The first few months of the coronavirus, I wanted to reach out to my exes — not to make amends or shoot my shot, but to ask if my breath was as bad as I recently realized. The worst of it was in the morning when I’d roll out of bed, throw on a mask and take my dog for a walk, before brushing my teeth, only to accidentally Dutch-oven half of my face with morning breath. But instead of sending out a barrage of regrettable text messages, I decided to tape my foul mouth shut before bed every night.
Hear me out — it’s less kinky and more logical than it sounds. Over the past few years, mouth tape has emerged along with a number of other products to address sleep hygiene. Mouth taping at night has been found to be an effective treatment for everything from snoring to sleep apnea, because it trains us to breathe the right way, i.e., through our noses, and avoid a variety of issues that arise from mouth breathing when we sleep, including ass-breath.
“Mouth taping sounds like something out of a horror movie, except that it’s a small thing that can help save your life,” dentist Yuliya Rabinovich tells me. Although it’s great to have the mouth for a breathing backup when we’re congested, “nasal breathing is one of the keys to a healthy mind and body.”
When we sleep, nasal breathing promotes greater oxygen circulation throughout our bodies, and generally speaking, the better oxygenated bodies are, the healthier their tissues, cells and overall organ function will be. On the other hand, mouth breathing does the opposite, activating the sympathetic nervous system and making it harder to relax and rest. While there’s a natural filtration system in the nose that helps kill off bacteria and viruses, the mouth has no such defense, so breathing though it literally opens us up to pathogens. On top of that, mouth breathing dries out the saliva that’s needed to clean our mouths — which, in turn, can lead to “bad breath, tooth decay and gum inflammation,” Rabinovich warns — as well as lubricate airways to prevent problems like snoring.
“Becoming aware of the adverse effects of mouth breathing is half the battle in committing to keeping the mouth closed while sleeping,” Rabinovich tells me.
Rabinovich scared me enough into trying Somnifix Mouth Strips, appropriately shaped like a slight frown, as I was sad it had come to this. But every time I tried to tape my mouth, I’d wake up a few hours later, rip it off in a panic and then try to fight my weighted blanket. On a good night, I’d just wake up the next morning with the tape tangled in my hair. I didn’t notice much of a change in my breath, but it’s possible I was distracted by the loss of sleep. After two weeks of trying, the strips were demoted to the second drawer of my night stand, next to the eye mask, earplugs, melatonin and other shit that never helped me sleep.
In my defense, not every expert is sold on this seemingly extreme “breathe right or suffocate trying” approach. “There’s no serious clinical research on mouth taping as a cure. We have no evidence that it’s safe and healthy, only a couple of anecdotes,” dentist Henry Hackney explains. Perhaps more importantly, “if you don’t breathe through your nose, there’s probably a reason for it.” The point is, sealing off your body’s backup way to get oxygen may not be the best idea.
Fortunately, Hackney assures me that there are plenty of less invasive ways to foster better nose breathing, such as practicing it when we’re awake so it feels more natural when we’re asleep. Additionally, “to fight bad breath, brush your teeth right before and after sleep, and drink plenty of water to prevent your mouth from dryness,” he recommends.
If you feel like you’re still struggling to breath through your nose, it might be worth seeing a doctor about your sinuses. But for most people, if you can breathe through your nose when you’re awake, you’re likely doing fine when you’re asleep, too. And in that case, going to bed looking like you’ve been kidnapped is really no way to relax yourself to sleep.