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The social media platform TikTok has helped spread another potentially dangerous idea: taping your lips shut to stop mouth breathing at night.
“If you have obstructive sleep apnea, yes, this can be very dangerous,” said Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a sleep specialist, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.
Obstructive sleep apnea, which is the complete or partial collapse of the airways, is one of the most common and dangerous sleep disorders: more than 1 billion people between the ages of 30 and 69 are believed to have the condition. according to a 2019 study published in the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine. Millions more are undiagnosed, experts say.
“There is limited evidence on the benefits of mouth bandaging and I would be very careful, and even talk to my health care provider before trying it,” Dasgupta added.
However, none of the TikTok videos CNN saw mentioned that the practice could be harmful in any way.
A young woman touts the benefits of restful sleep as the reason for imprisoning her lips every night.
“I cover my mouth with duct tape every day. … Getting adequate sleep is very important to combat aging and look and feel your best.”
Despite the downsides of painfully losing facial hair or damaging soft tissue around the mouth, another TikTok video recommends “plain old paper tape.”
“I know there are a lot of fancy duct tapes on the market, but you don’t need them. You just need this little square right here on the edge.”
All of this could be dismissed as nonsense, except that one video seems to spawn another as people take up the challenge. A the woman couldn’t even remember why he started covering his mouth at night:
“Truth be told, I don’t know. I saw it on TikTok and I don’t remember what the benefits were. But it helps me fall asleep!”
As with many things “discovered” by TikTok hosts, mouth tapes It is not new. People have been looking for ways to shut their mouths at night for years, and with good reason. Mouth breathing can cause snoring and excessive thirst at night, as well as dry mouth and bad breath in the morning. Over time, breathing this way is related to gum disease and malocclusion, where the upper and lower teeth do not align.
In childhood, when the tendency to breathe through the mouth usually begins, the condition can lead to a child developing a “mouth-breathing face”: a narrow face with a sunken chin or jaw, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Children are also at risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea, which has been linked to learning difficulties and behavior problems in childhood.
Journalist James Nestor allowed scientists to cover his nose with silicone and surgical tape for 10 days to see what effect mouth breathing would have on his health. As he described in his book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, the impact was surprisingly fast. He developed obstructive sleep apnea, his blood pressure, pulse and heart rate spiked and his blood oxygen levels plummeted, sending his brain into a murky fog.
“We had no idea it was going to be this bad,” Nestor told CNN in 2020. “The snoring and sleep apnea were so dramatic, and came on so quickly, everyone was pretty floored.”
Breathing through the nostrils is healthier, experts say. Fine nose hairs called cilia filter out dust, allergens, germs, and environmental debris. Breathing through the nose also humidifies the air that comes in, while dry air breathed in through the mouth can irritate the lungs, Dasgupta said.
“Nose breathing can lower blood pressure by increasing nitride oxide, a compound in your body that can be helpful in keeping your blood pressure in check,” he added.
However, if you decide you want to try duct tape, don’t tape it horizontally like you’re being held hostage by a serial killer—even TikTok users emphasize that. Only a bit of tape placed vertically over the lips is supposed to work.
A Little March Studyhowever, he found that people doing that simply replaced mouth breathing with “mouth puffing,” in which the research participants inhaled and exhaled air through their mouths on either side of the treadmill.
In general, the “biggest message” is to first screen for obstructive sleep apnea before trying to sleep with your mouth covered, Dasgupta said.
“Once obstructive sleep apnea is completely ruled out, we can call it snoring,” he said. “In addition, there are many other options to address snoring besides mouth tapes, such as nasal strips, nasal dilators, and exercises for the mouth (and) throat and tongue.”
Avoid sleeping on your back as well, a position that encourages your mouth to open and your tongue to drop back into your throat. Pushing the air past that lock is what causes snoring.
Mouth breathing is often linked to allergies, colds, and chronic nasal congestion. A deviated septum, which is the cartilage that separates the nostrils, can also be a cause: a crooked septum can block the airway. Nasal polyps can do the same thing, Dasgupta said.
Children may have enlarged adenoids, glands behind the nose that are designed to ward off bacteria and viruses. They shrink with age, so this is not a common cause of mouth breathing in adults. according to the Cleveland Clinic.
All of these underlying 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 need to be addressed and evaluated first before covering your mouth. In my opinion, taping your mouth shut is not likely to help you sleep better,” Dasgupta said.