Babe, wake up, a new insecurity just dropped! Over on TikTok, people are condemning people who breathe through their mouth when they’re asleep. As someone who falls into this camp (blame my health problems before you come for me with your sharpened pitchforks), I felt seen — but not in a good way.
TikTok users like Olivia Sweet caused a form of mass digital hysteria when she shared a video on the “horrible effects of mouth breathing”. Viewed over three million times, her video shared the face-altering impacts that open-mouth breathing while asleep can supposedly have.
“I've been watching so many videos about the effects of mouth breathing and I am scared and shocked. Apparently, it causes your jaw to shift back, gives [you] a double chin, makes your nose shift down, makes your eyes look very, very tired [and gives you the appearance of] less prominent cheekbones,” she says.
@oliviasweettt Was anybody else unaware of the horrible effects of mouth breathing…..? #mouthbreathing #obstructivesleepapnea #allergies #frequentinfections #nasalbreathing #breath #breathe #sleep #sleephygiene #chronicfatigue #smallmouth #stuffedup #sick #illness #health #didyouknow ♬ original sound - Olivia Sweet
“It can cause issues like tooth decay, because breathing through our nose keeps saliva levels high, and saliva protects the teeth by buffering and basically neutralising acids. There are lots of links between mouth breathing, decay, bad sleeping and snoring that results in feeling sluggish during the day,” he tells Refinery29 Australia.
The dramatic proclamation that mouth breathing can drastically alter your facial features is up for debate, though. Dr Docherty says that the insult ‘mouth breather’ (one of Stranger Things’s Eleven’s favourites) comes from the fact that some mouth breathers have a lower jaw that sits back into their head, creating the appearance of a slumped-forward head posture.
“There's a lot of evidence that links mouth breathing during development with changes in facial features [and] dental development. So when you breathe through your nose, your lips are sealed and your tongue sits at the roof of the mouth and during development, that actually helps to grow and widen the upper jaw or the palate. So we know that people who are predominantly mouth breathers will actually have narrower jaws, more dental crowding and more misalignment of their teeth,” he says, pointing to why many children might use expanders or braces to prevent this.
Keep in mind that these changes are seen during developmental stages in children, not adults. Nevertheless, TikTokers are eagerly trying out a new wellness trend: they're taping their mouths shut while they’re asleep.
Using medical tape or tape created specifically for this purpose, people are forcing themselves into nasal breathing for the night. Just over a month after her first video, Sweet posted another video sharing the effects of trialling the method for just over a month, showing off a jaw that appeared more defined. So, should you attempt this at home?
“Taping your mouth shut while you sleep is not a good idea," sleep PhD researcher and science communicator Vanessa Hill tells Refinery29 Australia. "A lot of videos talk about mouth taping as a treatment for snoring or sleep apnoea, which is when your airways are narrowed or closed, and your breathing can stop and start while you're asleep. There’s limited and inconclusive research on mouth breathing, but there are many tested and approved treatments for sleep apnoea that doctors can recommend.”
Dr Docherty agrees that mouth taping is not ideal for everybody, especially those who have sleep disorders. Both Hill and Docherty urge people to speak to their doctor before trialling it, because it can be dangerous.
But for those who don't have sleep-disordered breathing, Docherty says that mouth taping could be beneficial. “Some patients [have] less disrupted sleep, get more oxygen and might wake up in the morning feeling more rested.”
He shares that breathing through your nose for two minutes straight has a positive chemical effect that encourages you to nasal breathe more. "For those that don't really feel comfortable breathing through their nose, a little test you can do is just to try and breathe through your nose and time yourself for two or three minutes. If you can do that, usually it becomes much easier and and you can [unconsciously] continue to breathe through your nose.”
However, Hill cautions that trying to try ‘fix’ these issues might be doing more harm than good. “It's important to keep in mind that this first became popular after a company was on Shark Tank selling mouth-breathing tape. The sleep industry is booming, and many products are being marketed as a magic pill for our tiredness,” she says.
Instead, she says, focusing on healthy habits like alleviating stress and anxiety, moving your body, getting outside during the day and having a relaxing nighttime routine can be the biggest (and often, free) helpers.
“‘Normal' sleep can look different for everyone and it's influenced by a lot of factors outside of our control (like job stress, work rosters, kids, loud neighbourhoods)," Hill says. "We often have high expectations of ourselves to sleep perfectly because it's a process we go through every day. Good sleep can be hard!”
Please note: the medical information in this article is general in nature. Please always consult your GP to obtain advice specific to your medical condition.