Discover more from XO, MU by Melissa Urban
XOMU: Why I started taping my mouth shut at night
The why, how, and "is this for real" of mouth taping, as inspired by James Nestor's book BREATH
My bedtime routine is extensive. I floss, water pik, and brush my teeth; put my hair in bathrobe twists; take my magnesium; remove my contacts; occasionally wash my face; and clean around my mouth lightly with an alcohol swab. Then I pop in my nightguards (tooth-grinder here), apply a wide swath of tape directly over my mouth, and head to bed.
Mouth-taping is having a moment, thanks to the 2020 book Breath by James Nestor. In his book, Nestor does a deep-dive into the scientific, cultural, and evolutionary history of the way humans breathe, and its effects on our health and well-being.
Breath: a summary of relevant points
To understand why I tape my mouth shut every night, you need to understand the basic premise of the book—we should all be breathing through our nose. Your nose is designed for breathing safely and efficiently. It’s lined with hair to filter out foreign particles like dust and allergens; it warms and moisturises the air that enters into your lungs, making it easier to slip into your bloodstream; and it releases nitric oxide to help to widen your blood vessels and improve oxygen circulation. You can extract about 20% more oxygen (!) breathing through our noses compared to the mouth. Inhaling from the nose also forces air against the soft tissues at the back of the throat, making the airways wider and breathing easier. After a while, these tissues and muscles get “toned” to stay in this opened and wide position, so it becomes easier to nasal breathe.
Mouth breathing, however, changes the physical body and the airways for the worse. Inhaling air through the mouth decreases pressure, which causes the soft tissues in the back of the mouth to become loose and flabby. This creates less overall space, making breathing more difficult—which means you need to keep breathing through your mouth. Sleeping with an open mouth exacerbates these problems, as gravity pulls the soft tissues in the throat and tongue down, closing off the airway even more. After a while, our airways become conditioned to this position, leading to snoring, sleep apnea, sleep disruptions, and other health consequences, like brain fog, gum disease, postural issues, and increased anxiety.
Today, Nestor says, most of us have devolved into mouth-breathers, and it’s doing a number on our physical and mental health. (I won’t get into why we’re mouth breathing more today; he does a wonderful job explaining the factors in the book.) So let’s just go forward with the basic understanding that (a) nasal breathing is great for health, (b) mouth breathing is terrible for health, and (c) we’d all benefit from re-training ourselves to breathe through our noses, especially at night.
Ness: The card for people who value wellness more than travel
Imagine if everything I’ve talked about in this article—dental floss, a new Water Pik, an electric toothbrush, a magnesium supplement, a new bathrobe (for the tie, of course), your optometrist visit, new contacts (and solution), night guards for dental health, and nasal strips and mouth tape for better sleep—actually rewarded you when you bought them. Like, “Hey, we see you—a healthy person with healthy habits, practicing wellness. Lemme give you bonus points for those purchases, which you can redeem for sweet rewards from our wellness marketplace.” Wouldn’t that be awesome?
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My journey to nasal breathing
My sinuses are kind of a mess from my drug days, where I had a preference for snorting all the things. I had surgery in 2006 to try to repair some damage, but I’m still prone to sinus infections and suffer regular nosebleeds. I would often wake up in the middle of the night with a stuffy nose and very dry throat; it disrupted my sleep several times a night. Those OTC nasal decongestant sprays work great as a one-off, but you can’t use them regularly as there’s a rebound effect.
After reading Breath, I began paying attention to all of the times I’d subconsciously slip into mouth-breathing. (It happened more than I realized.) I began making a conscientious effort to check my tongue position and breathing throughout the day—while I was working (I just checked now), during low-intensity exercise like walking, or cleaning around the house. I started doing some workouts with the intention of only nasal breathing, modulating my intensity so I never had to gulp through my mouth. The more I paid attention to my breathing, the easier it was to remind myself, “close your mouth.”
On a whim, I bought a package of those geeky Breathe-Right nasal strips—the ones that hold your nasal passages more open at night. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give my sinuses a little assist—and the difference in my sleep was immediate. I began nose-breathe nearly all night long, and I stopped waking up several times a night stuffy and dry-mouthed.
Within a few months, I found I was nasal breathing basically all the time, unless I was working out or hiking hard. I stopped using my Breathe-Right strips as an experiment, and realized I no longer needed them! My breathing was clearer than it’s ever been, and it seemed my nasal passages were getting “toned” as advertised.
You can’t yawn if your mouth is taped shut
I decided to take this experiment to the next level, and bought some mouth tape on Amazon. (There is legitimately a brand called Hostage Tape, which is clever. I bought a set of clear X-shaped stickers.)
After my evening routine, I cleaned around my mouth lightly with an alcohol swab to ensure they stuck, pressed my lips lightly together, and taped ’em up. It felt strange, but not unpleasant. The first thing I did was try to breathe through my mouth—and I could, if I needed to, which relieved some of my anxiety. (There’s a small breathing vent built into the strip.)
I made it about halfway through the night before I woke up needing to cough and panicked as to why I couldn’t. I ripped the tape off, coughed twice, and fell back asleep. The next morning, I found the mouth tape stuck to the front of my pajama top. But I had done it! I had slept at least part-way through the night knowing I was only nasal breathing.
Now, my mouth tape has become a normal and comfortable part of my routine. I occasionally use it with the nasal strips if I’ve got a bit of a cold or it’s especially dry, but I mostly don’t need them. I’m falling asleep easily on my back (something I wasn’t able to do before), sleeping soundly through the night, and waking up feeling even more energized and refreshed. I have learned, however, not to apply the tape until right before I fall asleep, because you can’t yawn when your lips are taped, and your husband really doesn’t need to see this.
The verdict: 100% worth the hype
Mouth taping at night, with other conscientious practices like working on my tongue position at rest, exercising with only nasal-breathing, and breathwork practices, have made me far more comfortable breathing through my nose, and is actually helping my sinuses stay more open. It’s true—nasal breathing begets nasal breathing, and I’m giving a good chunk of that credit to showing up to bed looking like I’m kidnapping myself.
I’ll share the brand I use on Instagram later this week, along with some tips for making the most of your mouth tape. Paid members, drop any questions you might have about any of this in the comments!
The Ness Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri, pursuant to a license from Mastercard, and serviced by Ness Well Financial, LLC. Access to a Ness Card account is subject to credit approval. You must be at least 18 years old (or the age of majority in your state) and reside in the continental US to apply. An approved Ness Card application will result in a hard credit inquiry, which may impact your credit score. See Ness Terms & Fees for details. Ness Rewards Program Terms and Offer & Benefits Terms apply.
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