Lots of people don’t sleep very well. It can be for different reasons, but breathing through your mouth instead of your nose has been linked to poor sleep quality, snoring and sleep apnoea.
Taping up your mouth at night to enhance your sleep and wellbeing has become quite a popular thing recently. I had been curious for quite a while, but I never got round to trying it.
Maybe it was because I thought my husband would find the whole thing a bit odd and I had that niggling feeling I might fall asleep with one slapped over my lips and never wake up!
But then my husband actually bought some mouth tape for me! He had always noticed my night time mouth breathing and was worried about it. As presents go, it was, erm, unusual, but it was safely away from valentines, birthday or anniversary, and I decided to try it out.
You’ll be pleased to hear that I am still alive and well after all that, and I thought I would share my rather positive experience with mouth taping with you.
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What is mouth taping?
Mouth taping is a simple yet increasingly popular technique aimed at encouraging nasal breathing during sleep. A specially designed breathable tape goes over your lips, which encourages you to breathe through your nose instead.
Scientific research is still emerging about the usefulness of mouth taping. In 2022 researchers from Japan found that mouth-taping during sleep improved snoring and the severity of obstructive sleep apnoea in mouth-breathers by about 50%.
Nasal breathing is generally seen as more beneficial than mouth breathing. It helps regulate the amount of air entering the lungs, warms and filters the air, and increases the production of nitric oxide, a compound that enhances blood flow and lung function. On the other hand, mouth breathing is not a great habit as it can lead to a dry mouth, a sore throat, poor sleep quality, and it’s often linked with snoring and sleep apnoea.
Obviously, mouth taping should be avoided in the following situations:
- Nasal congestion or a blocked nose
- Asthma or severe breathing issues
- During illness, especially upper respiratory infections
- Children, unless advised by a medical professional
The reality of mouth taping is that it looks pretty weird, if not down-right scary! (Not nearly as nice as our lovely photo above!) The tape is usually fabric-based and breathable with a sticky back, and can be stretched. I used a black one which completely covered my mouth like a huge plaster. Some brands have small (or even quite large) holes in them, and are skin coloured. The idea is to discourage mouth breathing rather than completely prevent it. You might take a few goes until you find a tape you feel comfortable using.
My experience of mouth taping
I have always had trouble with my mouth and throat, having had my tonsils and adenoids removed when I was little. And this turned into a long-term habit of being a mouth breather which meant I was very prone to mouth and throat infections, and felt I never slept quite as deeply as other people. One of my health glitches has always been that I get a hoarse voice easily from talking too much and my glands are easily raised and inflamed when I work too hard. As I am a bit of a chatterbox and juggle a busy work and family life, you can see where this could go wrong!
The first night I calmly stuck the black tape over my lips and started to read my book to wind down to sleep. However just as I was drifting off to sleep I suddenly went into panic mode and sat up bolt upright in bed. I had to rip the tape off my lips immediately. This left me quite rattled, and it took me a while to get to sleep that night with all that adrenaline.
However, I was determined to make this work somehow, as I know how important the right style of breathing is for both short and long-term health. So, I decided that I would only wear the tape on my lips whilst I was writing my diary and reading in bed, and then I would take it off just before going to sleep.
Even this first step of only wearing the tape for around an hour helped me to keep my lips closed for an extended time during the night. It was as if I was getting my mouth in training to keep it shut at night! The next two mornings I really felt I had slept much better, and my mouth was less dry and parched when I woke up which was a great start!
On evening four I was obviously much more relaxed about the mouth taping than I thought, as completely by surprise I fell asleep with my lips taped up and the next thing I knew I woke up in the morning with it still fully in place. I had the most amazingly deep and refreshing sleep that night and I was hugely relieved that I survived the night (!) and that I felt so well. I therefore decided to continue every night for the whole month.
What have been the pluses of mouth taping?
I honestly think that 30 days of mouth taping has helped me enormously with both my sleep and my daytime energy levels, as well as my mouth and throat health. It’s not like I am now buzzing with crazy levels of energy or anything that dramatic – it is more subtle than that. I feel that my energy is on a more even keel over the day and that I have gained more joy and focus as I have not felt at all tired or grumpy!
I suspect that this one change to my daily habits has also affected my vital health statistics, which I track through an Oura ring. I have always struggled to keep my heart rate variability (HRV) measurement over a count of 30, which is what you are aiming for if you are looking for long term good health. My HRV has historically often been disappointingly in the low 20s despite my healthy diet and lifestyle, which has always perplexed and slightly worried me!
I can’t 100% say that it is the mouth taping that has changed things, but for the first time in a very long time with no other big changes to my diet or exercise, my HRV has consistently been in the high 20s and early 30s since I have started mouth taping. So I can only assume that the better-quality breathing at night has contributed to this positive change. I would love to hear from anyone else who monitors their sleep, strain, recovery and health through a wearable tracker such as an Oura ring, Apple watch or Whoop and see if mouth taping has helped your HRV too?
What have been the downsides to mouth taping?
Kissing my lovely husband good night has been “interesting” and not at all romantic, so you have to think about timing of when you put the tape on your mouth if you are going to do this for any length of time and you have a partner to consider!
Even though this goes against the advice on the packet I felt it worked better for me if I popped a little bit of lip salve on my lips before putting on the mouth tape. The tape I used is quite sticky on the lips, and I think my lips would have got a little sore and dry otherwise.
I had one night when I was sneezing quite a bit and I had to take the tape off temporarily until the sneezing episode was over, as I could not sneeze without the use of my mouth. This surprised me – but maybe that is just the way I sneeze with full force!
All in all, I have found this a very positive experience and even since I stopped the mouth taping, I am sleeping and breathing much better.
If you want to try this, just take a look at what is available online. They vary so much. Black is very “in” but it really looks weird. The nude one or kiss-shaped ones might be more you.
Go at a pace you feel comfortable with. Keep me posted on how you get along if you have successfully joined the mouth taping club!
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- How does open-mouth breathing influence upper airway anatomy?
- Effects of mouth opening on upper airway collapsibility in normal sleeping subjects
- Effect of mouth taping at night on asthma control—A randomised single-blind crossover study
- Increased oxygen load in the prefrontal cortex from mouth breathing: A vector-based near-infrared spectroscopy study
- Novel porous oral patches for patients with mild obstructive sleep apnea and mouth breathing: A pilot study
- Sleep quality and congestion with Breathe Right nasal strips: Two randomized controlled trials
- The Impact of Mouth-Taping in Mouth-Breathers with Mild Obstructive Sleep Apnea: A Preliminary Study
- Mouth puffing phenomena of patients with obstructive sleep apnea when mouth-taped: device’s efficacy confirmed with physical video