blog breathing properly at nightSleep is one of the most fundamental functions we do each day. Without good sleep, you will not only feel terrible, but you will begin to damage your body. You will likely notice a difference in your energy, mood, and ability to function.  

If you consistently wake up from a full night's sleep feeling less than refreshed, you may be dealing with undiagnosed sleep issues. It is always best to be tested by a professional, but in the meantime, there is an easy way to check for a sleep issue in your own home tonight.  

This simple test will help you determine if you breathe from your mouth or nose at night. It costs next to nothing and only takes a few extra seconds before bed. Let’s look at what the experts say about this and how to use this information to train your body to sleep well again! 


Mild Sleep Apnea

According to Dr. Mark Burhenne of ask the dentist, sleep apnea is the “lack of the ability to breathe properly at night to the point where your sleep is interrupted.” While most people are aware of severe sleep apnea, Burhenne explains that mild forms are often left undiagnosed, especially in otherwise healthy individuals.

Oftentimes a dentist is able to see early warning signs of sleep apnea through features in the mouth. These early signs include gum recession, tooth sensitivity, TMJ, dry mouth, morning headaches, chipped teeth, and nighttime clenching or grinding.

All of these signs can be attributed to the inability to consistently breathe through your nose rather than your mouth. When you breathe through your mouth you do not get the same level of oxygen as you would if you breathe through your nose and it will affect the quality of your sleep.


Why Nose Breathing Is Important

Science has found many benefits of nose breathing over mouth breathing. To begin with, when we breathe through our nose the cilia in our nose act as a filter, purifying the particles of air. 

This regulates the humidity and temperature of the air we breathe. As a result, the paranasal sinuses produce nitric oxide which can increase your lung's ability to absorb oxygen by 10-25%. Since nitric oxide has anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-parasitic, and anti-bacterial properties nose breathing is great for our immune function. 

Breathing through the nose also slows and deepens our breath which allows the lungs more time to absorb oxygen and excretes carbon dioxide from the body. Deeper breaths fill the lower lungs which are rich in parasympathetic nerve receptors which help the body to calm and go into the rest, digest, and healing state of being as well.


Dangers of Mouth Breathing

In general, mouth breathing is not ideal, however, in times of danger it can be very helpful. In these situations, we may need to receive oxygen quickly. This is most easily done through mouth breathing. Mouth breathing also fills the upper lungs and triggers your fight or flight state. 

While this type of breathing is valuable during intense situations, it causes problems if done habitually. Problems associated with nose breathing include sleep troubles, developmental changes, mouth problems, changes in personality, cognitive issues, and lower immune function. For more information check out this blog post.



A Research Study

While researching his book, “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art,” James Nestor teamed with the chief rhinology researcher at Stanford. Throughout the ten-day study, Nestor completely plugged his nose which caused him to only breathe through his mouth.

Nestor says, “I went from snoring a couple minutes a night to… snoring four hours a night… I developed sleep apnea. My stress levels were off the charts. My nervous system was a mess… I felt awful.”

But the really amazing thing is that the day the plugs came out all the negative effects of mouth breathing disappeared.


A Simple Test

Discovering if you are a mouth or nose breather at night is the first step. But how do you know what you are doing while you are asleep if there is no one watching you throughout the night? 

The easiest way is to use some special mouth tape to gently tape your mouth shut at night. Some people get nervous about taping their mouth at night, but mouth tape is designed for this purpose and will easily come off when necessary. 

One single strip placed vertically over the mouth at night can help you to determine if mouth breathing is a concern for you. For details on how to do mouth taping watch this video.


What Mouth Breathers Should Do

If you don’t already, you may be able to train yourself to breathe through your nose. To do this tape your mouth each night the same way you did for the test. This simple technique may save you the expense and hassle of more invasive treatments. 

In other cases, you may benefit from an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) to rule out any more complicated concerns. When in doubt, talk to your doctor for guidance, but realize that sometimes you need to be your own best advocate.

Let me know if you try mouth-taping. I’d love to hear about your experience with it and answer any of your questions.

Dr. Jamie