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How to Tell if You’re Mouth Breathing
Even if you aren’t snoring according to your partner, you may still be breathing through your mouth throughout the night.
Things like a dry mouth, dry throat, snoring, or even just waking up tired all the time can be pretty good indicators that you may be breathing inefficiently.
Use a Snore Recording App
You can utilize an app to listen to your breathing at night. If you snore, you’ll know you’re mouth breathing. If you don’t snore, you may still be mouth breathing, which is usually noticeably louder than nasal breathing. You can make this comparison if you tape your mouth at night and compare tape vs. no-tape recordings.
Turn off machines creating ambient noises during recording sessions for the most accurate noise profile.
- SnoreLab: Snore Lab is by far one of the best options out there right now for snoring and mouth breathing audio pickup.
Monitoring Blood Oxygen Saturation at Home
One of the best ways to monitor your nighttime breathing efficiency is by utilizing a device that can track SpO2 and even your breathing rate.
Generally speaking, fingertip and earlobe SpO2 monitors are more accurate than wrist-based devices, because they don’t rely on reflectance. However, newer devices and advanced algorithms have really improved on the limitation of reflectance. [R]
You’ll ideally want to see your SpO2 remain above 95% as much as possible. However, if you have a lower baseline due to smoking, etc., just check to make sure you’re not dropping by more than 4% from baseline.
The Best Pulse Oximeter Devices
- EMAY SleepO2 Pro w/ Flow Tracker: This is basically an at home sleep study device, complete with nasal breath flow monitoring. It’s expensive, but you get the whole kitten caboodle. You’ll need a Windows PC to get the data off of it, as it’s not Bluetooth compatible.
- EMAY Fingertip Pulse Oximeter: If you’re looking for a more affordable way to check your oxygen saturation, I’d go with this one. It’s still going to get the job done, you’ll just be lacking some data such as AHI, ODI, and flow rate. This one is also Bluetooth compatible, so if you don’t have access to a Windows PC, this is a better option.
- Withings ScanWatch: I’m not crazy about EMF emitting devices, but if that doesn’t bother you, the ScanWatch is a great wrist-based SpO2 option. It tracks blood oxygen saturation as well as breathing disturbances and breath rate, and has also been medically validated in several ways. [R]
How Can You Stop Mouth Breathing?
Check here to see how beneficial nasal breathing is over mouth breathing.
If you’d like, here are some studies comparing nasal breathing and mouth breathing:
- Nasal congestion and mouth breathing is strongly associated with higher airway resistance, obstructive apnea episodes, and worsened sleep quality. [R] [R] [R] [R] [R]
- Oral breathing during sleep negatively effects cognitive function. [R]
- Oral breathing is defaulted to in times of greater nasal congestion and airflow resistance. [R]
Right, so breathing through your nose is important, capeesh? Let’s go over how to do that.
Eat a Low Inflammatory Diet
If you’re having inflammatory or allergy related issues that cause swelling and/or increased mucus production, you may need to rethink your diet.
Ditching things like seeds, nuts, beans, wheat, and vegetable oils can go a long way in reducing inflammation and allergy severity.
Here are a couple of images to simplify this concept. (This will be expanded upon in future articles!)
Tape Your Mouth Shut at Night
Even if you don’t think you’re mouth breathing, and especially if you are, you need to get those lips shut! The best option here is tape, of which there are a few options.
Micropore tape is the poor man’s choice, followed by Nexcare, followed finally by lip-sized tape. If you have facial hair, you’ll likely be limited to the more expensive lip tape options.
It can take time to get used to and ignore the tape – at first it may cause sleep disturbance, but you should get used to it fairly quickly.
You can try spending some time during the day with the tape applied to get used to it before trying to sleep with it on.
The Best Mouth Tape Products
- Micropore Tape: This is the cheapest tape you can get. If you’re low on funds, this is a great option and, though not ideal from a comfort perspective, it gets the job done.
- Nexcare Tape: The luxury version of micropore tape, it’s more comfortable and easier on the skin. Comes in a gentle and stronger hold version.
- Simply Breathe Lip Seal Tape: Probably the best option out there currently due to price and comfort. These are a great option for those of you with glorious facial hair. If you order 3 months at a time, they’re around $16/month, which is about as good as it gets for this style.
- SomniFix Lip Tape: This is just one more option for those of you who may want an Amazon option for something similar to Simply Breathe.
Dilate Your Nostrils for Better Airflow
Grab your nostrils like you mean it! Now pull them apart slowwwly… does your breathing become easier? I’ll bet it does!
If you’re mouth breathing, the tape may solve that, but it won’t eliminate excessive nasal airway resistance if it exists.
- Nasal dilators reduce snoring and apneas in patients with OSAS. [R] [R] [R]
- Internal nasal dilators appear to be more effective than internal dilators at reducing nasal resistance. The Intake Breathing Kit is probably the exception to this rule. [R] [R]
As one of the studies above touched on, nasal breathing resistance seems to result in an automatic switch to mouth breathing.
