Mouth Tape for Sleep: What It Is and How It Works
More than 70% of adults are mouth-sleepers which can cause significant sleep disturbances for not only the individual but their bedmates. Snoring, drooling, and bad breath are just a few unpleasant side effects of sleeping with your mouth open.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to guarantee that your mouth stays closed all night. Once you fall asleep and the muscles in your face relax, your mouth can involuntarily open. Certain sleeping positions, pillows, nasal strips, and other at-home remedies claim to cure this problem.
One quick fix that’s been gaining traction on the popular social media app TikTok is mouth tape. The hashtag #mouthtape for sleep currently has 38.5 million views and shows people placing tape over their mouths before climbing into bed. But the question remains, is this technique effective, and, even more importantly, is it safe?
Keep reading to learn about this trending phenomenon and if it’s a practical and safe solution to prevent mouth breathing at night and promote quality sleep.
What’s the Purpose of Mouth Taping?
As the name suggests, mouth taping involves taping your mouth closed at night before going to bed. The goal is to prevent mouth breathing and force yourself to breathe through your nose. Doing so can prevent drooling, snoring, and other unpleasant side effects. The simplicity of this method (and the fact that it’s a popular TikTok trend) is one reason insomnia sufferers are so quick to try it. But social media isn’t the only place that endorses mouth taping. Some studies have been done on the efficacy of this method, although the results are inconclusive and the test groups are small.
The process is fairly simple and involves placing porous tape over the upper and lower lips to seal your mouth shut. This prevents your mouth from falling open once you’re asleep and your jaw muscles relax. Having your mouth sealed prevents air from escaping, forcing you to breathe through your nose. While mouth taping can be uncomfortable at first and take some getting used to, some people swear by this method for preventing snoring, dry mouth, drooling, and even bad breath.
Other benefits associated with breathing through the nose versus the mouth include:
- Reduced anxiety
- Lowered blood pressure
- Regulating your breath temperature
- Filtering toxins and allergens
- Moisturizing your throat
- Humidifying the air you take in
What Causes Mouth Breathing?
Between 30% and 50% of people breathe through their mouths, especially in the morning. There’s no one cause of mouth breathing and some people only experience it periodically. For example, if you’re sick with a cold or flu that’s causing nasal congestion, you’re more likely to breathe through your mouth. Seasonal allergies are another common cause of both nasal blockages and mouth breathing.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when the muscles in the neck and throat relax too much during sleep, blocking your airways and preventing healthy airflow. These muscles also support important structures including your soft palate, uvula, tonsils, and tongue. Some sleep apnea sufferers breathe through their mouths and snore loudly as a side effect of these blockages. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) can help reduce snoring and improve oxygen levels. Certain studies suggest that mouth taping may also have positive effects on sleep apnea and related symptoms.
Individuals with deviated septums, enlarged adenoids, or enlarged tonsils are also at greater risk for mouth breathing.
How Effective is Mouth Taping?
Is it possible that slapping a piece of tape over your mouth could cure all of your sleep troubles? While it’s unlikely, the jury is still out on how effective mouth taping really is and if the benefits outweigh the risks.
The main objective of mouth taping is to force you to breathe through your nose by rerouting the air that normally enters and exits your mouth. Because mouth taping is a relatively new phenomenon, there isn’t much scientific research to back claims of its efficacy. One small study involving 30 patients reported that participants snored less when using mouth tape. Another study of 36 participants with asthma claimed to experience minimal signs of improvement when using mouth tape. It’s also interesting to note that some patients still tried to breathe through their mouths, even with the tape securely in place. This is known as mouth puffing and causes most participants to wake frequently.
All in all, most evidence related to mouth taping is purely anecdotal at this point and isn’t common practice among sleep specialists and other medical professionals.
The Benefits of Mouth Taping
Despite minimal research and evidence regarding the efficacy of mouth taping, there are still some benefits to consider.
Some proponents of mouth taping claim it has positive effects on snoring. In one study of people with mild OSA (obstructive sleep apnea), wearing mouth tape caused all of the participants to breathe through their noses. It also changed the angle of their tongue and palate, improving airflow. These minor adjustments significantly reduced both snoring and lapsed breathing.
Minimal research has been done on mouth taping for snoring not associated with OSA. Because of this, there’s no concrete evidence that mouth taping helps with snoring caused by other factors.
Improved Symptoms of Mouth Breathing
As previously mentioned, mouth breathing causes a variety of unpleasant symptoms including drooling, sinus infections, daytime drowsiness, headaches, sore throat, insomnia, and dry mouth. Mouth taping may ease some of these symptoms and reduce their frequency.
If mouth breathing is keeping you up at night or causing you to wake frequently, you may also experience reduced cognitive function, trouble focusing, irritability, and fatigue. By reducing sleep disturbances caused by mouth breathing, mouth taping could improve sleep quality and overall productivity.
Other issues that may improve through mouth taping include, but aren’t limited to:
- Symptoms associated with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
- Sleep-disordered breathing
- Dry mouth
- Cognitive ability
More research needs to be done to determine whether or not mouth taping has proven benefits for treating any of these conditions.
