Mouth taping has a growing fanbase among doctors and dentists, with Tess Daly the latest celebrity to give it a go. Here's what you need to know
Hey sleepy head, it’s time for bed. Which means it’s time to dim the lights, slip into your PJs, brush your teeth...and tape up your mouth. Er, what was that last one?! It may sound like the plotline of a horror film but mouth taping before you sleep is a huge health trend. TV presenter Tess Daly's recent Instagram post about it attracted nearly a thousand mostly bemused comments but she's definitely on to something. The potential benefits of mouth taping include deeper sleep, no yucky morning breath, less snoring and reduced tooth decay because it encourages us to breathe through our nose rather than our mouth.
Think you’re not a mouth breather? Your nighttime habits might tell a different story, especially if you never seem to sleep deeply or you wake with a dry mouth. It’s estimated that 60 to 70 per cent of us sleep with our mouths open.
Biohackers are increasingly incorporating mouth taping into their bedtime routines, using porous surgical tape, the sort you’d find in any first aid kit, or dedicated mouth tape known as sleep strips. It has become a sleep hack sensation on (where else?) TikTok with 50 million views for #mouthtaping. It’s even been covered by The Wall Street Journal as a relationship rescuer, under the headline, “Can this snorer’s marriage be saved? Yes, with mouth tape”.
But, yes, it does sound a bit bonkers, it is not something the NHS recommends and there is very little relevant published research. However, a tiny 2013 study showed that mouth taping reduced snoring and the severity of mild obstructive sleep apnoea. If you have a medical condition, always consult your doctor first and of course, never use duct tape or anything that covers your mouth entirely. You want space at the sides to be able to talk or cough.
It has a growing army of champions, including dentist Dr Uchenna Okoye, Dr Rangan Chatterjee (who talks about it on his podcast) and Get The Gloss co-founder Sarah Vine, for whom it banished both snoring and improved her sleep quality by up to 40 per cent.
Another fan is lauded American journalist James Nestor, whose 2020 book Breath: The New Science Of A Lost Art (£8.99) was shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize and became a Sunday Times best-seller, and who converted many sceptics, including Sarah Vine.
At first glance, mouth taping does seem like “new age, woo-woo BS,” Nestor concedes. But, he explains, proponents have noticed profound changes to their health and wellbeing by being forced to breathe through their noses.
What are the benefits of nasal breathing?
- Nasal breathing filters the air. When we breathe through our nose, the cilia (the hairs in the nostrils) filter, condition and warm the air to body temperature. This process removes germs, viruses and particulates. Our noses basically protect our lungs from all those horrible things (unlike when you breathe through your mouth).
- It increases our nitric oxide levels in your body. In his book, Nestor speaks to Dr Mark Burhenne, a dentist and sleep specialist, who says: “The sinuses release a huge boost of nitric oxide, a molecule that plays an essential role in increasing circulation and delivering oxygen into cells. Immune function, weight, circulation, mood, and sexual function can all be heavily influenced by the amount of nitric oxide in the body.” (See our story for a deeper dive into the benefits of nitric oxide and the 4-Minute workout Elle Macpherson does every day to boost her levels.)
- It can help with asthma and other respiratory problems. In the 1950s, Ukrainian medic Dr Konstantin Buteyko developed a method of breathing slowly through the nose to help with asthma and other breathing problems. Today, Patrick McKeown, the Irish breath expert and author of The Oxygen Advantage, uses the Buteyko Method (and often mouth taping) with his clients. He says it brought him “immediate relief” from his own asthma symptoms.
- It can help with stress, anxiety and sleep. Nasal breathing slows down the heart rate and thus relaxes the body and mind - as anyone who’s ever done a yoga class, where breathing from the nose is the norm, will confirm.
How does mouth taping encourage nose breathing?
Mouth taping is a tool to retrain us to breathe through our noses rather than our mouths, which, according to Nestor, 25 to 50 per cent of us do out of habit. In the daytime, it’s a fairly straightforward ask so there’s no need for tape – you just need to be mindful of keeping your gob shut. At night time, of course, it’s far harder – a whopping 60 to 70 per cent of us sleep with our mouths open. You cannot be mindful of your breathing while you’re asleep. So the tape is a nudge.
