Waking up feeling refreshed can be elusive for us mouth breathers. We, unfortunately, tend to deal with the not-so-pretty reality of rolling out of bed with issues like a dry mouth and scratchy throat, chapped lips, and drowsiness that may follow us into the afternoon. That’s because your mouth can’t filter and humidify air the way your nose does, so sleeping slackjawed can dehydrate and irritate your mouth and throat. It can also obstruct your upper airway, which can cause snoring, wake you up throughout the night, and generally lower your quality of rest—oh, and not to mention it could also lead to tooth decay or gum disease.
Needless to say, when a TikTok trend promised to fix the way I breathe and sleep at night—without a trip to the doctor—I was intrigued. It’s called mouth taping, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: Slap a piece of tape (preferably the surgical kind, which is gentler on the skin) over your mouth before bed, and voilà: No more snoring. No more dry mouth (or its associated bad breath). No more pillow drool (the likely culprit behind those cracked lips I mentioned). The idea is that if your mouth is physically forced shut, you’ll automatically breathe through your nose, which is the body’s default mode.
“The nose is the humidifier of the body,” Megan Acho, MD, a clinical assistant professor in the division of pulmonary and critical care at the University of Michigan, tells SELF. “So we encourage nasal breathing over mouth breathing because when air goes through the nose, it gets humidified and warmed, and filtered from dust and [other [potential] allergens too.” Basically, breathing through your nose is ideal overall, and if you can’t do it comfortably, that’s a sign that something may be blocking your nasal airway.
Anyway, mouth taping sounds easy enough and, frankly, a little too good to be true. Could my lifelong sleep problems really be solved with a $5 drugstore product? To find out, I asked two experts to weigh in on the viral sleep hack. The verdict? Mouth tape isn’t the cure-all TikTok purports it to be—and it can also be extremely unsafe.
Mouth Taping Won’t Fix Your Underlying Sleep Problems.
When someone breathes through their mouth while sleeping, that typically means something is obstructing the nose, Dr. Acho says. That blockage can be caused by a variety of factors, including congestion from a sinus infection, a deviated septum (when the bone in your nasal cavity is off-center), or obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops throughout the night (at least five times each hour, as SELF previously reported).
Regardless of what’s causing you to breathe through your mouth, a piece of tape is unlikely to actually solve the problem, Erich Voigt, MD, the director of general and sleep otolaryngology at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. “If someone is having difficulty breathing through their nose for whatever reason, they need to address that issue directly, and blocking your mouth airway isn’t going to do any good in the long run,” Dr. Voigt says, referring to mouth taping as a “Band-Aid effect.”
In other words, you want to figure out why you’re mouth breathing. If you have sleep apnea, say, taping your mouth shut in order to stop snoring may temporarily address that symptom—but it won’t actually treat your sleep disorder. Or if a sinus infection is making it difficult to breathe through your nose, you’ll need a treatment (like nasal spray or a decongestant) to clear up that blockage, Dr. Voigt says.
More Importantly, Mouth Taping Can Be Dangerous.
Not only do “quick fixes” like mouth taping prevent you from resolving your underlying health issues, but both Dr. Voigt and Dr. Acho also caution that the risks of mouth taping outweigh any potential benefits. One cause for concern is that there’s very little long-term research on mouth taping. Instead, the hype is mostly coming from anecdotal support on social media.
“We really need more data on the safety and clinical utility of mouth taping, no matter how easy or convenient it may seem for something as common as mouth breathing,” Dr. Acho says. She adds that possible side effects include skin irritation on and around your lips (from the adhesive) as well as disrupting the amount of oxygen going into your body, which can put you at risk for heart problems like arrhythmia (a fancy word to describe an irregular heartbeat).
Another (potentially deadly) danger? Choking, which could happen if the tape comes loose and you accidentally inhale or ingest it in your sleep. “There shouldn’t be any foreign object in or around your mouth when you’re sleeping,” Dr. Voigt warns. You wouldn’t doze off chewing on a piece of gum, would you?
When Is It Time to See a Doctor?
Chances are you’ve had trouble breathing through your nose at some point or another—maybe due to a nasty bout of spring allergies or a pesky cold that just won’t go away. Often, these symptoms resolve with time; two weeks is the norm for temporary or seasonal issues, according to Dr. Voigt. Anything longer or more severe—like gasping or choking in your sleep—however, means you should make an appointment with a primary care provider, if you can, to make sure your symptoms aren’t a sign of something more serious, like an undiagnosed sleep disorder or chronic sinusitis (long-term inflammation in your nose).
“You don’t need to see a sleep specialist for mouth breathing, per se, and it’s certainly something you can talk about with your primary care provider first,” Dr. Acho says. Together, you can hopefully get to the root of your breathing troubles and discuss initial treatment options, which may include some at-home solutions that are much safer than tape. For example, both Dr. Acho and Dr. Voigt say that nasal breathing strips can help temporarily open up your nostrils when you’re feeling congested. So can changing your sleep position: Try stacking two pillows or consider a wedge-shaped one like this ($35, Amazon) to elevate your head slightly and open up your airway, Dr. Voigt says.
The bottom line: If you’re breathing through your mouth at night, you don’t want to, um, cover up the problem with tape. It could be a sign of something more serious, and either way, there are better ways to address mouth breathing than strapping a choking hazard on your face before bed.
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