Should You Be Taping Your Mouth Shut for Better Sleep?
The internet is a goldmine of obscure hacks that supposedly help you catch better ZZZs, from drinking lettuce water to wearing socks to bed. And over the last year, some TikTokers have posted videos claiming that taping your mouth shut while you snooze improves your oral health and stops snoring in its tracks.
But are these perks actually legit — and is the practice safe? Here, experts break down everything you need to know about mouth taping for sleep, including the potential benefits, risks, and if it's really necessary in the first place.
What Is Mouth Taping for Sleep, Exactly?
Mouth taping for sleep is basically what it sounds like: placing a strip of medical-grade tape across your lips before bed, which forces you to breathe through your nose while you snooze, says Amber Bonnaig, D.D.S., the dental director of Georgia for DentaQuest, a health care company that provides dental benefits. Why would someone do this, you ask? "Nose breathing itself is actually healthier for you than mouth breathing," she says.
In terms of oral health, breathing from your nose has an edge on breathing from your mouth, as your nose warms and humidifies the air you're taking in, she says. On the other hand, chronic mouth breathing can dry out your mouth and, in turn, cause trouble for your pearly whites and breath, says Bonnaig. "A dry mouth feeds more bacteria, which disrupts the balance of the oral microbiome and may make you more prone to tooth decay," she explains. "Some chronic mouth breathers also complain of a bad breath or an odor that they notice more when they wake up or if they've taken a nap." (These kinds of toothpaste will help you banish your smelly morning breath.)
Some people also turn to mouth taping to ease snoring, adds Virginia Skiba, M.D., the associate program director and section chief of sleep medicine at Henry Ford Health System in Michigan. When you snooze, the muscles in the roof of your mouth, the tongue, and the tissues in the throat relax, which can cause them to partially block your airway, vibrate when you breathe, and make those aggravating snoring sounds, according to the Mayo Clinic. But mouth breathing can allow those muscles and tissues to fall further back into your airway, which can worsen snoring, says Dr. Skiba. "Taping the mouth, forcing yourself to breathe through the [nose], might help the snoring," she adds. (Your sleep posture plays a role in snoring, too.)
In her practice, Dr. Skiba says she typically sees folks trying mouth taping if they're also using a CPAP machine (or continuous positive airway pressure machine), which uses a hose connected to a mask or nosepiece to deliver constant, steady air pressure to help people with obstructive sleep apnea (when the airway is physically blocked) breathe while they sleep. "So some patients like to use [a CPAP with] a nasal mask — or one that goes over the nose or inside the nose — but they have a tendency to open their mouth," she explains. "When you open the mouth, the air just rushes out and that can disrupt your sleep and cause a dry mouth." A chin strap designed specifically for CPAP machines is commonly used to keep the mouth closed, but patients who find it to be cumbersome and clunky may prefer to use mouth taping, she says.
Does Mouth Taping for Sleep Actually Work?
Currently, there are few studies showing mouth taping's efficacy, and many of the purported benefits haven't been backed up with research yet, says Dr. Skiba. In theory, using tape to stop mouth breathing could help improve snoring, says Dr. Skiba. And in a 2015 study on 30 mouth-breathers with mild obstructive sleep apnea, researchers found that mouth taping slightly reduced snoring intensity and sleep apnea severity. "When these patients used mouth taping, their sleep apnea improved from kind of high-mild to low-mild, so it still didn't completely go away, but it did improve," she adds.
Anecdotally speaking, Bonnaig says she's had patients reporting more restful sleep and slightly more saliva in their mouth — a natural agent that helps the body rinse away damaging bacteria — after mouth taping. That said, it's hard to pinpoint mouth taping as the sole cause behind improved oral health. "Things can be so interrelated," she says. "If a patient starts to do mouth taping, I feel like they have a heightened sense of their oral hygiene. So it's like all parts working together because they're thinking, 'I'm going to tape my mouth shut tonight, so let me make sure I brushed well, I flossed, and I mouthwashed if I use that." (Wait, should you brush your teeth before or after breakfast?)
What Are the Risks of Mouth Taping for Sleep?
