A popular practice in sleep biohacking is mouth taping. It’s exactly what it sounds like: taping your mouth shut while you sleep. At first, it might sound somewhere between uncomfortable and dangerous, but the surprising health benefits of such a simple practice are anything but.
The Case For Nasal Breathing
Ultimately, the goal of mouth taping is to stop mouth breathing. Ancient intuitive wisdom and modern breathing experts alike have a lot to say on the benefits of nose breathing and why we should train ourselves to breathe primarily through the nose.
Breathing through the nose instead of the mouth has health benefits recognized by yogis long before modern scientific investigations. In fact, over a century ago Yogi Ramacharaka wrote this about mouth breathing in his book The Science of Breath:
One of the first lessons in the Yogi Science of Breath is to learn how to breathe through the nostrils, and to overcome the common practice of mouth breathing.
Why? Nasal breathing provides more oxygen to the body with 10-20% more O2 uptake than mouth breathing. It also considerably warms and humidifies the air as it comes in. Cold air breathed in through the nose at 42.8°F is warmed to 86°F by the time it reaches the back of the throat, allowing it to reach body temperature equilibrium as it reaches the lungs.
Just the boost of oxygen might be enough to sell nasal breathing for better health. But the benefits of nasal breathing actually go much further.
While nitric oxide outside the body is seen as a dangerous toxin, it couldn’t be more critical to health inside the body. Nitric oxide is a molecule that participates in bio-regulation and influences overall wellness in every system in the body. A few primary roles it plays include vasoregulation, homeostasis, neurotransmission, immunity, and respiration.
One of the best sources of nitric oxide for the body is actually through nasal breathing. Both the nasal cavity and the lining of blood vessels (of which there are thousands of miles throughout the body) produce nitric oxide.
A study published in Thorax revealed that,
“Nitric oxide (NO) is released in the nasal airways in humans. During inspiration through the nose, this NO will follow the airstream to the lower airways and the lungs.”
Nasal breathing provides a reservoir of nitric oxide for the lungs and bloodstream to circulate through the body. Mouth breathing bypasses that access point, depriving your body of being flooded by this vital molecule.
Mouth Breathing & Health Problems
Yogi Ramacharaka continues in his book to say that,
“Many of the diseases to which civilized man is subject to are undoubtedly caused by this common habit of mouth breathing.”
As you nasal breathe, the nose acts as a filter for the air. It removes a significant amount bacteria and other particulates that may not belong in the respiratory system.
Mouth breathing, however, alters bacterial flora in the mouth which causes bad breath, among other more serious issues. It also contributes to faster dehydration. For example, you may wake up with a dry mouth if you’ve been mouth breathing during sleep. Dry mouth increases acidification of the mouth which causes cavities and gum disease.
Mouth breathing has been connected to development of forward head posture in children as well as reduced respiratory strength and can decrease facial symmetry over time, even through adulthood.
Essentially, the mouth is for eating. The nose is for breathing.
My Mouth Taping Experience
As a notoriously bad sleeper and perpetual mouth breather, I had to see for myself how it works. I’ve been on the quest for better sleep for years and found success with using a weighted blanket and sleep tracking with my Oura ring. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still have room for improvement in hacking my way to becoming a sleep princess.
My husband affectionately refers to my roll of medical tape as “Kate Tape”, insisting that more marriages might be saved if every wife did this. *insert eye roll here*.
Nevertheless, every night I’ve been putting a small piece of 3M tape on my mouth to keep it shut, after I’m done with all my necessary talking of course. Don’t worry — my husband doesn’t escape that easily.
The first couple of days, I was shocked at how I felt when waking up. First, I noticed that I was much less groggy. Usually it takes me a full hour in the morning to truly feel awake. But after mouth taping, I woke up earlier and more readily.
The third night, my tape came off at some point in my sleep. In the morning, my throat was unbearably parched. It was amazing to see how quickly my body had adjusted to my new good habit and responded to strongly when I reverted back to mouth breathing.
Only a couple other nights have I lost my tape in my sleep. And I definitely notice a difference in how I feel in the morning without it.
Mouth Taping Forever?
I’ve been using mouth taping consistently for several weeks now. I don’t so much notice it first thing in the morning like I used to. Although, I’m not sure if that means I’m just getting used to the tape or if I’m starting to train a closed-mouth habit.
Hopefully, it won’t take much longer to retrain my nightly breathing habits. For one, I’m slightly allergic to the tape adhesive, so some mornings my lips have a burning sensation after I remove the tape.
I have noticed that even in my sleep, I’m more aware of my breathing when I lose the tape. I’ve also been practicing intentional nasal breathing during the day, so avoiding mouth breathing while I’m conscious surely helps speed up the retraining process during sleep.
Ideally within the next few weeks, I’ll be free of the tape and have a new healthy sleep habit. Of course, I’m sure this differs for everyone.
Still Freaked Out?
If the thought of mouth taping freaks you out, I get it. It might seem a little restrictive or dangerous.
Let me reassure you by saying that the medical tape is not so sticky that you couldn’t get it off by forcibly opening your mouth. We’re not talking about using duct tape here. You can also wear it during the day while you’re awake for short periods of time to get used to the sensation before mouth taping while sleeping.
To me, it’s worth the perks of nasal breathing. And I’m willing to try anything that supports better natural health at least once.