Prevent Dental Issues
Mouth breathing can also have negative impacts on your oral hygiene. Bad breath, gum disease, dental disease, cavities, bruxism (teeth grinding), and drooling are all common conditions that mouth taping may prevent.
When you breathe through your mouth it deprives you of much-needed saliva. Saliva acts as a natural, self-cleaning agent in the mouth. Without it, bacteria and other bad-smelling germs develop, causing bad breath, an unpleasant taste, and could lead to gum disease.
Left untreated, mouth breathing can also cause facial and structural deformities of the face including long-face syndrome, weak cheek muscles, and a flat nose. These facial infirmities can also cause malocclusions including a crossbite, open bite, or impacted teeth. Taping your mouth shut at night may help reduce your risk of developing these serious dental health issues.
The Best Tape for Mouth Taping
If you think mouth taping is right for you or are simply tempted to try this TikTok trend, there are a few things to know before you slap a strip of duct tape on your lips. For starters, you need the right medical tape for the job. The skin on your mouth and lips is very thin and sensitive. Not just any tape will do.
You need a porous tape that is designed specifically for use on human skin. Other household tapes including duct or masking tape are not intended for use on the body and put you at greater risk of infection, irritation, or an allergic reaction. Not to mention, it’ll be incredibly painful and difficult to remove.
Search online or at your local pharmacy or health store for adhesive tapes designed for use on the body. Some companies have even started producing adhesive strips made specifically for mouth taping. Porous tape options that are safe for use include:
- Surgical tape
- Athletic tape
- Hypoallergenic tape
Read the package carefully to ensure you’re not allergic to any of the adhesive ingredients before placing tape on your body.
Is Mouth Taping Safe?
This is the biggest question on most people’s minds. Is mouth taping safe? Not only is research still ongoing with minimal proof that this is an effective treatment method, but the mere idea of restricting airflow while sleeping sounds risky. And that’s because, in some cases, it is.
Some of the most common risk factors associated with mouth taping include:
- Anxiety (taping your mouth can be uncomfortable, stressful, and spark panic attacks)
- Skin irritation on your mouth and lips
- Painful removal of the mouth tape (especially for those with facial hair)
- Difficulty breathing if you apply the tape incorrectly or are struggling with nasal congestion
Mouth taping is especially risky for individuals with sleep apnea, other sleep disorders, and undiagnosed health conditions. For individuals with OSA, taping your mouth could restrict airflow even further, causing dangerously low oxygen levels. It can also cause you to wake up more frequently during the night, worsening your sleep quality instead of improving it. In rare but serious cases, you could experience asphyxiation or suffocation.
If you have an unknown allergy to adhesive tape, you could experience a dangerous allergic reaction. Not all allergic reactions happen immediately, either. A rash or skin irritation may develop over time, after repeatedly using mouth tape at night. Although discomfort isn’t a dangerous side effect of mouth taping, it’s definitely something to consider. Wearing tape over your mouth at night takes some getting used to and could cause acute insomnia until your body adjusts.
Tips for Safely Mouth Taping
For mouth breathers with no known health issues or complications, here are a few tips for safely mouth taping, if you insist.
First, test out the mouth tape or mouth strips during the day before wearing them at night. Find a position that’s comfortable and allows you to breathe easily through your nose. Wear the tape for 15 to 20 minutes until you become accustomed to the feel of it on your face. If you can’t find a comfortable position, feel yourself getting anxious, or struggle to breathe through your nose due to congestion or other nasal blockages, you should avoid mouth taping at night.
Prevent irritation from the adhesive by using a food-safe oil or gel around your mouth and lips before attaching the mouth tape. When removing it, do so slowly and gently. Avoid tearing the tape off too quickly, which could cause your skin to rip or become inflamed. You can also fold the tape over on one side when applying it and then use this corner for easier removal in the morning. Avoid placing mouth tape directly over facial hair, irritated skin, broken skin, or over open wounds.
One common misconception about mouth tape is that a long strip should be placed horizontally across your lips. This isn’t necessary and can cause additional discomfort and unrest. Instead, place a small strip of mouth tape vertically over your lips in line with your spectrum (the cartilage that separates your nostrils).
It’s also important to note that mouth taping is recommended for adults only. Never tape your child’s mouth closed in an attempt to help them sleep better. Children should never try mouth taping on their own, either. If your child has access to TikTok, it’s important to discuss this and other dangerous trends with them to prevent injury or harm.
Reasons NOT to Try Mouth Taping
In addition to the above-mentioned risk factors, here are a few more reasons to think twice before sealing your mouth shut before bed.
Although some studies report sleep improvements in those with OSA, other sleep specialists discourage sleep apnea patients from mouth taping. Because OSA causes a person to start and stop breathing repeatedly throughout the night, restricting airflow even further using mouth tape could have potentially dangerous side effects.
What’s even more alarming is that 90% of patients with sleep apnea are undiagnosed. Mouth taping is also said to mask certain OSA symptoms, making it even more difficult to receive a proper diagnosis. If you suspect you have sleep apnea but aren’t sure, get tested before experimenting with mouth taping.