The trick is to ramp up to it slowly, rather than taping up your mouth just before bed and hoping for sweet dreams. Start during the day – ideally when you’re at home unless you want your colleagues to think you’ve lost the plot. “Do it for an hour at first and build up from there,” says dentist Dr Uchenna Okoye, an advocate of mouth taping. Once you can handle it for several hours during the day, then try it at night.
How do you mouth tape?
Let’s be clear – step away from that duct tape right now. Stick to tape that has been designed to be safe on contact with the skin - a small strip of porous medical tape - and don't cover your whole mouth. "One of my patients tried it with Sellotape and wondered why it hurt so much when they took it off,” says Dr Uchenna. “Do not do this.”
James Nestor uses “a postage stamp size piece of tape at the centre of the lips – a Charlie Chaplin moustache moved down an inch”, to allow space on either side of the mouth for talking (ventriloquist style) or coughing. When you need to take it off, do a windscreen wiper-type motion with your tongue, behind the tape, until it gently eases off without ripping off a layer of skin with it.
What are the benefits of mouth taping?
Apart from reaping all the all the benefits of nose breathing, mouth taping at night is favoured by dentists such as Dr Uchenna because excessive mouth breathing can cause jaw problems. When you suck in air through the mouth, it can cause a narrower jaw arch. “The teeth can collapse inwards as a result,” she says. It also means less room for the tongue – which can cause sleep apnoea (when your breathing stops when you’re asleep. You typically wake up gasping for air.) “But if the tongue has more room, you can breathe better,” says Dr Uchenna.
Then there’s the dreaded morning breath – who hasn’t woken up with a mouth like the Gobi desert? “If you’re breathing through your mouth while you sleep, you dry it out, bacteria can proliferate and this can cause teeth decay,” she says.
For nutritional therapist Charlotte Faure Green, mouth taping is a new(ish) habit to which she’s trying to stick: “Our oral microbiome is a driver for systemic diseases such as dementia, heart disease, arthritis, cancer, gut health, type 2 diabetes, she says. It also improves her REM sleep, she adds, “which means better focus the following day. While the scientific jury is out on this, I do feel a difference when I do it,” she says.
What happened when we tried mouth taping
Get The Gloss co-founder Sarah Vine has been mouth-taping for a year on most nights. It’s not an attractive look, she notes, but the benefits more than make up for the weirdness. “My sleep is 30 to 40 per cent better now,” she says. “I sleep more deeply – I used to wake up at the slightest thing but now I’ll wake and realise that I’ve been asleep for eight hours and I’ll feel refreshed. Because my mouth doesn’t dry out, I don’t wake up in the middle of the night thirsty or in the morning with bad breath.” What’s more, Sarah says, “My children tell me I don’t snore anymore.” She uses WoodyKnows Mouth Tape, £15.99, available on Amazon
Given snoring is often a bone of contention for couples, mouth taping is potentially a better option than separate bedrooms. Get the Gloss editorial director Victoria Woodhall tried it with her snorer husband. using porous medical tape. "His snoring often stops me from going to sleep and wakes me up in the night - leaving me annoyed and unable to drop off again," she says. "He kept the tape on all night and despite having a beard, it did stick. He slept well although I can't say the same for me. The snoring started straight away although possibly a little quieter as his mouth was shut, but it would still register on the Richter Scale. I wore the tape too but woke up with it on the end of my thumb for some reason. But it wasn't uncomfortable and I'll definitely keep trying it to see if it can give me deeper and more restorative sleep. At £3 from Boots it's cheaper than divorce!"
James Nestor, meanwhile, reports that after three nights of mouth taping his snoring time dropped from four hours to just 10 minutes.
A word of caution on mouth taping
Just to reiterate mouth taping is not something that the NHS recommends. The Sleep Foundation, a US non-profit that collates evidence-based sleep health information says: “Since mouth taping is not considered a commonly accepted practice, speak to your doctor before trying it. Currently, there are no official guidelines outlining how to mouth tape safely.” Sweet dreams, everyone.