When it comes to reasons we should use social media, getting accurate medical information and health diagnoses should not be on the list.
Case in point: Recently, a certain sleep hack has gone viral, with millions of people watching TikTok influencers trumpet a trend known as mouth taping. #Mouthtaping videos for sleep have racked up 10s of millions of views, with proponents citing its benefits for oral health, preventing wrinkles, increasing mental sharpness, and, most notably, eliminating snoring.
In case you’re not familiar with the practice, mouth taping is probably exactly what you’re picturing. It is the practice of taping your lips together before you go to sleep in order to force you to breathe through your nose, which is the method of breathing that is regarded by health experts as the ideal way to take in oxygen. That said, while breathing through your nose may be ideal for your body, taping your mouth closed to force your body to breathe through your nose may not be the ideal way to encourage better habits, especially during sleep, and medical experts warn that it could do more harm than good.
How nose breathing and breath work affect sleep
In recent years, breath work has become a popular practice as meditation. James Nestor, journalist and author of “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art,” interviewed neurologists, rhinologists, and pulmonologists at Stanford, Harvard, and other institutions, as he researched the topic for his book, ultimately discovering that focused breathing practices had an impact on both physical and mental health.
Nasal breathing, when performed as breath work, can help lower your blood pressure and neutralize anxiety, and a new study shows that it improves mood. Regular nasal breathing can also help reduce snoring, which affects approximately 40% of men and 20% of women.
Causes of snoring vary, from the anatomy of your mouth and sinuses, to nasal congestion, allergies, a cold, alcohol consumption, or excess weight. But the main reason snoring happens is that your airway becomes restricted, which leads to vibrations in the loose throat muscles, causing those rumbling, snorting, or thunderous sounds as you try to force the air through.
Why nose breathing is preferable to mouth breathing
According to Dr. Brandon R. Peters, a Washington-based sleep physician at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, breathing through your nose filters out dust, mold, and bacteria, “helping to reduce allergen exposure to the throat (tonsil enlargement) and lungs (asthma). It optimizes the humidification and temperature of the airflow that reaches the lungs. It also stabilizes the airway during sleep, keeping the lower jaw and the tongue locked forward.”
Breathing through your mouth, on the other hand, can disrupt your body’s normal function, and may even put you at higher risk for sleep disorders. Chronic mouth breathing can dry out your gums and the tissue that lines your mouth, causing bad breath and dental problems. “It can lead to changes in facial structure, elongating the face, and may contribute to a high-arched hard palate, a smaller lower jaw, and other facial changes,” says Peters. It is also less effective for breath work targeting anxiety, since mouth breathing tends to be shallower than nose breathing.
We usually breathe through our mouths when our nasal passages are obstructed; blockages can be caused by congestion from allergies or a cold, a sinus infection, a deviated septum, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Nasal congestion can cause mouth breathing, and may also be a reason why you’re snoring. Most TikTok mouth tapers do so to prevent snoring and get better rest. With 1 in 3 of us reportedly not getting enough sleep, it’s not surprising that people would try anything to catch more Zzz’s.
Is mouth taping good for you?
TikTok influencers claim that literally taping their mouths shut helps with breathing and prevents snoring. But medical experts warn that it often simply resolves a symptom, rather than the underlying problem behind snoring. People mistakenly assume that snoring is the problem, so they tape their mouths to keep themselves from doing it. The problem with that idea is that we often snore at night because we’re trying to get more oxygen, explains Jenna Gress Smith, Ph.D., a sleep medicine specialist and founder of Arizona Sleep & Health. Taping your mouth shut essentially shuts down your body’s built-in safety switch, she explains.
Dr. Chris Winter agrees. A neurologist, Sleep.com Sleep Advisor, author of “The Rested Child,” and host of the podcast “Sleep Unplugged,” Winter prefers to seek causes of underlying problems, rather than fast-fix solutions to a single symptom. “It’s an intervention that has far more buzz than academic evidence,” he says.
According to medical experts, if you think you are having issues with snoring or mouth breathing, your first step should be to consult your doctor or a sleep specialist. “Snoring is something you should talk to your doctor about because it could be a sign of a condition like sleep apnea, in which you repeatedly start and stop breathing while sleeping,” says Winter. “Sleep apnea relates to upper airway collapse. How is sealing one's lips together going to affect that engineering problem?"
Does mouth taping work?
There have been very few research studies on mouth taping, so the alleged benefits rely on word of mouth rather than peer-reviewed research. One small study out of Taiwan, of 20 participants, did find that using 3M mouth tape for mild OSA patients was an effective treatment for open-mouth breathing. Another study found that 30 patients snored less after mouth taping; however, another, of roughly the same size, showed that patients with asthma did not benefit from using mouth tape.
Some recent research has revealed that 10 patients continued to try to breathe through their mouths even after their mouths were taped, a phenomenon known as mouth puffing.
Most sleep medicine specialists advise caution when it comes to mouth taping. “At the present time, there is absolutely zero compelling evidence that mouth taping does anything,” Winter says.
“Given the difficulty we have convincing people to get evaluated for sleep apnea (because, who wants to wear a CPAP?), I worry that this kind of pseudoscience will lead people to feel like they can bypass the process of the sleep study and the resultant potential therapy of a CPAP in favor of adhesive tape,” he explains.
