Mouth breathing might be ruining your sleep. Here’s how to fix it

Aug 20, 2020, 6:33 AM
Mouth breathing through the night can lead to diminished sleep quality, snoring and elevated stress...
Mouth breathing through the night can lead to diminished sleep quality, snoring and elevated stress. Credit: Max Pepper/CNN

    (CNN) — Living with a plugged nose isn’t fun, but James Nestor was ready. Plus, it was for science.

While researching his recent book, “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art,” Nestor let Stanford University scientists block his nostrils with silicone and surgical tape to measure the impacts of breathing through his mouth for 10 days.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be good, because there’s a very firm scientific foundation showing all the deleterious effects of mouth breathing, from periodontal disease to metabolic disorders,” Nestor said. The surprise was just how quickly the experiment affected him.

Nestor’s blood pressure rose 13 points, edging the writer into stage one hypertension. Measurements of heart rate variability showed his body was in a state of stress. His pulse went up, and he stumbled around in a mental fog.

He also snored for hours each night, developing obstructive sleep apnea. His blood oxygen levels dropped.

“We had no idea it was going to be that bad,” Nestor said. “The snoring and sleep apnea was so dramatic, and it came on so quickly, that everyone was pretty floored.”

What Nestor learned, aside from the hazards of being a research subject, was that mouth breathing can ruin a good night’s sleep.

Breathing through your mouth at night puts you at higher risk for sleep disorders including snoring, sleep apnea and hypopnea, the partial blockage of air, scientists have found. Each of those, in turn, can lead to daytime fatigue.

That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to wake up in a daze because you’re prone to mouth breathing when you sleep. Experts have a long list of strategies designed to turn you into a nasal breather — including a low-cost breathing hack you can pick up at the corner store.

What causes nighttime mouth breathing?

There is a long list of reasons why people breathe through their mouths at night, said Dr. Steven Park, a surgeon with a specialty in sleep medicine, and the host of the podcast, “Breathe Better, Sleep Better, Live Better.”

“The most common reason is if your nose is stuffy,” Park said. “From allergies, or if you have a deviated septum. Lots of medications can also cause nasal congestion.”

Those problems are aggravated by lying down, he explained.

“Generally when you lie down the blood vessels inside your nose fill up with blood,” he said, explaining that the rush of blood causes swelling and constriction. If you can’t breathe easily through your nose, you’re likely to open your mouth for air, Park said. That triggers a positive feedback loop.

“You would think that if you open your mouth you would breathe better, but actually the reverse happens,” he said. Opening your jaws causes the tongue to slump backward, obstructing your airway. “Even if you don’t have sleep apnea, or you have mild sleep apnea, opening your mouth makes it much, much worse.”

How do you know if you’re mouth breathing at night? Many people, Park noted, are tipped off by a spouse or partner who notices that they’re breathing through the mouth.

If you wake up with a dry mouth or lingering tiredness, they may be warning signs. Another indication of sleep apnea or other disturbed sleep is if you have to visit the bathroom multiple times in the night, said Park. Interrupted breathing stresses the heart, Park explained, triggering the release of hormones that cause you to produce more urine.

What can you do to fix it?

When Nestor blocked his nose for science, he experienced an extreme version of mouth breathing. But in retrospect, he realized he’d been waking up with a dry mouth for some time, a sign he’d been ditching nasal breathing for at least part of the night.

If you’re tackling your nighttime mouth breathing, Park suggested you start by taking care of your nose to minimize congestion.

“Number one, avoid eating close to bedtime,” he said. That’s because stomach juices can come up into your nose, sinuses, ears and mouth, causing congestion and inflammation.

Park also recommended nasal saline irrigation, flushing the nose with salt water in a squeeze bottle or neti pot. “That’s a mild decongestant, because the salt water draws out clear water from the membrane,” he explained. (Over-the-counter decongestant sprays can cause habituation and rebound symptoms, and should be reserved for short-term use, according to Park.)

Breathing problems are so widespread that they’ve spurred a whole industry dedicated to opening your nose. Park said some people find relief from nasal strips, which open up the nose from the outside, or nasal dilators that expand air passages from within.

But even if you get your nose to clear, nighttime mouth breathing can be a hard habit to break. That’s led some to seek out products that secure their lips closed at night, such as Somnifix or Snorless strips. YouTube videos about taping your mouth closed with specialized adhesive tape have racked up tens of thousands of views.

For Nestor, the secret to curing his own nighttime mouth breathing turned out to be simpler and less expensive.

“I’m a big fan of American entrepreneurialism, but I don’t think you need a special tape to tape your mouth with,” he said.

Subscribe to CNN’s Sleep, But Better Newsletter: Want the best sleep of your life? Sign up for our newsletter series for helpful hints to achieve better sleep.

He picks up hypoallergenic micropore tape at the drugstore, where a roll can cost under a dollar. “Just a teeny little bit at the center of your lips. The point is not to inhibit airflow through your mouth, it’s to train your jaw shut at night.” (Nestor has a more detailed video on mouth taping featuring dentist Mark Burhenne on his YouTube channel.)

For the author, it’s been life altering.

“I travel with [tape] whenever I travel, even when I go camping. I’m convinced it’s a good thing, and I’ve talked to the experts who have told me the same,” he said. “It’s been a complete game changer.”

™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories


WWE Essential...
Zoe Sottile, CNN

John Cena breaks Make-A-Wish record after granting 650 wishes

Actor, wrestling legend, and perpetual meme subject John Cena has completed a new accomplishment: breaking the world record for most wishes granted through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
2 days ago
Utah Republicans are looking to ban transgender surgeries and other hormone-based care....
Mark Jones

Utah to receive additional $4.9 million from FEMA in response to COVID-19

FEMA has announced Utah will receive an additional $4.9 million to help with the housing costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
3 days ago
BYU tracking...
Simone Seikaly

BYU researchers learn importance of tracking, in fitness and other goals

BYU researchers found that tracking an activity helps to increase (or decrease) that activity.
5 days ago
Adam Small

National health panel recommends anxiety screenings for adults under 65

Anxiety screenings were recommended for adults 19 to 64 by the task force to help combat the under-detection of anxiety disorders.
6 days ago
The little league player that was critically injured after falling off a  bunk bed is now fighting ...
Randall Jeppesen and Mark Jones

Easton Oliverson family files lawsuit against LLBB and bunk bed makers

A lawsuit has been filed by the family of Easton Oliverson against Little League Baseball and the makers of the bunk beds he fell off and injured his head just prior to the Little League World Series.
7 days ago
University of Utah Health...
Lindsay Aerts

U of U Health says contraception need higher for both women and men in the wake of Roe decision

University of Utah Heath says demand for birth control is up and they have a new clinic hoping to get women faster access.
7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Mouth breathing might be ruining your sleep. Here’s how to fix it