- A new trend called “mouth taping” is sweeping TikTok, but medical providers say the risks far outweigh the benefits.
- Though sleeping with your mouth closed reduces the risk of snoring, taping it shut could exacerbate breathing problems.
- Experts share that other treatments, including an evaluation for obstructive sleep apnea and behavioral changes, are safer ways to catch more Zzzs.
There’s a new viral trend on TikTok that users swear is helping them sleep better. It’s called mouth taping. Videos using the hashtag #mouthtaping have racked up nearly 25 million views, and they discuss a so-called sleep treatment that entails exactly what you probably think it does.
“Mouth taping consists of using tape to keep the lips together during sleep,” says Carleara Weiss, PhD, MS, RN, Aeroflow Sleep’s sleep science advisor and a postdoctoral fellow in sleep and circadian rhythms.
TikTokers are also lauding mouth taping for stopping snoring — something that can affect the sleep of the snorer and any bed partners. About 40% of adult men snore habitually compared to 24% of women, according to the AASM.
Sleep hygiene is important. The
Mouth taping promises to keep the mouth shut during sleep. But is sleeping with your mouth open actually risky? And if so, do the risks of mouth taping outweigh the risks of sleeping with your mouth open?
Risks of sleeping with your mouth open
One sleep specialist says it’s “somewhat unhealthy” to sleep with your mouth agape.
“You are getting cold, unfiltered air into your lungs,” says Michael Breus, PhD, a sleep specialist and clinical psychologist. “Noses are specially equipped with tissue designed to moisten and warm the air and filter it before it gets into your system. Mouth breathers will usually have bad breath [and] more tooth decay.”
Mouth breathing can be a sign of nasal obstruction,
Sleep medicine specialist Dr. Federico Cerrone, of Atlantic Health System, concedes that mouth taping may technically reduce snoring and mouth-breathing during sleep, but he says the risks are not worth it.
“It’s incredibly dangerous and is likely a quick fix instead of treating the root cause,” he says.
Risks of mouth taping
Experts say the risks of mouth taping include:
- obstructed breathing
- worsening of sleep apnea and its risk factors
- irritation from or allergic reactions to the tape
- sleep disruption
Nasal congestion can cause a person to sleep with their mouth open, as it helps them breathe, explains Dr. Alex Dimitriu, who is double board certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine and BrainfoodMD. It can also be a cause of snoring.
Common causes of nasal congestion include:
- illness or infection, such as a cold
- deviated septum
- enlarged turbinates (small structures in the nose that cleanse and humidify air as it flows through the nasal cavity and into the lungs)
So, though mouth taping proponents may say it helps with breathing, Dimitriu warns it will likely have the opposite effect.
“It’s…important to note that laying down tends to make the nose more congested,” Dimitriu says. “Sometimes, people will breathe well nasally when upright, then worse when laying flat. This is because of blood pooling. When we stand, more blood goes down to the legs, so there is less congestion in the nose.”
Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, which occurs when a person repeatedly starts and stops breathing while sleeping. Weiss warns that, though mouth taping may help with snoring, it can worsen sleep apnea by making breathing more difficult. As a result, it puts the individual at a higher risk for the dangers associated with sleep apnea, including heart attacks and death.
Weiss adds that the tape may irritate or cause an allergic reaction on the face and lips. Dimitriu notes that, in rare cases, a person may throw up or choke because of the tape.
Good sleep hygiene is vital for physical and mental health, but experts stress there are more proven ways to improve yours. They suggest lifestyle and behavioral changes as a first-line treatment, including:
- waking up and going to bed at the same time every day
- creating a bedtime routine that focuses on unwinding
- reducing caffeine and alcohol use more than six hours before going to sleep
- be patient with yourself
Weiss says consistent wake-up and bedtimes can help individuals sustain a natural rhythm and improve sleep quality. She recommends getting exposure to light every morning “‘jump-start’ the biological clock.” This routine might include opening the curtains or taking a morning walk.
Weiss and Cerrone agree that the bedtime routine should emphasize relaxation.
Cerrone says writing can be relaxing.
Caffeine is a stimulant, and Breus prefers that his patients stick to one cup per day about 90 minutes after waking up. However, having a cup of joe later isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. But you’ll want to cut yourself off several hours before bedtime.
An older 2013 study indicated that caffeine consumption six hours before bedtime could disturb sleep.
Cerrone says that he often sees people use alcohol as a sleep aid but that it can actually damage sleep.
Finally, getting better sleep won’t happen overnight — be patient with yourself and start implementing one step at a time, such as writing out that pre-bed to-do list.
“Developing good sleep hygiene takes time and is something you can ease into,” says Cerrone.
Mouth taping may help stop snoring, but it’s not safe. Experts suggest:
- getting evaluated for sleep apnea
- working with a doctor to treat asthma and allergies, two common causes of snoring
- changing sleep positions
- weight loss
The AASM estimates that about 30 million people have obstructive sleep apnea, and it’s largely undiagnosed.
Snoring doesn’t automatically mean a person has sleep apnea, but it’s a hallmark sign of the disorder. Therefore, Weiss suggests getting evaluated for it if snoring is an issue.
A primary care physician can refer you to a sleep specialist for an evaluation, which involves a study in which breathing, blood oxygen, and heart rate are monitored during sleep.
People with sleep apnea are often prescribed a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) to help with airflow and breathing during sleep.
Sometimes, it’s allergies or asthma, not sleep apnea, triggering snoring. Cerrone recommends working with a doctor to manage these conditions. He adds that back sleepers should attempt to sleep on their side.
“This promotes spinal alignment and reduces compression of your airways, allowing you to breathe better,” Cerrone adds.
The AASM mentions that obesity is a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, and Breus says weight management can help reduce snoring.
Weiss says social media can be useful, but people should speak with healthcare providers before trying health and wellness trends at home.
“While social media offers relevant and easily accessible information, please avoid taking medical advice from non-healthcare professionals,” Weiss says. “Instead, good resources should come from reputable healthcare providers.”