Most of the time when we’re awake, we’re not really aware of how we breathe, and this especially goes for when we’re asleep, since that’s when we don’t have any control over the way we breathe. Unfortunately, breathing incorrectly comes with many consequences, such as snoring, having a sleeping disorder, or simply not getting the rest we need.
Nasal breathing is key to a good night’s sleep, however, many unconsciously switch to mouth breathing in their sleep. When breathing through the nose, the oxygen levels in the blood remain much higher than when breathing through the mouth, so training yourself to sleep with your mouth closed is really important for overall wellness and a good sleep.
So, first, let’s start with some common causes for mouth breathing so that you can hopefully find the reason behind it, and then move on to some tips on how to keep your mouth closed while you’re asleep.
With that said, let’s get started.
What Causes Mouth Breathing?
Many things can cause you to breathe through the mouth while sleeping. Although some of the reasons we’ll list are considered normal or only temporary, others can be chronic and in need of treatment. Here are some of the most common causes.
Sinus Infection, Allergy, or Cold
Every disease which can cause nasal congestion, including sinus infection, allergy, or cold, is going to force a person to breathe using their mouth because it’s very hard to breathe through a clogged nose. The good thing is that a sinus infection and cold are only temporarily obstructing your nose breathing, and when these medical conditions go away, you’ll be able to breathe through your nose again. On the other hand, allergies are a different story, and in some cases permanent – but by using the right treatment, you’ll be able to control the allergy and return to normal nose breathing.
Increased Adenoid or Tonsils
Adenoid and tonsils can sometimes block the air that you have inhaled through your nose, not allowing it to go through the windpipe. Due to this, your breathing cycle cannot be finished and you’ll have to breathe through your mouth instead of your nose. These conditions often occur in children and the adenoids and tonsils are surgically removed in order for the child to breathe normally through the nose.
Anatomical bocages of the nose, such as deviated septum, are another cause for mouth breathing instead of nasal breathing. The upper part of the septum is bone and the lower part of the septum is made of cartilage, and it’s main function is to separate the nasal passages. If for some reason the septum deviates, it leads to nose breathing difficulties. There are numerous reasons which can lead to deviated septum: it can be deviated at birth, it can become deviated if it was broken or otherwise damaged, and so on.
Often, an individual can have growths in their nostrils which are benign, and also known as nasal polyps. Nasal polyps usually look like a grapevine and they can clog a person’s nostrils which can lead to nasal breathing difficulties. The nasal polyps are usually harmless, as they only affect your breathing pattern, however, in some rare cases these polyps can grow into tumors (and they have to be removed).
Anxiety and Stress
Anxiety and stress can also cause mouth breathing. People who suffer from anxiety can experience panic attacks, during which the first thing that happens is that you feel like you cannot take a breath, and the next thing you do is automatically transfer to mouth breathing in order to grab some air.
Sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), are another cause for mouth breathing while you’re asleep. Obstructive sleep apnea doesn’t allow you to breathe normally due to the fact that your nasal passages are clogged, so in order to grab some air, you’re forced to breathe through your mouth. If your nasal passages are clogged, it’s very likely for you to breathe with pauses, which can result in waking up trying to get some air.
Why Is Mouth Breathing Bad for You?
Before we give you some tips on how to train yourself to sleep with your mouth closed, let’s see why it’s a bad idea to continue breathing through your mouth.
When asleep, your jaw tends to relax which makes it very easy for your mouth to fall open, especially if you sleep on your back. Once your mouth opens, you start breathing through your mouth by default. Just try nasal breathing while your mouth is open, and you’ll see how unnatural it can be. This results in hours of mouth breathing, which can have numerous harmful effects on your overall health and sleep quality.
Here are some negative consequences of mouth breathing:
- Waking up with dry mouth and bad breath;
- Oral health deterioration, such as cavity or other gum disease;
- Snoring while you’re asleep;
- High blood pressure;
- Increased heart rate;
- Lower sleep quality;
- Fragmentation of your sleep;
- Sinus and nasal congestion;
- Worsened physical and cognitive performance;
- Speech changes;
- Worsened asthma and obstructive sleep apnea.
How to Stop Mouth Breathing?