But Winter isn’t above poking a little fun at the sticky situation. He jokes, “And while I'm a fan of the multi-purpose nature of tape — big supporter of duct tape, in particular —this particular trend is nonsense — and potentially dangerous.”
Is mouth taping safe?
According to the doctors we spoke to, the short answer is no. The risks of mouth taping outweigh the possible benefits, offering more of a quick fix, rather than getting to the root of the problem and treating it. In an optimal situation, the human body is built to breathe through the nose. If you aren’t doing that, there could be an important reason why.
What are the risks of mouth taping?
Mouth taping can restrict airflow, which is an especially bad idea if you don’t breathe well through your nose, says Gress Smith. Limited air intake can lead to low oxygen levels in the brain. In the long term, that can increase the risk for stroke, cardiovascular disorders, and type 2 diabetes. “Snoring or gasping for air during sleep is a defense mechanism to open the airways and increase oxygen levels,” she says. “Mouth taping blocks this mechanism.”
“Mouth taping may also be dangerous for people who have restricted breathing from pulmonary or neuromuscular disease, where they need to compensate by drawing more air through their open mouths,” says Peters. “In my clinical practice, mouth taping is limited to patients who experience persistent dry mouth with the use of CPAP, despite other efforts to remedy the issue. It is never appropriate for someone who has significant nasal obstruction that might compromise their ability to breathe through their nose.”
And for anyone who is prone to vomiting, whether due to illness, medication side effects, or other causes, taping your mouth shut could lead to fatal consequences. In these cases, Peter explains, “it may lead to the aspiration of stomach contents, which can cause fatal asphyxiation.”
Additional risks of mouth taping include:
- obstructed breathing
- worsening of sleep apnea and its risk factors
- sleep disruption
- skin irritation from the tape, including allergic reactions, abrasions, and cuts
Alternatives to Mouth Taping
Alternative methods to learning to breathe through your nose depend on the reason why you are interested in changing your overnight breathing. Before embarking on any big changes, be sure to consult with a medical or sleep professional, as well as any bed partner.
Change your sleep position
“If you want to reduce snoring, you might consider training yourself to sleep on your side instead of taping your mouth,” says Gress Smith. “Research shows that people with obstructive sleep apnea (or those who snore for any other reason) snore less when they side sleep instead of back sleep.
Elevate your sleep setup
“Sleeping with your head and upper body elevated can also help with snoring or improving your breathing during sleep if you have bad allergies or postnasal drip.” A pillow with a higher loft could do the trick, but many find it best to use an adjustable base, elevating the head to a comfortable position.
Try nasal strips
Nasal strips are another option for helping to alleviate snoring, Gress Smith says. The over-the-counter adhesive strips are applied to the bridge of the nose to expand the nasal passages and theoretically allow more air through. Studies of nasal strips have produced mixed results, with some showing a decrease in snoring, and some showing no effect.
Treat allergies and asthma
Around 25% of us experience allergic reactions to substances we breathe in, such as pollen and dust. This often causes nasal congestion, which can make breathing through the nose more difficult. “If you have allergies and find yourself mouth breathing at night, try treating your allergies to see if that helps you breathe more comfortably through your nose. In addition to medical care or OTC medications, saline nasal washes can be very effective.
If you have asthma, you’ll want to work with a doctor to control symptoms by avoiding triggers and using medication when appropriate.
Practice good oral hygiene
For some people, mouth breathing may be due to oral discomfort, which can quickly escalate since mouth breathing can cause bad breath and gum disease. As with snoring, extreme bad breath may be due to an issue other than mouth breathing: for instance, cavities, a sinus infection, or digestive problems like ulcers. Make sure your oral hygiene routine includes regular brushing, flossing, tongue cleaning, and gargling with mouthwash, says Gress Smith. Your physician and/or dentist can help you figure out and treat any underlying medical or dental issues.
Exercises for your nose
Yes, nose exercises are a thing. “Rather than mouth taping, there are strategies like myofunctional exercises that have been gaining traction in studies to help to reduce snoring and improve nasal breathing,” says Gress Smith. “Myofunctional exercises help strengthen the muscles in your face, jaw, and mouth. Over time, stronger muscles in these areas can improve your nasal breathing, plus you get the health benefits of boosted oxygen levels throughout your body. It’s no different than weight training a couple of times per week: Consistency and practice help you achieve results.”
Focus on breathing through your nose
“Conscious effort may also help to develop consistent nasal breathing,” says Peters, “such that you may be able to keep your mouth closed even without (thinking about it).”
What to know if you want to try mouth taping
If you’ve ruled out OSA and other health issues, and you still want to try mouth taping, make sure to test it out during the day. If you experience discomfort or breathing issues while awake, you should definitely not do it while you sleep.
If you decide to try mouth taping, do not use standard tape. Instead, try a dedicated anti-snoring mouth strip, such as Somnifix, which is designed with a breathing hole in the center, if needed, and gentle, lip-friendly adhesive that is also latex-free.
“Until there’s more data on mouth taping, sleep specialists agree you should set that roll of tape aside and look for the root cause and appropriate solutions,” says Gress Smith. “Mouth taping may be trending, but so was the Tide Pod Challenge a few years back … and we all know how that worked out.”