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Sleeping with your mouth open can be harmful to your health in several ways. However, there is hope for mouth breathers.
There are ways to train yourself to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth. Not only is it possible to stop mouth breathing while you sleep, but the retraining process is not difficult. You should feel better over time after trying out some of these suggestions.
Keeping Your Mouth Closed
Clean out nose
The most obvious trick to try is to clean out your nose. Allergens are a big culprit in keeping the nose clogged. Try sleeping with a humidifier in your bedroom to keep the air you breathe in moist. Also, to keep those allergens away, be diligent in your vacuuming and dusting routine. It is also a good idea to use non-allergen filters in your HVAC system.
You could also schedule an appointment with your physician to see if some medications may work for you. There are nasal sprays, antihistamines, and nasal decongestants that may help with allergy symptoms and help keep the mucus at bay.
Use a saline nasal rinse
Barring those, if you still have a stuffy nose at the end of the day, you can use a saline nasal wash to try to clear those nasal passages and sinuses before you lie down for bed. A neti-pot is a fantastic product for this method. There are many different styles and varieties. You can choose the one you think would work best for you.
Jump into a hot shower
If you are leery of trying these washes, another great tip is to use steam. Take a hot shower and let the bathroom get steamy. The steam loosens the buildup in your nose and allows you to dispel it easier.
The hot shower is also an excellent way to calm your nerves. This calming will help if you are stressed or full of panic and anxiety. Couple the shower with meditation, and you will have a great start to combat the tension before it starts.
See a therapist
It may be possible that your stress and anxiety are too severe to treat on your own and you may look to finding a licensed therapist to help you work through some of the issues caused by these ailments. The therapist may even refer you to a psychiatrist for medication that can help.
If you need further suggestions on how to manage stress and anxiety, you can try art by painting, drawing, or just doodling. Reading is also a fabulous way to settle your brain.
Practice breathing with mouth and jaw exercises
While you are trying to reduce stress, you can also practice breathing techniques along with mouth and jaw exercises.
To practice your breathing, take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale out of your mouth. Do this several times and at every opportunity. The more you concentrate, the better you will get at retraining your body to breathe naturally through your nose.
Mouth and jaw exercises, also known as myofunctional therapy, are a way that specialists can help you with your mouth breathing problem. See your doctor for treatment or a referral to a specialist for specific exercises.
Utilize a breathing device or accessory
Many devices on the market can help you sleep with your mouth closed. These devices can be picked up over the counter at most drug stores. If any of these do not work the first night, keep trying until they become comfortable.
Also, these will need practice. The chances that your first night holding your mouth closed will be difficult. You may find that you can’t breathe at all while using these devices, but it is because you are trying to retrain your body to breathe correctly. If you find that after a week of trying every night you still can’t breathe at all, see your doctor as there could be something else happening that may need medical attention.
A chin strap may be useful, though maybe a little uncomfortable at first. This device wraps around the top of your head and loops under your chin and has a Velcro strip closure. This closure will hold your mouth closed throughout the night.
While researching, I came across the term mouth taping, and that is exactly what it is, taping your mouth shut at night. There are special tapes you can buy that have a small vent that will allow for some exchange of air. However, it appears that surgical tape is a good substitute.
You don’t want to just run out in the garage and pick up a roll of duct tape or even the scotch tape in your office. You need a special tape that is gentle and won’t pull all the hair and skin off your face when you try to take it off.
Nasal dilators are an easy way to help with nose breathing. There are two varieties of dilators you can choose. The first is an intra-nasal dilator, and the other is an adhesive external dilator. Some people prefer one or the other, but you can try both and see what works for you.
With the intra-nasal dilators, you insert a set of the dilators into your nostrils where they work on stretching the nostrils wider so you can breathe in more air. They are generally made of plastic or silicone and are easy to use.
The external dilators are adhesive strips that you wear on the outside of your nose. They are usually made of latex or cloth bandage material and can be very comfortable and effective.
Last, of the over the counter devices are mouth guards. These are like the ones that athletes wear as protection during play but are meant to help you keep your mouth closed at night. They are also useful for snoring as well as grinding your teeth.
These guards are usually made of plastic or silicone and are available at most pharmacies or big-box retailers that sell over the counter sleep aids. If you find that the over the counter mouth guards work for you, you may want to see your dentist or a sleep specialist and have a set custom made for your mouth for even better results.
While you can’t purchase orthodontia over the counter, studies show that being fitted for a special appliance might help with mouth breathing at night. These appliances are usually recommended for children but can be successful for adults as well.
Orthodontists may choose to use spacers, braces, or other appliances to help with deformities, such as to widen the palate or open nasal passages, to the mouth caused by thumb or finger sucking and breathing with your mouth open as a child.
Another test a specialist may want to run is a sleep study to see if you suffer from sleep apnea. If you do, the doctor will likely prescribe a CPAP machine to help you breathe correctly at night. It should also help with snoring. A CPAP machine works by forcing moist air through your air passages to keep them from becoming obstructed.