By now, you’ve realised that nose breathing is the correct way of breathing. However, don’t despair if you’re a mouth breather, as there are ways that can help you to stop mouth breathing. Here are some of our suggestions so you can train yourself to sleep with your mouth shut.
Practice Nose Breathing
The first thing you should do requires being conscious of your breathing while awake. Every time you notice that you’re mouth breathing during the day, consciously switch to nasal breathing. Practice as much as you can and keep a consistent breathing pattern if you’re able to. Try keeping your mouth shut at all times and maintain a correct body position. Usually, people who breathe through their mouth tend to have a head-forward type of body position. So, try to keep your head pushed back a little bit to maintain nasal breathing. By doing this, you’ll train your brain to switch to nasal breathing every time you open your mouth and maintain a good posture at the same time.
Elevate Your Head While Sleeping
Elevating your head while sleeping is another solution for mouth breathing (and also snoring). Elevating your head above the rest of your body will help clear the air passages for better nose breathing and unrestricted airflow, so you can either use an adjustable mattress or a higher pillow, and it might just do the job.
Use a Chin Strap
Another thing you can try is using a chin strap to hold your mouth shut. It’s a simple device that loops around your head and under your chin using Velcro strip closure. Given that a chin strap keeps your mouth closed while you’re asleep, you’re forced to breathe through your nose. At first, you might find it a little bit uncomfortable, but be persistent and you might adapt to it after a while. A chin strap can be particularly useful for those who use a nasal-mask-style CPAP machine while sleeping.
Use a Mouth Guard
Another over-the-counter device is a mouth guard, also designed to keep your mouth closed while you’re asleep, and it’s also useful for teeth grinding and snoring. Mouth guards can be made from silicone or plastic and you can find them in every pharmacy or a retailer that sells over-the-counter aids for sleeping. However, if you’re thinking about using a mouth guard, it’s better to consult your dentist to make you a custom one, to prevent damaging your teeth.
Utilize a Nasal Dilator
If the cause for your mouth breathing is a blockage in your airways, you can try utilizing nasal dilators. These nasal devices keep your nose open and can be found in every pharmacy. You can choose from four different types of nasal dilators:
- External nasal dilator – you put them on the nose bridge;
- Nasal stents – you put them inside of each nostril;
- Nasal clips – you put them over the nose septum;
- Septal stimulators – these pressure the nose septum and help in opening your airways.
Try Mouth Taping
You may think that this is a ridiculous idea, but mouth taping has proven to be one of the most efficient methods for sleeping with your mouth shut. It’s quite simple, you just need to tape your mouth and it’ll stay closed while you’re asleep. Buy any type of cream and a surgical tape (the cream is for easy and painless removal of the surgical tape), apply some cream around your mouth, and tape it either horizontally or vertically. The tape will keep your mouth closed and you’ll be forced to breathe through your nose.
Clear Your Nasal Passages
Sometimes when your nose is congested, you’re forced to breathe through your mouth while sleeping. The best way to clear your nasal passages is to use a nasal decongestant to help you to unblock your nasal passages (and you’ll be able to breathe through your nose once again). In mild cases of nose blockages, you can use a nasal wash or some saline spray, however, if you suffer from more severe nose blockages, you should go to a medical specialist to prescribe you a stronger nasal spray.
Occasionally, your sleeping position can be the main cause for your mouth breathing, especially if you sleep on your back. Sleeping on your back can force you to inhale heavier breaths, which makes it hard for the air to go through your nasal passages (and you end up breathing through your mouth). If this is the case, try and sleep on your side, and the solution can be as easy as that.
Surgical procedures are useful in cases of enlarged adenoids or tonsils. Your doctor will run some tests and if these deformities are the cause of your mouth breathing, a simple procedure can remove them.
Another case where a surgical procedure is the only option is if you have anatomical blockages, such as deviated septum – whether you have had it since birth or it occurred after breaking your nose once or multiple times.
Mouth breathing can be prevented once you know the reason behind it. Apart from the causes listed above, there can be many others, and the solutions vary depending on the case. Some can be very easy to implement, while others can be rather invasive.
So, it’s in your best interest to ask for medical advice from a healthcare professional before mouth breathing causes damage to your oral health or your overall wellness.