Mouth Taping for Sleep: Does It Actually Help?

How often do you breathe through your mouth at night? It may not always be easy to tell if you do— unless you’re experiencing some of the telltale signs of mouth breathing while you sleep. Some of these may include dry mouth or a sore throat.

Breathing through your mouth while you sleep may seem generally harmless— or even necessary sometimes. We’ve all struggled to get a good night’s sleep with a stuffy nose. But if you often wake up with a dry mouth or a sore throat, you may be wondering how to train yourself to nose breathe at night.

Enter mouth taping— a health trend that’s been picking up steam in recent months. But what is mouth taping? Does it actually work, and is it safe? Let’s take a look.

What is Mouth Taping?

Mouth taping has entered the public consciousness thanks to a popular book by James Nestor. It’s called Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. In his book, Nestor performs a number of breathing experiments to compare nasal breathing versus oral breathing. One of these experiments was mouth taping.

Mouth taping is exactly what it sounds like— using surgical tape to tape your mouth closed. It may sound extreme, but it’s used to encourage nasal breathing while you sleep— or breathing through your nose. People who practice this treatment claim that it can treat a number of health problems associated with mouth breathing while you sleep. Some of these include:

  • Snoring
  • Bad breath
  • Dry mouth or sore throat
  • Grinding your teeth (bruxism)
  • Oral health problems— such as gum disease and tooth decay

Along with these, mouth breathing may offer additional unpleasant side effects like nighttime coughing, worsened asthma symptoms, and even high blood pressure.

By taping your mouth shut before bed, you encourage yourself to breathe through your nose while you sleep. Of course, this is because with your mouth taped shut, you physically can’t breathe through your mouth so you shift to nasal breathing. If you are going to tape your mouth before bed, there are specific ways to do it safely which I’ll discuss shortly. 

Wait, What?! Do People Actually Do This?

Yes! While it definitely sounds like a bizarre solution peddled by snake oil salesmen, many people swear by mouth tape for a better night’s sleep.

More recently, it’s been gaining traction on social media. But like many of social media’s viral trends, it may be hard to believe. So is there any truth to this claim, or are there some hidden dangers just out of view?

The Potential Benefits of Mouth Taping

There haven’t been a lot of studies on mouth taping yet, so any current evidence is purely anecdotal. However, many of these claims indicate that mouth taping for sleep can reduce health problems caused by mild apneas, and prevent dental health problems. It can also be very helpful in preventing snoring, dry mouth, and some sinus issues.

According to a study from the journal Healthcare, mouth breathing during sleep directly influences your oral health and behavioral health. However, the effect it has on your behavioral health is unclear and more research is needed.

According to other studies, including one published by Case Reports in Otolaryngology, mouth breathing in children can affect their growth. More specifically, it may potentially affect their craniofacial growth and have negative effects on their mental development.

Is Mouth Taping Safe?

We’ve all seen TV shows or movies where someone has had their mouth taped shut with duct tape, and it never looks comfortable. That’s because it isn’t— especially if you do it improperly.

Taping your mouth shut can present some unpleasant side effects, and potentially some real dangers. Some of these may include:

  • Pain while removing the tape— especially if you have facial hair.
  • Irritation on or around your lips.
  • Anxiety. Having tape on your mouth can be stressful!
  • Difficulty breathing— especially if you’re experiencing any nasal congestion.

As a whole, mouth taping can be done safely— but it’s important to use your best judgment if you decide to do it. Avoid taping over any facial hair, broken or irritated skin, et cetera. Remove mouth tape gently to prevent additional irritation. If you become anxious or on edge while wearing mouth tape, remove it.

For best results, you should not put a piece of tape horizontally across your mouth. Instead, place a small strip vertically in line with your septum. Your septum is the cartilage in your nose that separates your nostrils.

If you want to practice mouth taping, I recommend using 3M medical tape. It’s cheap and effective— so there’s no need to use other potentially expensive specialty sleep tape. 

