The human body is capable of inhaling and exhaling through both the nose and the mouth to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. This isn't something that most people think about on a daily basis, but the way that you breathe actually has a profound impact on your health and wellbeing.
This article will explore what mouth breathing is, what causes it, and common mouth breathing effects. We'll also discuss how to stop breathing with your mouth open and how to breathe through the nose at night instead for improved overall health.
Causes of Mouth Breathing
Can anxiety cause mouth breathing? And do allergies cause mouth breathing too? In this section, we'll address these questions and many more to explore the various causes of mouth breathing.
Being overly anxious and stressed out can make you more likely to breathe through your mouth, both at night and throughout the day. When you are anxious, your breathing is more likely to become rapid and shallow as well.
Whether you're sensitive to pollen, pet dander, or dust, allergies are another common cause of mouth breathing. Allergies occur when the immune system attacks a foreign substance to protect you, even if that substance is actually harmless. It can be very difficult to breathe through the nose when you are having allergy symptoms like a runny nose or congestion.
Cold and Flu
When you have a common cold with nasal congestion, it is necessary to breathe through the mouth to get the oxygen your body needs. Mouth breathing due to a cold or the flu is totally normal and to be expected. With a cold, the sinuses can become blocked and prevent proper air flow through the nose. Mouth breathing in this circumstance is typically not a cause for concern.
Asthma is caused by an inflammation in the lungs and often causes shortness of breath and wheezing. Individuals with asthma are more likely to breathe through their mouth to adapt to these symptoms.
Cleft lip and palate are birth defects that affect the structure of the mouth. A cleft palate forms during the sixth and ninth weeks or pregnancy and occurs when the tissue of the roof of the mouth does not join completely. Part of the palate can be open, or both the front and back of it can be open. Either way, mouth breathing is more common in babies born with this condition until it is surgically repaired.
A tongue tie is a condition in which the tongue is abnormally tethered in the mouth. It can make moving the tongue more difficult than normal and lead to mouth breathing. If left untreated, a tongue tie can also prohibit adults from opening their mouth widely to eat and speak well. It can also cause migraines, pain in the jaw, and make adults more sensitive about their appearances.
Deviated Nasal Septum
This is a condition that is characterized by the nasal septum being crooked or off-center. The nasal septum is the cartilage and bone that split the nasal cavity in half and aids in proper breathing.
Growths on the inner lining of your sinuses are called nasal polyps. These growths are typically painless, soft, and benign. They are also said to resemble grapes on a stem. Recurring infections, asthma, allergies, and immune disorders can cause nasal polyps. But they can also lead to breathing problems and make it easier and preferable to breathe through the mouth instead of the nose.
Sleep apnea is a medical condition that causes some people to breathe through their mouths at night. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused when the upper airway in the body is repeatedly blocked during sleep. This can restrict the airflow partially or entirely, ultimately prohibiting the brain from receiving signals that the body needs air.
Is It Better to Breathe Through Your Nose or Mouth?
You may not even realize if you are breathing through your nose or mouth until someone else observes your habits and comments on them. But ultimately, it's better to breathe through your nose as much as possible.
Is It Bad to Sleep with Your Mouth Open?
As a general rule, yes, it is bad to sleep with your mouth open. One of the most common questions on this subject is, "Why do I breathe through my mouth when I sleep?" This may be answered by a diagnosis of one of the above conditions or causes. Breathing through your mouth is not a good habit to get into for many reasons that we will detail in the paragraphs that follow. The most common reasons why it occurs involves a nasal deformity or illness that affects the mouth, lungs, and airways.
Common Mouth Breathing Effects
Can mouth breathing cause dehydration? And does mouth breathing have a negative effect on the face? These are some of the questions that we'll answer in this section about common mouth breathing effects.
Since breathing through the mouth dries out the mouth and the airways, dehydration can occur without you even realizing it. The body cannot function without an adequate supply of water, and mouth breathing can lead to dry mouth and loss of essential bodily fluids.
Facial deformations are possible due to mouth breathing, especially in children whose bones are still developing. If a child breathes through the mouth excessively during the formative years, an ill-positioned or uneven facial and jaw structure can occur.
Good oral health involves more than just brushing and flossing your teeth every day. If you breathe through your mouth at night, the jaw is forced into an unnatural position for long periods of time. This can lead to teeth grinding and the development of an overbite or an underbite. Gum disease and tooth decay are also more likely with mouth breathing.
The sensation of losing your voice is hoarseness, which is another one of the common mouth breathing effects. Feeling hoarse can be caused by dried-out airways after mouth breathing all night long.
