When the writer James Nestor began writing Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, he participated in a sleep study at Stanford University. As a participant in the study, he allowed his nasal passages to be blocked prior to going to sleep, forcing him to breathe through his mouth while he slept. He was already aware of some of the problems caused by nightly mouth breathing, but he had not realized how quickly it could cause problems. He suffered a number of issues shortly after the study began:
- Increase in blood pressure (13 point increase)
- Increase in heart rate, indicating stress
- Increase in pulse
- Less able to focus
- Sleep apnea as a result of snoring
- Reduction in blood oxygen levels
It is known that breathing through the mouth at night also causes a range of sleep disorders, such as hypopnea, sleep apnea, and partial blockages to air ways. People sleep with their mouth open for many reasons, such as allergies and colds. Simply lying down can cause people to sleep with their mouth open because the horizontal position causes blood to fill the nasal blood vessels.
If you don’t have a partner or someone who sleeps near you to let you know that you are sleeping with your mouth open, you can monitor how you feel when you awaken. Indicators that you are breathing through your mouth include having dry mouth when you wake up or feel more tired (which can be easier to notice if you have had a cold). If you go to the bathroom more often at night, this could also be a sign as breathing with your mouth open can cause stress, which increases the number of hormones being released, and this results in an increase in urine production.
Fortunately, it is fairly easy to reduce how much your mouth opens at night.
- Work to reduce nasal congestion before bedtime, such as cleansing your nose with salt water (neti pots work well for this). In the short-term, you can use decongestant sprays, but they should not be used for long periods of time.
- Don’t eat close to bed time since it causes the production of stomach juices that can travel into your airways.
- To break the habit you can use nose strips to open the passages and tape a small part of your mouth shut. Do not completely tape your mouth, only use a small strip – you are supposed to be training your mouth to stay shut, not blocking breathing through your mouth if it is needed.
If you are suffering some of the problems associated with breathing through your mouth at night (or suspect you are), you can check out the full article at How to Stop Mouth Breathing for Better Sleep. See a physician if you are concerned that you are experiencing this problem.