Individuals with the following symptoms should also avoid mouth taping until they speak with a medical professional.
- Waking up earlier than expected and being unable to fall back asleep
- Excessive daytime fatigue
- Taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep
- Waking up more than once during the night
- Excessive snoring, coughing or gasping for air during sleep
- Daytime drowsiness despite getting a full night’s sleep
All of these symptoms may be signs of a more serious underlying sleep disorder that can’t be cured by mouth tape.
Mouth Taping Alternatives
Just because mouth taping isn’t right for you doesn’t mean you’re without options. There are plenty of other, less risky, and more well-researched methods for achieving quality sleep. Check out these safe alternatives to mouth taping that could deliver the same results – if not, better!
Get Plenty of Exercise for Your Body and Lungs
Exercise and regular physical activity work wonders for your mental and physical help. Plus, it can significantly improve sleep quality. Try to incorporate at least 30 minutes of physical activity into your daily routine. Exercising in the morning is best since it delivers a much-needed energy boost and can help relieve stress and improve focus and productivity. It will also make you more tired and prepared for sleep at night.
In addition to exercising your body, you can also try exercising your lungs. Performing breathing exercises can help improve airflow and circulation, strengthen your lung capacity, and lower blood pressure. OSA patients may also see a reduction in symptoms after performing breathing exercises consistently. The better and more efficiently you breathe during your awake hours, the less likely you are to mouth breathe or struggle with breathing at night.
Reduce Caffeine and Alcohol Intake
It’s no surprise that drinking caffeine too late in the day will keep you up at night. After all, most people rely on caffeine to help get their day started and stay energized and alert. While these are great side effects during the day, they can wreak havoc on your sleep quality. And although alcohol can help you relax and may make it easier to initially fall asleep, it also relaxes your throat muscles and tongue too much causing unwanted obstructions in your airways. A good rule of thumb is to avoid caffeine up to 6 hours before going to bed and don’t consume alcohol within 3 hours of going to sleep.
Clear Your Nasal Passages
Nasal congestion can make it difficult to sleep at night and puts you at greater risk of mouth breathing. Clearing your nasal passages promotes airflow and makes it easier to safely breathe through your nose. Try an over-the-counter decongestant or humidifier to break up congestion and clear your nasal passages. Saline solutions and neti pots are also popular choices for removing nasal blockages caused by mucus.
Nasal strips are another common remedy used to treat congestion and reduce snoring. These adhesive strips are placed across the bridge of your nose to help expand your nasal passage, promote nose breathing, and prevent snoring.
Try Sleeping on Your Side
Your sleep position plays an important role in how well you sleep at night and how efficiently you breathe. Sleeping on your back makes it easier for your tongue to fall down into your throat, obstructing your airway. Sleeping on your side helps keep your airways open and may reduce snoring and sleep-disordered breathing. Side-sleeping does, however, make it more likely that your mouth will drop open at night, causing you to drool or experience mouth breathing.
Treat Allergies and Other Health Issues
A myriad of underlying health issues could be causing your sleep troubles. By identifying, diagnosing, and treating these conditions, you may find much-needed nighttime relief. For example, 24 million adults experience mild to severe allergic reactions to outdoor agents including dander and pollen. The most common side effect is nasal congestion, including stuffy nose, sneezing, and compromised breathing.
If you suspect you have allergies, try an over-the-counter medication or discuss other options with a medical professional. Treating your allergies may be the secret to achieving a quality night’s rest. Asthma is another condition that is often undiagnosed and could be hindering your sleep efforts. Discuss any potential ailments with your doctor before trying mouth tape.
Practice Good Oral and Sleep Hygiene
Practicing good hygiene is important for leading a healthy, productive life. By adopting both good oral and sleep hygiene habits, you can improve sleep quality and eliminate the need for mouth taping and other quick fixes.
Good oral hygiene includes brushing your teeth regularly, flossing, using mouthwash, and seeing your dentist regularly. All of these methods can reduce bad breath, promote healthy gums, and help ease other unpleasant oral side effects of mouth breathing.
Sleep hygiene is also important for promoting productivity, focus, and cognitive ability. For those considering mouth taping as a solution for daytime fatigue, consider these methods instead.
- Creating a bedroom that promotes quality sleep (reduce noise and light disturbances)
- Avoid using your smartphone, television, and other digital devices before bed
- Set a consistent sleep schedule that includes going to bed and waking up at the same time
- Reduce stress through exercise or meditation
Consider Other Sleep Treatments
Just because mouth taping has racked up millions of views on TikTok doesn’t mean it’s the best approach for treating mouth breathing and sleep disturbances. In fact, there’s little research to show that mouth taping is effective or safe at treating sleep disorders. Instead of following this TikTok trend, consider speaking with a sleep specialist or dentist about your condition.
Simple lifestyle changes like those mentioned above can work wonders for your sleep quality, health, and overall well-being. At Somnus Therapy, we’re dedicated to helping you identify and understand the cause of your sleep troubles. Our online insomnia treatment program offers a variety of techniques and resources all designed to help you achieve the deep, restorative sleep you deserve. Learn more about CBTi and our methods here.