, F., Scherrer-Crosbie, M., Aretz, T. H., Hajjar, R., … & Huang, P. L. (2001). Accelerated atherosclerosis, aortic aneurysm formation, and ischemic heart disease in apolipoprotein E/endothelial nitric oxide synthase double-knockout mice. Circulation, 104(4), 448-454. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11468208
- Spiacci Jr, A., Kanamaru, F., Guimaraes, F. S., & Oliveira, R. M. W. (2008). Nitric oxide-mediated anxiolytic-like and antidepressant-like effects in animal models of anxiety and depression. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 88(3), 247-255. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17915303