If you experience nasal congestion or allergies, I recommend using Sinusonic for 2-3 minutes before bed and before taping to help improve nasal passage breathing. I use mine nightly to improve my bedtime nasal breathing even without taping.

Important note: Mouth taping should be practiced by adults only. Never tape your child’s mouth, or allow them to practice mouth taping.

When You Should NOT Tape Your Mouth

Now that you know that mouth taping can be safe when practiced properly, let’s take a look at a situation when you should not tape your mouth for better sleep.

You should only use mouth taping for sleep if you’ve been tested for sleep apnea and do not have the disorder. This is because sleep apnea is a commonly undiagnosed sleep disorder. In fact, about 90 percent of people who likely have sleep apnea are undiagnosed!

Sleep apnea is a very serious sleep disorder that causes multiple pauses or stops in your breathing while you sleep. These pauses and reduced oxygen levels in your body can negatively impact your health in a variety of ways. And with so many people with the disorder potentially undiagnosed, that makes them even more vulnerable to these health problems. To name a few, sleep apnea can increase your risk of conditions like:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes

So where does mouth taping come into play? If you don’t know if you’re experiencing sleep apnea symptoms, mouth taping can actually mask your symptoms and make it harder to know that something is wrong.

So before you consider giving mouth tape a try, make sure that you do not have sleep apnea. If you have any of the following symptoms, make sure to talk to your doctor or a sleep expert. It could be the difference between another night of terrible sleep or a night of rejuvenating rest.

  • Loud snoring, coughing or gasping during sleep.
  • Feeling exhausted in the morning, even after a full night’s sleep— this is a sign of poor sleep quality.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • Taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, and waking up at least once during the night
  • Waking up earlier than you want to

How to Get Better Sleep— Especially When Mouth Taping Is Not An Option

If mouth taping is out of the question for you— or just seems too uncomfortable to try— don’t worry. There are ways to get better sleep without taping your mouth. Let’s take a look at a few of these ways.

  • Exercise your body. Physical exercise can improve your sleep quality, help relieve stress, and reduce the severity of sleep disorders like insomnia. To learn more, check out my article on the topic!
  • Exercise your lungs. Breathing exercises can not only strengthen your lung capacity, but they can also help lower your blood pressure and reduce sleep apnea symptoms.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol can relax your tongue and throat muscles, which can cause snoring and obstructions in your airways. Caffeine, of course, can keep you awake thanks to its stimulant effect. To avoid sleep problems, stop consuming caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime and stop consuming alcohol at least 3 hours before bed.
  • Decongest for better rest. Getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult when you can’t breathe through your nose. If you have a stuffy nose or suffer from nighttime allergies, reducing congestion can make a huge difference in your sleep quality. For this, I recommend using SinuSonic for quick, drug-free relief. You can also use a saline solution or a neti pot to decongest.
  • Sleep on your side. Sleeping on your back can cause your tongue to fall back towards your throat, obstructing your airway. Sleeping on your side helps keep your airways open and reduces sleep-disordered breathing like snoring.

In a Sticky Situation With Your Sleep?

While mouth taping can be helpful for getting better sleep, getting a good night’s rest shouldn’t involve jumping through a bunch of hoops. Restful, deep sleep can be yours with some easy lifestyle changes.

But if these lifestyle changes don’t help you get a better night’s sleep, you may have a sleep disorder. Remember— you should not practice mouth taping unless you already know that a sleep disorder isn’t the root of your sleep problems.

If you think you may have a sleep disorder, it’s vital to get tested as soon as possible. That’s because sleep disorders won’t go away on their own, and you need special treatment to get back to the restful sleep you need to be at your best.

Mouth taping might sound like another crazy social media fad, but it actually can help you sleep better. Not only that, but it can help you keep your mouth and teeth healthy too! And who wouldn’t want that?

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM

The Sleep Doctor

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!