Does It Work And Is It Safe?
My wife Kathy keeps making fun of me for using tape to fix all of life’s problems. For example, I take black electrical tape with me while traveling to cover up all electronic LED lights at night to sleep better. I have to admit that I’ve used duct tape on a number of occasions for temporary home repairs. More recently, I have been taping my lips closed at night for better sleep. I have to admit that overall, I do seem to be sleeping better.
Mouth taping has been promoted by dentists, myofunctional therapists and various holistic health practitioners for a number of years. During a cursory search for its origins, I could not see anything mentioned before the past 5 or 6 years, except for lip taping in children with a cleft lip.
Several societies and prominent physicians have cautioned against it. This myofunctional therapy website recommends avoiding lip taping. Dr. Kasey Li, a world-renown ENT and maxillofacial surgeon advises against it in this Forbes article. My specialties (ENT and sleep medicine) are generally against it. Up until recently, I was against it too, until I heard countless patients telling me that they sleep better with mouth taping.
My Personal Journey
About 3 months ago, I decided to take the plunge and try mouth taping for myself. I tried different types of tape and different ways of placing the tape. The most commonly recommended type of tape is the 1 inch 3M micropore paper tape, but I had no problems using other types of tape. It’s a personal preference. The other issue that I played with was tape placement. Most experts recommend a single horizontal position across your lips. There are several commercially available mouth tape options to keep your mouth closed. I’ve even seen some photos of people using nasal dilator devices (Breathe Right strips®) or a Band-Aid.® Remember to use lip balm if your lips get dry.
One way of tape placement ended up working best for me: vertically from the upper lip (base of the nose) to under my chin. What I found was that if you stop just under your lower lip in front of your chin, your mouth can still open significantly. I see this happening all the time in the operating room during drug-induced sleep endoscopy. With the mouth closed, the space behind the tongue is relatively open, but if your mouth opens about 1/2 inch distance between your teeth, the tongue moves back severely with almost total obstruction (see photo). Try it yourself. While keeping your lips together, open your mouth. See how much you can open?
Next, do an experiment: Tilt your head forward and down somewhat and notice your breathing with your mouth closed. Now open your mouth and notice your ability to breathe. For many of you, breathing with your mouth open will be significantly more challenging. This is why I recommend making the tape long enough to fold under your chin, along with a small folded tab to grab easily when you need to take it off. Don’t make a tab at the other end below. Your nose, since there won’t be enough adhesive to attach to your upper lip. Worst-case scenario, you’ll still be able to breathe in and out through your mouth if you open the corners of your mouth, through your teeth.
What Science Says
So what does science say? Disappointingly, very little. There are tons of blogs, articles, and videos on why and how to do it, but only anecdotal advice. Here’s an interesting article by my colleague Dr. Howard Stupak. I’m sure there may be others, but the two studies that I found were positive. One study by Dr. Zaghi found that overall, 93.4% of 663 patients were able to breathe comfortably through the nose for 3 minutes. About 2/3 of subjects with moderate to severe nasal congestion were able to breathe with mouth taping for 3 minutes. Another study found that in 30 patients with mild sleep apnea (AHI between 5 and 15), mouth taping lowered the AHI from 12.0 to 7.8, and the snoring index dropped 73%. Even the space behind the soft palate and tongue opened up significantly (7.4 and 6.8 respectively without mouth taping, and 8.6 and 10.2 with taping). This is consistent with what I see during sleep endoscopy.
There’s also some discussion in the CPAP community about the utility of mouth taping to help CPAP users. One article advises against it and advises instead to use a chin strap. Another study looking at chinstraps concluded that it doesn’t help cure sleep apnea. While it may be helpful for some people, the fabric is usually stretchy neoprene, and in most cases, you can still open your mouth, causing more obstructed breathing. I know because I tried one. Many CPAP users also object to adding one more thing to wear.
There’s one step you must take before you start experimenting with mouth taping. You must make sure that you can comfortably breathe through your nose. If you have no problem then go ahead and experiment with mouth taping. If you’re not sure, tape your mouth during the day and see how long you can go. Note that the nose tends to get slightly more congested at night due to gravity and blood pooling, as well as other neurologic and hormonal factors. If you have a stuffy nose in general, it needs to be corrected before taping your lips at night. This is a long subject with many different options, but these include nasal saline, Breathe Right strips®, internal nasal dilator devices, or allergy medications. You may even need to see an ENT surgeon. Personally, I use Breathe Right Strips every night as well. Click here to read my free report, How to Unstuffy Your Stuffy Nose.
Is It Dangerous?
As far as I know, there have been no reported serious complications of mouth taping. I can argue that there’s a higher risk to continued mouth breathing, with worsening apneas, dental decay, and increased risk of coronavirus infections. Even you do struggle at night while sleeping with your mouth taped, you’ll wake up and take the tape off. Just remember the steps I outlined in this order: tape your mouth during the day as an experiment, optimize nasal breathing, and tape vertically with a tabbed end under your chin. Adjust the tightness of the tape to make it tight enough to prevent your mouth from opening too much, but comfortable enough to sleep with.
What Do You Have to Lose?
If you’ve been on the fence about mouth taping, give it a try. Worst-case scenario, it won’t work. Even if you don’t have any snoring or sleep apnea, it’s a simple health remedy that can only help. If it makes no difference, stop using it and go on to another option to improve your sleep or your health. For more information on what these other options are, click here.
For those of you that already taping your lips, what has your experience been? If you’re going to take the plunge, try it for a few nights and post your response here below. If you have any serious medical conditions, it’s probably wise to see your doctor first before trying this.