Can Taping Your Mouth Shut at Night Improve Your Sleep?

A social media trend promotes mouth taping as a remedy for sleep apnea, but does it truly help or cause more harm? - Photo: <a class="link " href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Soumyadeep Paul;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas">Soumyadeep Paul</a>

One of the latest health trends on TikTok and other social media is mouth taping, which is exactly what it sounds like. By keeping your mouth shut at night, proponents claim, you can snore less, sleep better, and even have a fresher breath. But what does the science behind mouth taping actually say?

Sleep apnea happens when our ability to breathe is cut off during sleep. This causes the brain to wake us up just enough to start breathing again only for the cycle to restart once we fall back asleep. The severity of sleep apnea is determined by the number of episodes of stopped or reduced breathing that occur each night. Snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea, since it’s a sign of having narrow airways, but not every snorer has the condition.

There are two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) happens when airway muscles physically block a person’s breathing, while central apnea is when the brain forgets to signal the body to breathe (a third mixed form has features of both). Mouth taping is intended to help with the former type of sleep apnea.

It’s known that people with OSA tend to breath through their mouths regularly, often as a way to compensate for narrow or blocked upper airways through the nose. Unfortunately, mouth breathing can worsen OSA by further narrowing the airways (the tongue can fall back and block the airway). It can reduce our oxygen intake, contributing to poorer sleep and drying out our mouths, making it easier for the bacteria that cause bad breath and gum disease to set up shop. And mouth breathing can even hamper the effectiveness of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, an effective treatment for OSA.

The logic behind mouth taping is that it forces the person to only breathe through their nose, in theory helping stop all the above. There are products sold specifically for mouth taping, which often claim to be less irritating to wear and take off, though many people will simply use the tape around their house.

There has been some research suggesting that mouth taping can work as advertised. A 2015 study found that people using “porous oral patches” tended to experience reduced snoring and less episodes of sleep apnea, for instance, while a 2022 study found 65% of mild OSA sufferers saw a noticeable improvement in their symptoms after mouth taping.

The major problem is that there are so few studies even looking at the topic, and those that do exist are very small in size. That same 2022 study involved just 20 volunteers, for instance. This means that it’s impossible to draw any firm conclusions about the validity of mouth taping from the limited data available right now.

It’s also possible that mouth taping could be more hassle than help for some people. The 2015 study found that a third of participants actually experienced worse apnea symptoms while mouth-taping, for example. Other research has found that some people will still try to exhale through their mouths while taped (a phenomenon coined mouth puffing), which may be correlated with more severe OSA. And sleep and health experts have warned that the practice could be risky for people with conditions that significantly affect their ability to breathe through the nose, including OSA.

“If you have obstructive sleep apnea, yes, this can be very dangerous,” Raj Dasgupta, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, told CNN in 2022.

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious health problem—one that ruins people’s bedtime and raises the risk of other health issues, such as heart disease. However, the issue is that many people don’t seek medical help, with up to 85% of sleep apnea cases going undiagnosed. So while mouth taping might seem like a decent idea if you’re struggling with your sleep or snoring, it’s probably more worthwhile to see a doctor first so they can steer you toward other treatments with a proven track record.

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