Social media platform TikTok has helped spread another potentially dangerous idea: taping your lips to stop breathing through your mouth at night.
“If you have obstructive sleep apnea, yes, it can be very dangerous,” said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Surprising Reasons People Sleep With Their Mouth Taped.
For more news and videos related to health and wellness, visit the Health and Wellness section. >>
Obstructive sleep apnea, which is a complete or partial collapse of the airways, is one of the most common and dangerous sleep disorders.
According to a 2019 study published in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine, more than 1 billion people aged 30 to 69 years old worldwide have this disease. Experts say millions more are undiagnosed.
“There is limited data on the benefits of mouth taping, and I would be very careful — and even talk to my primary care physician — before trying it,” said Dasgupta, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California.
In TikTok videos viewed by CNN, one young woman touts the beauty benefits of sleep as a reason to put a band-aid on her lips every night: “I tape my mouth every single day… the best.”
Despite the downsides of painful facial hair loss or soft tissue damage around the mouth, another TikTok video recommends using “plain old paper tape.”
“I know there are a lot of fancy mouth tapes on the market, but you don’t need that – you just need this little square right here across the lip,” he states.
All of this could be written off as silly, except that one video seems to spawn another when people take on the challenge. One woman couldn’t even remember why she started taping her mouth at night: “Really, I don’t know. I saw on TikTok and can’t remember what the benefits were. But it helps me sleep!”
Dangers of mouth breathing
Like many other things “discovered” by TikTok hosts, mouth recording is not new. People have been looking for ways to close their mouths at night for years, and for good reason.
Mouth breathing can lead to snoring and extreme thirst at night, as well as dry mouth and bad breath in the morning. Over time, this breathing is associated with gum disease and malocclusion, where the upper and lower teeth do not line up.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, in childhood, when there is often a tendency to breathe through the mouth, this condition can lead to the child developing “mouth-breathing face” — a narrowed face with a receding chin or jaw. Children are also at risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea, which is associated with learning difficulties and behavioral problems in childhood.
Journalist James Nestor allowed scientists to plug his nose with silicone and surgical tape for 10 days to see how breathing through his mouth would affect his health. As he described in his book Breathing: The New Science of a Lost Art, the impact was astonishingly fast.
He developed obstructive sleep apnea, his blood pressure, pulse, and heart rate skyrocketed, and his blood oxygen levels plummeted, causing his brain to plunge into a cloudy fog.
“We had no idea it was going to be this bad,” Nestor told CNN in 2020. “The snoring and sleep apnea was so dramatic and started so fast that everyone was in shock.”
Why is it better to breathe through the nose
Experts say breathing through the nostrils is healthier. Fine hairs in the nose, called cilia, filter out dust, allergens, germs, and debris from the environment. Nasal breathing also moistens incoming air, while dry air inhaled through the mouth can irritate the lungs, Dasgupta said.
“Nasal breathing can lower blood pressure by increasing nitride oxide, a compound in your body that can help keep your blood pressure under control,” he added.
In addition, breathing through the nose is relaxing, which is why it is often recommended along with yoga and meditation as a way to improve sleep.
Check for sleep apnea first
However, if you decide you want to try mouth tape, don’t tape your mouth horizontally like you’re the hostage of a serial killer – even TikTok users emphasize this. Just a bit of tape applied vertically to the lips should work.
However, one small study in March found that people who did this simply replaced mouth breathing with “mouth puffing,” where study participants inhaled and exhaled air through their mouths on each side of the tape.
Overall, the “most important message” is to assess obstructive sleep apnea first before trying to sleep with your mouth taped, Dasgupta said.
“Once obstructive sleep apnea is completely ruled out, we can call it snoring,” he said. “In addition, there are many other ways to deal with snoring besides mouth taping, such as nasal strips, nasal dilators, and mouth (and) throat and tongue exercises.”
Avoid sleeping on your back, in this position the mouth opens and the tongue falls back into the throat. Pushing air through this blockage causes snoring.
Mouth breathing is often associated with allergies, colds, and chronic nasal congestion. A deviated septum, which is the cartilage that separates the nostrils, can also be a cause – a deviated septum can block the airway. Nasal polyps can do the same, Dasgupta said.
Children may have enlarged adenoids, glands behind the nose that are designed to protect against bacteria and viruses. They decrease with age, according to the Cleveland Clinic, so it’s not a common cause of mouth breathing in adults.
All of these major medical issues can be managed with a visit to an ear, nose and throat doctor or a sleep specialist who can create a personalized treatment plan for you.
“These issues should be considered and evaluated first of all before taping the mouth. Taping your mouth with duct tape is unlikely to help you sleep better in my opinion,” Dasgupta said.
– With Jan Rose Smith, correspondent for CNN.