With nasal dilators, you may need to experiment with different designs and sizes to find the right one for you. I’ve listed several options below, every style I can find, and the best of them.
The Best Nasal Dilators
- Intake Breathing Kit: The only exterior use nasal dilator that really works. This product relies on a somewhat rigid magnetic band that attaches to small magnets you stick to the outside of your nose. This is a more expensive option than the following interior devices, but with greater price comes greater comfort.
- Breathe Right Nasal Strips: If you’d like to try a less expensive exterior nasal dilator, you may want to use these.
- AIRMAX Nasal Dilator: A wing shaped dilator that in theory minimizes the resistance of airflow into the nasal passages. I’d recommend the trial pack, so you can see which size fits you best.
- Rinomed Mute Nasal Dilator: Rhinomed’s claim to fame is in its dual adjustable design, where each nostril can be adjusted separately.
- Rhinomed Turbine Nasal Dilator: The turbine version has ribbing that helps it stay in place during more intense activity. However, it is also a bit longer than the Mute, so if you’ve got a particularly long schnoz this might work better.
- Rhinomed Pronto Clear/Sleep: This variation is interesting as you can incorporate some essential oils to help further open up your nasal passages.
- WoodyKnows Nasal Dilators: This dilator style uses a soft, flexible oval shape with support ribs.
Developing Better Tongue Posture
Your tongue should naturally stick to the roof of your mouth whenever you’re not eating, drinking, or vocalizing. If you’re now aware that you don’t do this, congrats! Improvements can be made!
Having an ingrained natural tongue posture may help prevent subconscious mouth breathing habits from ruining your sleep. If you’ve ever heard of “Mewing”, that’s basically what we’ll be discussing here.
Now, let’s not get in a tizzy over whether this will make you look like the Crimson Chin (if you’re familiar with mewing and its facial prowess promises), that’s not the point here. The point is that developing a habit of resting your tongue on the roof of your mouth will eventually carry over into sleep as your muscle memory develops.
So even if your mouth opens, your tongue will be stuck on the roof of your mouth (hopefully), helping to prevent airway collapse and mouth breathing.
How to Mew
- Sound out the letter “n”. You’ll notice that the tip of your tongue is resting just behind your teeth.
- Keep your tongue in this position and swallow gently. You should notice that your tongue becomes suctioned to the roof of your mouth.
- Congrats, that’s it! Keep at it for a month or so, and you’ll be rid of mouth breathing and that annoying mouth tape forever.
Tips When Getting Started
- In the beginning, you will have to constantly remind yourself to do this. You may find it hard to mew and un-mew quickly, especially in social situations, so while mewing you’ll find yourself answering people with “mmm, mhm” more frequently than you’re used to. Totally normal!
- I’m not sure why, but many people find they produce a lot of excess saliva in the first 2-3 weeks of this. I did. I thought I broke myself. It was super annoying but yes, it went away.
- It may be useful to mouth tape at night while you’re learning to mew properly and develop the muscle memory necessary to keep your tongue in position all night long.
Oropharyngeal Strength Training
The science behind strength training of the oropharyngeal muscles is quite robust and requires only 5-10 minutes per day.
Those of you with a higher Mallampati Score of 3 or 4 may especially want to explore this option.
There are a couple of apps that make this easier and more streamlined if you like that:
- SnoreGym: At just $5, SnoreGym is a great app for people looking to get into this method without spending much.
- SnoreFree: This one is a bit more impressive (and expensive) and includes 49 exercises (6 for free), and you can even buy a “utility pack” that includes some tools to use in the exercises.
Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST)
Another option is to strengthen the actual musculature responsible for breathing itself. An IMST device is basically a set of dumbbells for your diaphragm.
- Training frequency: You’ll want to do 30 breathes, twice per day, morning and evening, for 4-6 weeks to see good results.
- For best results: Inhale deeply and forcefully and aim to reach failure by breath 30, if you are able to get past 30 reps, increase the load.
The Best Inspiratory Training Devices:
- POWERbreathe Plus: The light resistance model is for anyone who doesn’t exercise much or has difficulties breathing. The medium is perfect for the vast majority of healthy people who exercise, while the heavy model is for people used to breath training and have maxed out the medium model.
- Airofit Pro™: For the tech junkies out there, this is currently the best breath training device on the market. The Airofit Pro provides real-time feedback and session tracking, allowing for a more customizable and personal training experience.
TLDR: Action Steps
This section is for those of you who either don’t have time to connect all the dots above, or just want a quick list of things that can be done to optimize your biology.
- Find out if you’re snoring or mouth breathing with the SnoreLab app.
- Quit eating inflammatory foods.
- Tape your mouth shut at night and use a nasal dilator if you feel like you need one.
- Develop proper tongue posture if you don’t currently have it.
- Do 5-10 minutes of oropharyngeal exercise and/or 30 breaths with a IMST device once per day.
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