Unsurprisingly, slapping a piece of tape across your lips before hitting the hay does come with its risks. "I don't think this is something that you see either online or on social media and you just immediately try," says Bonnaig. "I think it's something you need to have a discussion with a medical or dental provider to see if it's a viable option for you." That's because folks who have frequent congestion, allergies, or asthma often need to breathe from their mouth out of necessity, and applying tape to the mouth before bed could block their breathing while they sleep, she says. "I think the big risk of it is just the obstruction of the airway," she adds. "You still have the airway from the nose available, but if you notice you struggling to breathe [that way], this is just not a good option for you."
For the same reason, you shouldn't try mouth taping to ease your snoring without first chatting with a medical professional, says Dr. Skiba. "We are always worried if people have underlying sleep apnea," she says. "Let's say they snore and they don't realize they have sleep apnea, and then they think that mouth taping is going to get rid of the snoring. In reality, it may not, so the risk would be that they are not treating the underlying condition." To figure out if you're dealing with a bad case of snoring or something more serious such as obstructive sleep apnea — which is typically treated with a CPAP machine or an oral device that prevents the jaw and tongue from blocking the airway — your doctor will likely want to do a sleep study, says Dr. Skiba.
Mouth taping can also be risky if you practice it after drinking alcohol or taking sedative medications, says Dr. Skiba. Under normal circumstances, you'll typically wake up from your slumber — and hopefully, remove the tape from your mouth — if you can't breathe. But drugs and alcohol can subdue your body's natural response, so if you sleep through those warning signals that you're not breathing fully, you might not be taking in enough oxygen to properly function, says Dr. Skiba. Regardless of your health conditions, you may also experience irritation on the lips and surrounding skin after mouth taping, she says. (Related: Is It Really Okay to Take Benadryl for Sleep?)
What to Know If You're Trying Mouth Taping for Sleep.
If your doctor rules out sleep apnea and gives you the all-clear to try mouth taping, Bonnaig recommends using a medical-grade surgical tape (Buy It, $6, amazon.com), which tends to be more gentle on your delicate lip skin, or a mouth-specific tape (Buy It, $21, amazon.com) that's a bit porous or has a small vent, allowing some air to come in through the mouth if necessary, she says. "Something like duct tape or packing tape is never recommended," she adds, as they may damage and irritate the skin.
You'll also want to avoid mouth taping if you're feeling more congested than usual or notice your seasonal allergies are flaring up, says Bonnaig. "If people have a lot of nasal congestion and they really cannot breathe with the nose, then if you tap your mouth, you force yourself to breathe through the nose, which might really disrupt your sleep and make it really uncomfortable," adds Dr. Skiba.
How long you'll need to tape your mouth shut before bedtime varies from person to person, but it's not a practice you'll need to keep in your routine for eternity, says Bonnaig. "[The goal] is more so to train your body to naturally nose breathe and then to get out of the habit of mouth breathing, and the timeline for that has truly been variable across the board," she says. Some folks feel as though they can quit mouth taping and mainly breathe through their nose in just a week, and others may find it takes a few weeks, she says.
So, Should You Try Mouth Taping for Sleep?
In general, mouth taping for sleep is likely a safe practice, says Dr. Skiba, and the minimal research that's out there hasn't shown any major health concerns, adds Bonnaig. "But you just don't want to fool yourself [into thinking] that it's fixing something it's not fixing, adds. Dr. Skiba. "That's the biggest thing. If it's a little bit of snoring that you have or a dry mouth, you can try it and use it, but if you snore loudly or if you're tired [potential signs of sleep apnea], then it's probably not going to be super helpful." (Related: Could Sleep Anxiety Be to Blame for Your Tiredness?)
To encourage nose breathing without all the sticky tape, Bonnaig suggests using nasal breathing strips, which lift and open the nasal passages and may decrease mouth breathing. And to stifle snoring, Dr. Skiba recommends sleeping on your side or with your torso elevated (rather than flat on your back), applying nasal spray to clear up congestion if you have allergies, and avoiding practices that can worsen snoring and sleep apnea, such as consuming alcohol and taking certain narcotic and sedative medications.
And if your dentist gives you a gold star at every biannual cleaning and your partner has never heard a single snore coming from you in the middle of the night, don't bother with mouth taping. "If it's just one of those things that you''ve heard about or seen and wanted to try, and it's not really necessary from an oral health perspective, I just say, don't get frustrated," says Bonnaig. "Get some rest, and sleep the way you've been sleeping for years."