Not a day in practice goes by without a patient, colleague or friend bringing a new health trend to my attention. One of the most interesting I’ve heard so far: taping your mouth shut while you sleep.
While this technique sounds uncomfortable and even anxiety-provoking, it comes with many promises: sounder sleep, reduction in snoring and sleep apnea, a calmer mind, clearer thoughts, better oral health, improved blood pressure, and a decrease in allergies. This all makes sense as the human nose creates quality air to be absorbed into the lungs and bloodstream. It naturally filters, pressurizes, warms and humidifies air. Nasal breathing also supports the structure of the face. And lastly, the nasal passage is coated with receptors that are activated by breathing and these receptors send signals directly to the brain and nervous system.
By breathing through the mouth, you are exposing yourself to a host of negative consequences. You are bypassing your own natural filtration system and you miss an opportunity to regulate your nervous system. Mouth breathing also negatively changes the shape of the face, jaw and palate over time, leading to a host of structural issues which make breathing itself much more challenging. Because of this, mouth breathing begets mouth breathing - the nasal passage cannot accommodate enough air flow to satisfy your breathing needs because of its compromised structure, causing one to gulp air through the mouth instead of inhaling through the nose.
Because nasal breathing during sleep improves sleep quality, blood oxygen levels, and lung volume, theoretically this technique could lead to even greater health benefits like optimized healing times and immune function, decreased inflammation, enhanced athletic performance, more balanced hormones…the list goes on. Ultimately, when we sleep better, our health is better overall. This was of particular interest to me because so much of my practice is devoted to dermatology and graceful aging. I am always on the hunt for ways to support the face structure as we age in order to keep the skin and complexion lifted and youthful. Could mouth breathing possibly be aging us more quickly? And on the flip side, if we breathe with our mouths closed, can we look younger for longer?
In James Nestor's book called Breath: the New Science of a Lost Art, Nestor writes about his experience and research on breathing. He surveys leading researchers, medical professionals, and aficionados (referred to as Pulmonauts), and also presents his own personal experiences with various techniques that are found to enhance breathing. While he does not directly comment on how mouth breathing may impact aging, his research makes it clear that nasal breathing is superior in many health-related ways to mouth breathing, particularly while we sleep. I figured I had to give it a try.
For the last couple of months, before bed I cut a small strip of hypoallergenic kinesiology tape (you can also use flexible surgical tape) and placed it over the center of my mouth, leaving space on either side for comfort. “Like a soul patch an inch too high. More of a reminder than a sealant” my friend Emma Knight writes for Vogue in her article on mouth taping. As many people report, the first evening I tried it I felt suffocated and did not last beyond a few minutes before tearing off the tape. But with each passing night, it became easier. I found myself sleeping through the night comfortably with my mouth closed and now, I crave it. I have become more comfortable sleeping with the tape then without it.
I have personally noticed an improvement in sleep quality, I find it easier to rise in the mornings, and my energy through the day is excellent. I’ve also noticed I no longer suffer from sneezing and a stuffy nose upon waking, my mouth is not dry, and I do not think I suffer from “morning breath” as much. It is far too early to comment on signs of aging or the appearance of my skin, but I certainly notice that my face is less puffy on waking, which is good enough for me. While there is always a possibility that this is all placebo, I’m sold and will be continuing this technique for the foreseeable future.