I was first diagnosed with severe obstructive sleep apnea just over ten years ago and immediately started using CPAP with a full face mask. The reality is, because of my misshapen uvula, I’ve struggled with sleep apnea for all of my adult life and even as a teenager.
I took to CPAP very easily and have never had a single night where I struggled to either get to sleep or to use my CPAP mask. I often describe the prescription of my CPAP therapy as one of the most beneficial things I’ve ever done for myself.
Having said that, over the years, I’ve tried some other types of therapies to see if there was a way potentially to not have to use the CPAP machine at all.
This is just a partial list of some of the things that I’ve tried:
- Mouth guards
- Dental work
- Nasal Strips
- Special Pillows
- Putting a Tennis Ball under my back
Recently, “mouth taping” has been in the zeitgeist for sleep apnea, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I decided to try it for a week to give myself time to adjust. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the long and short is, I didn’t make it through the week – if you’re interested, to see my experience, you can jump to here to get my thoughts.
Table of Contents
What Is Mouth Taping?
Mouth taping involves placing a small piece of porous medical tape over your lips before bedtime. The tape acts as a gentle seal to encourage nose breathing and prevent your mouth from falling open during sleep.
Proponents believe mouth taping can help improve your sleep apnea if you breathe through your mouth at night. By sealing your lips, it forces you to breathe through your nose instead. The idea is that nose breathing helps strengthen your airway muscles and keeps your throat more open, reducing apnea events.
How Does Mouth Taping Work?
There are a few proposed ways that mouth taping may help some cases of sleep apnea:
Encourages Nose Breathing
Breathing through your nose helps filter, warm, and humidify air before it reaches your lungs. Mouth breathing bypasses these benefits. Some studies suggest nose breathing helps maintain muscle tone in your throat, keeping your airway open. Mouth taping ensures you breathe through your nose while you sleep.
Reduces Mouth Leaking with CPAP
CPAP machines work by delivering constant air pressure through a face mask to keep your airway open. Mouth leaks can reduce CPAP effectiveness. Taping may help eliminate your mouth air leaks.
Positions the Tongue
With your lips sealed, your tongue rests against the roof of your mouth instead of falling back towards your throat. This may help open your airway.
Reduces Dry Mouth
Breathing through your mouth can lead to dry mouth as exhaled air escapes. Taping encourages nasal breathing and prevents a dry mouth.
Improves Sleep Quality
By reducing or eliminating your apnea events, your oxygen levels remain more stable overnight. In theory, this allows you to reach deeper, more restorative stages of sleep.
Is There Any Science Behind Mouth Taping?
A few small studies have looked at the effects of mouth taping on sleep apnea with mixed results:
– A 2016 study in 28 patients found nasal dilator strips reduced AHI by 33% while mouth taping only reduced AHI by 10%. (2)
– A 2015 study found no difference in AHI, oxygen levels, or sleep quality with mouth taping over 3 weeks in 13 patients. (3)
Overall, current research is limited but initial results are inconclusive on whether mouth taping consistently improves sleep apnea. More rigorous clinical studies are still needed.
Benefits of Mouth Taping
There are several potential benefits you may experience by trying mouth taping for your sleep apnea.
Mouth taping encourages nose breathing throughout the night rather than mouth breathing, which can strengthen your airway muscles. It also reduces dry mouth by promoting nasal breathing.
Some studies have shown modest reductions in apnea events and slight improvements in oxygen saturation levels overnight with mouth taping.
It’s also an inexpensive treatment option to try, unlike oral appliances or surgery.
Side Effects of Mouth Taping
Mouth taping does come with some risks and potential side effects to be aware of.
Many people find it simply too uncomfortable or claustrophobic, as having the lips taped shut can make breathing feel very restricted – this is something that I struggled with a great deal.
It may cause skin irritation or rashes around your lips, especially with prolonged use. I was concerned about this because of my history of CPAP mask rash, but the medical tape was pretty gentle in truth.
I would say that the second biggest problem for me was the tape came loose while I was sleeping and I did wake up on one occasion with it in my mouth which obviously can pose a choking hazard – I can’t lie, that spooked me a bit.
The reality is, that you should listen to your body and remove the tape if you experience any breathing difficulties, discomfort, or other concerning symptoms while sleeping with taped lips.
How to Mouth Tape Safely
If you want to give mouth-taping a try, keep these safety tips in mind:
- Use breathable medical tape designed for sensitive skin. Avoid duct tape or other harsh adhesives.
- Only tape your lips lightly together, not sealing them completely shut. You should be able to open your mouth if needed.
- Try it first during the day to ensure you can breathe comfortably through your nose.
- Again, pay attention to your body and remove the tape if you experience any breathing issues or discomfort.
What Kind of Tape to Use for Mouth Taping
I did a fair bit of research on the best tape to use and I looked at a number of the dedicated products but ultimately, I decided on using the medical grade, 3M Micropore paper tape.
I looked at a number of different reviews and videos before deciding what to try and the truth is, I had some lying around the house after a recent abrasion, so that made the decision easier. Also, in my experience on the soft skin of my forearm, it was gentle and easy to remove.
It was affordable and it was gentle on my skin… it just didn’t really work very well for me.
Did Mouth Taping Work For Me?
Like I said, I had decided to try mouth taping for a full week to give it a full shot, but truthfully, I pulled the pin after four nights because I just found it uncomfortable and somewhat ineffective for me.
Well, when it worked at all. On the third night, I woke up and found the tape had become loose and was partly inside my mouth – that’s not ideal. I ended up re-applying the tape and soldiering on with the experiment.
Midway through the fourth night, I just pulled the tape off, got up and washed my face, and then put my CPAP mask on to try and get a good night’s sleep
While it may work for some people, for heavy mouth breathers like me, it can exacerbate the problem. I went back to using my CPAP machine which allows me to breathe freely and sleep soundly.
I was super tired every morning after using it and I knew I wasn’t sleeping well. My Apple Watch confirmed that I was restless, but more importantly, my wife was also disturbed by how poorly I was sleeping.
My take on this is that mouth taping is a simple, drug-free option you can try if you struggle with CPAP, but based on everything I’ve read and my first-hand experience, results are not guaranteed.
I’m convinced of the efficacy of this therapy, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you were desperate and struggling with CPAP to the point where that was unsalvagable.
(1) Huang, T.-W., & Young, T.-H. (2015). Novel porous oral patches for patients with mild obstructive sleep apnea and mouth breathing: A pilot study. Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery: Official Journal of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, 152(2), 369–373.
(2) Cooper, S., Oborne, J., Harrison, T., & Tattersfield, A. (2009). Effect of mouth taping at night on asthma control—A randomised single-blind crossover study. Respiratory Medicine, 103(6), 813–819.
(3) J. Ngiam, C. Balasubramaniam, D. Darendeliler, et al. “Clinical guidelines for oral appliance therapy in the treatment of snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea.” Australian Dental Journal 58.4 (2013): 408-419.