A lot of people also say that the chin straps we talked about above also help with the CPAP machine by holding the mask apparatus in place while you sleep. This holding of the mask is especially true if you move a lot in your sleep. Though, the machine itself may make you toss and turn less.
Sleep on your side
Methods you can try while lying in bed are to sleep on your side and to raise the head of the bed. Both help with mouth breathing.
Lying on your side can help keep your mouth closed while you sleep and if you need to train yourself to stay on your side instead of rolling onto your back during sleep, there are products you can try. For example, there are special backpack pillows that have a bolster pillow that rests at your back to keep you from rolling over. You could also try a tennis ball sewn to the back of your sleeping clothes.
Propping your head up is the best way to manage if you can’t sleep on your side. Back sleepers can use the extra height to keep the tongue from falling back into the air passages. There are a few ways to combat this problem, starting with an extra pillow.
Specialists recommend that your head be propped by about four inches to do the most good. If an extra pillow is too uncomfortable or not enough height, you can invest in a wedge pillow. If these don’t work for you, try placing wood blocks or risers underneath the feet of the headboard to your bed to keep the height up. Though, honestly, if you want the best remedy, an adjustable bed that allows you to raise the head of the bed is ideal.
Breathe properly while exercising
Exercise is also an excellent remedy for retraining yourself to sleep with your mouth closed. Everyone should be getting regular exercise, but if mouth breathing is also a problem, exercising can help reteach your body how to breathe because exercising your body also applies to your breathing. By practicing the proper breathing techniques while you exercise, your respiratory system can learn the appropriate way to breathe again.
Exercising can also help if you are overweight, not only by helping you to learn to breathe better but to help you lose weight. When you lose the fatty tissue around your neck, it will also help with air blockages in your throat.
Limit alcohol and avoid sleeping pills
The usage of one or both of these substances relaxes your body in a way that your throat gets too relaxed and causes a greater urgency to snore. Snoring like this causes the muscles in your throat and tongue to become too relaxed which can cause an obstruction in your air passages. Blockage of the air passages leads to mouth breathing.
Undergo a corrective surgical procedure
Often, surgery is the only way to fix some problems such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids. If tests show that these deformities are what is causing your mouth breathing problems, your doctor may suggest surgery to have them removed.
Though even surgery may not be a magic cure, you may still need to try some of these other techniques to retrain your system.
Why Do You Sleep With Your Mouth Open?
There are many reasons why you might breathe through your mouth while you sleep. Some are temporary and normal, while others can last a lifetime unless managed.
Colds, sinus infections, or allergies
Any ailment that causes nasal congestion, such as colds, sinus infections, or allergies, will have people breathing through their mouth as there is no way to get air through clogged nostrils.
However, colds and sinus infections are temporary, and standard breathing patterns will return after the condition goes away. Allergies are a bit tougher as they don’t always go away, but with treatment, you can control allergies which will allow you to breathe normally through your nose.
Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
These block the air that is taken in through the nostrils and won’t allow it to pass through to the windpipe. Because the breathing cycle can’t be completed, it leads to mouth breathing. This condition is usually found in childhood and rectified with surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids to allow the child to grow up breathing normally.
Another abnormality that can cause mouth breathing at night is a deviated septum. The septum is the bit of bone and cartilage that separates the nasal passages. If the septum becomes deviated in any way by being crooked or otherwise damaged, it makes nose breathing difficult.
There are several ways that the septum can become deviated, but generally, it deviated at birth. Boxers and other fighters are also known to be subject to a deviated septum due to having their nose broken repeatedly.
Frequently, people will have benign growths in the lining of their nostrils called nasal polyps. These growths that often look like a grapevine can plug the nose, causing difficulty breathing through the nose and leads to mouth breathing.
While these polyps are generally harmless, other than to your breathing patterns, there is also the rare possibility of tumorous growth. These tumors are rare and with swift treatment can be removed with little to no lingering problems.
Stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety are terrible conditions in and of themselves, but they can also lead to mouth breathing. Anxiety often leads to panic attacks, and if you have never had one, they are debilitating. One of the first things to happen during a panic attack is that you feel like you can’t catch your breath. When this happens, you automatically start breathing through your mouth while you try to gulp for air.
The best thing to do to try to keep control over your stress and anxiety is to relax. Meditation and the practice of yoga are great tools to have in your arsenal when you are trying to calm yourself. Also, take deep breaths in through your nose and exhale out of your mouth. Count your breaths. This counting will help you focus and will also help your breathing.
A common cause of mouth breathing at night is OSA. We talked about this briefly above, but more information is needed. Sleep apnea keeps you from breathing correctly because your airway passages are blocked, causing you to breathe through your mouth to try to take in air. When the air passages are blocked, it is more likely that there will be pauses in your breathing as well as waking up gasping for air.
People living with asthma have it rough in the mouth breathing department. This ailment is like a double-edged sword for those who have it, because an asthma attack, like stress and anxiety, can make you gulp for air since you aren’t getting enough through mouth breathing.
