Shut your mouth! Why the experts are warning about this latest TikTok trend
Social media platform TikTok helped popularize another potentially dangerous idea: sealing lips to stop mouth breathing at night.
“If you have obstructive sleep apnea, yes, it can be very dangerous,” said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: The surprising reasons people sleep with their mouths taped shut.
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Obstructive sleep apnea, i.e. the complete or partial collapse of the airways, is one of the most common and dangerous sleep disorders.
According to a 2019 study published in the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine, more than 1 billion people aged 30 to 69 suffer from the disease worldwide. Millions more remain undiagnosed, experts say.
“There is limited evidence on the benefits of mouth taping, and I would be very careful — and even talk to your doctor before trying it,” said Dasgupta, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California.
In the TikTok videos viewed by CNN, a young woman touts the benefits of beauty sleep as a reason to tape your lips every night: “I tape my mouth shut every day… sleeping properly is really important to anti.” -Aging and looking and feeling best.”
Despite the downsides of painful facial hair loss or damage to soft tissue around the mouth, another TikTok video recommends “plain old duct tape.”
“I know there’s a lot of fancy stick-on-the-mouth tape on the market, but you don’t need it — you just need this little square right here above the lip,” it proclaims.
All of this could be dismissed as silly, except that when people take up the challenge, one video seems to spawn another. One woman couldn’t even remember why she started taping her mouth shut at night: “To be honest, I don’t know. I saw it on TikTok and can’t remember what the benefits were. But it helps me sleep!”
Dangers of mouth breathing
As with many things that have been “discovered” by TikTok moderators, sticking on the mouth isn’t new. People have been looking for ways to keep their mouths shut at night for years, and with good reason.
Mouth breathing can lead to snoring and excessive thirst at night and dry mouth and bad breath in the morning. Over time, this type of breathing has been linked to gum disease and misalignments, where the upper and lower teeth are misaligned.
In childhood, when the tendency to breathe through the mouth often sets in, the condition can cause the child to develop a “mouth breathing face” — a constricted face with a receding chin or jaw, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Children are also at risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea, which has been linked to childhood learning disabilities and behavior problems.
Journalist James Nestor allowed scientists to plug his nose with silicone and surgical tape for 10 days to see how mouth breathing would affect his health. As he described in his book Breath: The New Science Of A Lost Art, the effect was shockingly quick.
He developed obstructive sleep apnea, his blood pressure, pulse and heart rate skyrocketed, and his blood oxygen levels plummeted, throwing his brain into a murky fog.
“We had no idea it was going to get this bad,” Nestor told CNN in 2020. “The snoring and sleep apnea were so dramatic and came on so quickly that everyone was pretty floored.”
Why nasal breathing is best
Breathing through your nose is healthier, experts say. Fine hairs in your nose called cilia filter out dust, allergens, germs and pollution. Nasal breathing also humidifies the incoming air, while dry air inhaled through the mouth can irritate the lungs, Dasgupta said.
“Nasal breathing can lower blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide, a compound in your body that may be helpful in keeping your blood pressure under control,” he added.
In addition, nasal breathing has a relaxing effect, which is why it is often recommended as a sleep-promoting measure alongside yoga and meditation.
Check for sleep apnea first
However, if you do decide to try mouth taping, don’t tape your mouth shut horizontally like you’re a serial killer’s hostage — even TikTok users point that out. Just a bit of tape placed vertically across the lips, should work.
However, a small March study found that people who did this simply replaced mouth breathing with “mouth inflation,” in which research participants blew air in and out of their mouths on each side of the tape.
Overall, the “most important message is to screen for obstructive sleep apnea first before attempting to sleep with your mouth taped shut,” Dasgupta said.
“Once obstructive sleep apnea is completely ruled out, we can call it snoring,” he said. “Also, besides mouth taping, there are many other ways to combat snoring, such as nasal patches, nasal dilators, and mouth (and) throat and tongue exercises.”
Avoid sleeping on your back, a position that encourages your mouth to open and your tongue to fall back down your throat. Forcing air through this blockage causes snoring.
Mouth breathing is often associated with allergies, colds and chronic nasal congestion. A deviated septum, the cartilage that separates your nostrils, can also be a cause — a deviated septum can block your airway. Nasal polyps can do the same, Dasgupta said.
Children can have enlarged adenoids, glands behind the nose that are designed to fight off bacteria and viruses. They shrink with age, so this isn’t a common cause of mouth breathing in adults, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
All of these underlying medical issues can be treated with a visit to an ear, nose and throat doctor or sleep specialist, who can create a personalized treatment plan for you.
“These issues should be addressed and assessed first before taping the mouth. In my opinion, taping your mouth shut probably won’t help you sleep better,” Dasgupta said.
– With Jen Rose Smith, CNN contributor.
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