Bad breath is a common complaint about mouth breathers. Also known as halitosis, this is a common condition among adults that can be quite embarrassing. In addition to changing the way you breathe, you can also control bad breath by brushing and flossing your teeth, adjusting your diet, and drinking lots of water.
Being a Noisy Eater
There are also social and etiquette issues associated with being a mouth breather, such as being a noisy eater at the dinner table. It is difficult to breathe in and out of the mouth while eating, which can make you a chew louder and with your mouth open.
Changes in Speech
Interestingly, breathing through your mouth for many years can even lead to changes in speech. People who breathe through the mouth often are more likely to develop a lisp. It also may be more difficult to swallow over time.
Asthma can cause a person to breathe through the mouth, but breathing through the mouth at night can also make exercise-induced asthma symptoms worse. Air that is inhaled through the mouth isn't as warm or moist as air that comes in through the nose. This can make the airway more irritated and breathing more difficult.
Worsened Sleep Apnea
A condition of sleep apnea is also likely to worsen if you breathe through your mouth at night. The position of the jaw during mouth breathing makes it more difficult to sleep. Also, chronic mouth breathers often need larger continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) masks for their sleep apnea. Snoring is also worsened with mouth breathing, and you may feel more fatigued in the morning because mouth breathing doesn't let as much oxygen into the lungs.
How to Stop Sleeping with Your Mouth Open
Once you realize at you are sleeping with your mouth open on a regular basis, it's a good idea to take action right away to correct the behavior. During the daytime, make a conscious and intentional effort to breathe through your nose while awake. This will help train your body to breathe this way while you are asleep as well. To help you remember to breathe through the nose, consider placing Post-It notes around your desk or house. Or perhaps set a reminder on your phone or smartwatch for the same effect.
Also, practice good posture throughout the day so that your head does not extend forward unnaturally. This is a common and potentially harmful body position among mouth breathers.
When it's time to sleep, elevate your head to clear the passages for unrestricted air flow and prevent intestinal fluids from going up the throat. You can use a reflux board or multiple pillows to achieve this position. Avoid sleeping on your back, because this forces you to take larger breaths and breathe through the mouth to get rid of excess air. It's better to sleep on your side or stomach if you're prone to mouth breathing.
It may also be beneficial to invest in a sleeping mouth guard that is made to help keep your mouth shut while sleeping. This is a good solution to try if other remedies haven't been working. Horseshoe-shaped chin strips can also provide a solution for how to stop sleeping with your mouth open. One particularly interesting mouth breathing solution is to actually tape your mouth closed with a one-inch strip of surgical tape placed either horizontally or vertically. This will be pretty uncomfortable at first, but it's worth a try for adults who have persistent problems with mouth breathing.
How to Breathe Through Your Nose at Night
If a blockage of the nasal passages is to blame for mouth breathing, then it may be necessary to take a decongestant, antihistamine, or use nasal spray to increase the air flow through the nose. You should also remove any potential allergens from your bedroom, such dust objects, pet beds, and houseplants. Wash your bedsheets and pillowcases frequently to rid them of dirt and dust that can make nose breathing more difficult.
If there is no defect or illness of the nose that prohibits nose breathing, then you may want to consult a doctor or myofunctional therapist to learn about proper breathing techniques. Some yoga and meditation teachers are also skilled in deep breathing exercises that can help. You can practice breathing in deeply, holding the breath, and exhaling through the nose throughout the day until it feels like second nature.
There's a nose clearing exercise called Buteyko that some people swear by to unblock the nose and take proper breaths. To try it, sit calmly and focus on breathing through your nose for a few minutes. Then after inhaling once more, pinch your nose closed with your fingers and hold your breath for as long as comfortably possible. Then release the air through your nostrils while keeping your mouth closed. Repeat this exercise several times, and eventually work up to practicing it while walking or doing other activities.
Benefits of Nose Breathing
Now that we've established that it can be detrimental to your health to breathe through your mouth while sleeping, here are the benefits of nose breathing as a healthy alternative. Fortunately, mouth breathing is a very treatable health issue, especially when it is addressed and treated early.
- Better and more restful sleep
- Greater oxygen absorption in the lungs
- A stronger immune system
- Less disruption to others eating and sleeping nearby
- Moisturized bronchial tubes and lungs
- Warmer, gentler air being inhaled
- Ability to filter out pollen and other harmful air particles
- Prevent costly dental problems
- Maintain a more natural appearance