As we discussed before, mouth breathing worsens asthma due to the cold, dry air taken in through the mouth. It is irritating to the lining of your air passages, making it even harder to catch your breath.
Past thumb sucking experience
If you were a thumb or finger sucker when you were a child, chances are your mouth and jaws did not develop correctly. Unfortunately, the consequence of this misalignment is that the possibilities are greater that you sleep with your mouth open because the air passages in the nose are too small or narrow to breathe correctly through your nose.
If you have a child who is a thumb or finger sucker, be sure to take them to a pediatric dentist frequently during their formative years to avoid complications when they become adults.
Lastly, congenital disabilities, such as cleft lip or palate, or a tongue-tie affect the structure of the mouth, and mouth breathing is likely to occur without surgical correction.
Signs That You Sleep with Your Mouth Open
When you sleep with your mouth open, there is no fluid to help your symptoms because the air you breathe in sucks the moisture that the glands are meant to dispel. As you sleep, the mouth breathing and evaporation work together to dry out your mouth, thus causing the signs in the list below.
If you snore due to mouth breathing, it is likely a problem with your tongue falling backward into your throat, cutting off the air supply. With the decreased air intake, not enough oxygen gets to the blood or brain and can leave you feeling unrested or chronically fatigued during the daytime hours.
If you notice any of these signs upon waking, try the tips below to see if they can help you retrain your body into breathing through your nose.
- Dry mouth upon waking
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
- Cracked lips
- Sticky feeling in your mouth
- Feeling tired or unrested
Harmful Effects of Sleeping With an Open Mouth
Some of the adverse effects of sleeping with your mouth open are easy to understand, while others may shock you. Detrimental effects have no age boundaries, but some, if caught early during childhood, are easier to fix.
It is safe to assume that the most apparent complications deal with oral health. You might expect to wake up with a dry mouth, dry and cracked lips, or bad breath. But did you know that sleeping with your mouth open leads to more cavities than drinking soda or not practicing good oral hygiene? Not only are cavities an issue, but there is also a higher risk of throat and ear infections, loss of teeth, and periodontal disease such as gingivitis.
The reason for this is when you sleep with your mouth open your salivary glands work overtime trying to keep your mouth moist. But the cold, dry air you breathe in through your mouth coupled with evaporation make this impossible. So, with no moisture from saliva to protect you, your mouth becomes a breeding ground for bacteria with no way to wash it away.
With the loss of saliva, you are also risking dehydration. The same evaporation that claims the moisture from your mouth can also cause fluid loss which is dangerous to your kidneys and most of your other organs.
Facial deformities are also likely to occur in children. If children breathe through their mouth while they sleep, the results can be astounding. The whole shape of their face and the inside of their mouth and nose can be affected. Research shows that mouth breathing children tend to have narrow mouths with gummy smiles, long, thin faces, an overbite, and crowded teeth.
The narrowing of the face and mouth regions can lead to narrow sinuses which will make it even harder for the children to breathe when they grow up, and the damage is permanent. The best thing to do in this situation is to schedule an appointment with a pediatric dentist so that care can be taken to resolve the issue before it is too late to fix it because it can lead to a speech impediment called lisping or even cause difficulty in swallowing that can follow them through their whole life.
Lisps and problems swallowing are due to the tongue not lying in its natural position at the top of the mouth. When this happens, it causes your tongue to thrust forward in an unnatural fashion pushing against the top teeth and causing them to push outward that results in an overbite.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Also prevalent in children is the misdiagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. Children who sleep with their mouths open can have symptoms of this disorder merely by the way they breathe at night. When the kids don’t get enough air into their lungs while sleeping, they can wake up irritable and have a hard time concentrating. These symptoms may then lead to poor performance in school (or at work for an adult).
Daytime fatigue is another effect you should watch for because this could be due to Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA. OSA occurs when you wake up multiple times in the night because you stop breathing or gasp for breath. Most of the time, you aren’t aware that it is occurring.
Of course, daytime fatigue can set in even without OSA because of the lack of oxygen that makes it into your body just from sleeping with your mouth open.
Mouth breathing at night can also worsen asthma symptoms. When you breathe through your nose, the air you take in stays moist and warm, which causes less irritation to your airways. The cold, dry air from your mouth causes more irritation, thus, worsening your symptoms.
Heart and lung damage
There is a higher risk of heart and lung damage from sleeping with your mouth open. This risk is because of the concentration of oxygen in the blood lessens, which leads to high blood pressure, heart failure, and decreased lung function.
It is essential to watch for the signs of sleeping with your mouth open so that you can relay that information to your doctor.
With any of these techniques, use your best judgment. If you feel that you can’t breathe at all with your mouth closed off, you may need medical help to find out why.
Keep in mind that these techniques are not magic cures. If you want them to work, you will have to put the time in to give them the chance to work. It will not be an overnight occurrence. There are many tips to try here in this article, if you find that one doesn’t work, try another.
You can also stack the tips for better progress. For example, you can exercise your body to train your breathing while meditating at night and wearing a chin strap in bed.
As always, if you have questions or concerns about anything medically related, see your doctor for an expert opinion.