This Simple Health Hack Has Changed My Life
It’s cheap, passive, and may improve your sleep beyond what you can imagine. It has for me.
I’ve been a mouth-breather all my life. A lifelong asthmatic, who as a child, might awaken in the middle of the night gasping and clawing for air. It was frightening. Not just for me, but for my Mum, who could only look on in horror, and pray for calm.
Since those times, I’ve managed to control my symptoms. Firstly with medications, and then with a healthy diet and lifestyle. But, I’ve never been a good breather. I remember waking up next to a new girlfriend, over twenty years ago, who half-cheerily said, “Morning Darth Vadar!”. We didn’t last long.
If you haven’t guessed already, this post is about the new craze of mouth-taping. I had avoided jumping on this bandwagon for years as one social media guru after another taped their mouths shut on video. I just scrolled on through. But I wish I’d given it a chance earlier because I absolutely love it.
My own experiences are:
- More restful/deeper sleep — waking up feeling re-energized.
- Less waking up in the middle of the night.
- Relaxed TMJ (jaw joint) in the morning — reduced teeth grinding.
For some reason, this list doesn’t seem to do mouth-taping justice. You have to experience it and persevere, but here’s the thing. If you already breathe through your nose all night, and some people do, taping your mouth shut will not make any difference at all. However, how do you know?
If you snore; your mouth is hanging open. If you wake up needing a mouthful of water; shut your mush. If you don’t wake up feeling like a million dollars, then try it. None of us should be waking up feeling bedraggled and have to bribe ourselves with coffee just to get out of bed — don’t normalize this at any age. This is one of those what have you got to lose things.
Your schnozz is an environmental radar, constantly scanning the environment and steering you away from dog pooh or towards cooking bacon
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But you don’t have to volunteer for a drug trial to get it working for you today.
We evolved to breathe through our nose by default. Our mouths provide backup in case of blockage, during high-intensity exercise, when ill, and whilst talking. At all other times, the air we need should come in and out through the filter system on the front of our face.
The nose is full of tiny hairs which together with mucus catch pollutants from pollen to car fumes. Nasal passages warm the incoming air so the lungs can concentrate on the chemistry of respiration. Your schnozz is an environmental radar, constantly scanning the environment and steering you away from dog pooh or towards cooking bacon. Nerves travel directly from the nose to the brain, but until 2004 this was not well understood. If you’re breathing through your mush, you’re not filtering, warming, or getting feedback about your environment. But there’s something else occurring inside the nose that you really don’t want to miss out on.
An experiment by Swedish scientists discovered the air we breathe nasally to be oxygenated 10–15% more than when inhaled through the mouth. Their research also discovered a 15-fold increase in nitric oxide (NO) production when humming during nasal exhale. This Yogic practise has been a part of Eastern traditional medicine for millennia and may now seem a little less whacky.
Nitric oxide is used in emergency medicine to dilate blood vessels in an attempt to keep blood flowing during a cardiovascular event. Breathing through the nose has been shown in medical research to reduce the pressure on the heart by increasing this important chemical. This useful little molecule is also important for immune function and appropriate inflammatory responses.
Another trial, published on the National Institute of Health website, demonstrated disordered mouth breathing by kids with high blood pressure (BP). Nasal breathing reduced their elevated BP without side effects. The researchers believed mouth breathing triggered stress response and heightened BP.
When we pant, it’s shallow and faster than it would be through the nose. This is called over-breathing and reduces the level of oxygen in the blood because of the Bohr Effect. This phenomenon was coined in 1904 to describe the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen and the resultant pH altering effects in our bodies. The acidity of our blood would increase if the kidneys weren’t on hand to keep the blood pH so tightly regulated. The kidneys use micronutrients to control this, endlessly balancing pH may result in a deficiency of minerals.
In Japan, scientists set out to discover if there an association between mouth breathing and atopic dermatitis exists. After accounting for asthma and other potentially confounding influences, they found a significant association between the disordered breathing and skin in almost 500 kids.
Finally, a study comparing mouth breathing with nasal breathing kids demonstrated a reduced level of fitness and poor posture amongst the mouth breathers. The researchers believed the presence of ‘forward head posture’ was compensation by the body to allow better breathing.
I have corrected many people’s postures during my fifteen years as a personal trainer. Combining proper breathing techniques with correct movements is powerful, shame I didn’t discover it earlier in my career!
This Yogic practise has been a part of Eastern traditional medicine for millennia, and may now seem a little less whacky.
The thing I love about mouth taping is that it’s simple and cheap. I’ll share with you what I did to get into it. Just take it slow and apply common sense.
- Buy some surgical tape for a few quid. Alternatively, you can buy proper mouth tape. I use the cheap stuff!
- Try it for a few hours whilst wide awake. Just sit in front of the box (TV) and relax with it. See how it feels, if you can forget about it, that’s what you’re after.
- Once you’re able to relax with the tape on, and you’re happy you can breathe through your nose without issue, try it for real, if you like. Don’t worry about sleeping all night through, to begin with. I woke up in a little panic a few hours into my first night and ripped it off. See safety section below.
- On the second night, I got most of the way through and ripped it off in the early hours: no big deal, but no benefit yet.
- The third night was when the magic started happening. I woke up in the morning and tried speaking only to discover the obstruction. I’d completely forgotten I had it on. This is what you’re after. I felt relaxed like I’d slept better, simple, really.
- It got easier each night, and the results were better every morning. It’s now a part of my routine, and I love it.
Safety & troubleshooting
If you don’t like the thought of taping your mouth because you think you’ll suffocate then remember this, you wake up if your breathing falters*.
I don’t recommend taping the whole mouth across. Look at the picture; this is normally sufficient to do the job. The other thing you can do easily is double over a centimetre on one end. This acts as a little flap that you can grab in the event of panic.
A few things to consider.
You may not enjoy ripping the hair from your upper lip before your first cup of coffee, so consider ways around this problem in advance. Surgical tape is thin enough to fit on the lips only, but in the morning, it’s well and truly stuck. Have you got dry lips, if so, this is not a good combination?
The benefit of using a proper mouth tape is that it doesn’t pull hairs out, or shouldn’t. It shouldn’t take any skin with it either, so if that’s a concern, you may want to opt for the designed mouth tape over the surgical tape.
If you moisturize your lips before bed, the surgical tape may not work well enough. You’ll know because it’ll be AWOL in the morning, look under your pillow. If it’s not there, it’s in the centre of your forehead.
We must all take responsibility for our own actions if you have a problem with your nose or an illness that prevents this from being safe, then please don’t do it.
Why not give it a go!
Breathing through the nose increases oxygen, nitric oxide, reduces blood pressure, and may also help improve the skin. Correct gaseous exchange of C02 and 02, by nasal breathing, allows for proper mineral balance and may prevent deficiencies that have far-reaching consequences. Breathing through the mouth, rather than the nose by default, may negatively impact your posture as your body compensates.
For those of us who breathe through our mouths whilst sleeping, gently taping the mouth shut may be a simple, cheap, and effective health hack for you to try. Many things in life require common sense if you think you’re unable to do it safely then do not try it.
For those willing to try, I really hope you persevere and feel the benefits. It’s so simple, and compared to the other diet and lifestyle things I recommend is almost completely passive. I love the way I sleep with mouth tape, and it’s a new tool in my health toolbox.
In the meantime, and if you’re keen to learn more about breathing, I highly recommend the book Breathe by James Nestor.
Please note, this article contains Amazon affiliate links. If you choose to buy one of the relevant products I’ve recommended, you don’t pay a penny extra, but I get a small commission. Thanks a lot.