Snoring only really becomes a problem when it’s someone else’s problem first – a long-suffering spouse or the friend you’re bunking with on a guys’ getaway. Or in my most recent case, the colleague I shared a tent with this summer on a work trip. He told me I should seek medical attention in the morning, looking exhausted and too polite to throttle me, although I could see in his eyes he wanted to.
The thing is, I did seek medical attention. Years ago, at the behest of my then-wife, who was sure I must have sleep apnea and was desperate to get a good night’s sleep. I went to a sleep clinic and spent the night hooked up to all sorts of wires. In the morning a doctor looked over the readout and informed me I did not have sleep apnea. My wife was not happy.
Could sleeping with a small piece of special tape across my lips, forcing me to breathe through my nose, have saved the day – or, more accurately, the night?
Mouth taping has become one of the wellness industry’s biggest sleeper hits. Gwyneth Paltrow has sung its praises. Joe Rogan has explored it on his podcast. Andrew Huberman, the Stanford University neuroscientist and social-media guru, has recommend mouth taping as a way to “sleep much better.” Mouth-tape videos on TikTok have been viewed more than 40 million times. The practice is said to help reduce snoring and help you feel more energized, among other promised benefits. The question is, does it actually work?
The answer is, maybe.
“There’s no strong evidence for it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work,” says Dr. Mark Boulos, a neurologist and sleep specialist at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital.
Although there haven’t been any large clinical trials that scientists such as Boulos would need to see to reach a definitive conclusion, this hasn’t stopped the makers and adherents of mouth tape from promoting what they say are its many benefits: that it will help reduce snoring, improve oxygen intake, make you wake up with more energy and even straighten your jawline.
Considering how many people snore – 45 per cent of adults do it at least occasionally, and 25 per cent are habitual snorers, according to the Canadian Society of Otolaryngology – it’s no wonder so many people are willing to try it without scientific evidence to back it up.
Breathing through your mouth during sleep can lead to snoring because the tongue can fall back into your throat, says Dr. Andrew Wellman, director of the Sleep Disordered Breathing Lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an assistant professor at Harvard University. However, for some people, mouth taping actually makes their snoring worse because their nasal passage is constricted or narrow, he says.
Either way, the effect is typically minimal, Wellman says.
“Do we recommend it? No, not necessarily. Do we discourage it? No, not necessarily,” he says.
He encourages anyone who’s interested to consult a doctor first, especially if dealing with other health issues. For most people, there’s probably no harm in trying – especially if you’re attempting to hold on to friends and loved ones who don’t want to listen to you roar like a lawnmower at night, he says.
“If it reduces snoring either subjectively or for a bed partner, then it’s fine to keep doing it,” he says.
When I tried it recently, putting a piece of tape on my mouth to sleep felt strange. The fabric was light but still felt uncomfortable. This is not how you should go to bed, I thought the first few nights. It took longer than usual to fall asleep. In fact, the first evening I tore it off in the middle of the night. I’ve tried it a dozen times now and, while it doesn’t feel as weird, it still doesn’t feel normal.
Did it reduce my snoring “subjectively”? According to SnoreLab, an app that uses your phone’s microphone to follow your nightly rumblings, I went from snoring for three hours and 49 minutes to two hours and 28 minutes. It’s hovered around the same time ever since.
And, yes, you should use specialty tape if you want to try this. Medical tape and specialty brands won’t irritate your skin and are easy to peel off, unlike having to rip a strip of duct tape off your face.
Alex Neist, the founder of Hostage Tape, one of the most popular mouth-taping brands on the market, credits mouth taping with saving his marriage. (The idea behind the name is poor sleep is holding people hostage.)
As a lifelong snorer, Neist knows how it can strain relationships.
“Your wife is frustrated, she didn’t get any sleep, you get mad because she’s getting mad at you,” he says.
Neist launched his company in March of last year and has already reached annual sales in the eight figures, he says.
Mouth taping has become popular because of widespread interest in “biohacking,” essentially finding ways to improve health and well-being and to perform at peak condition, says Yaron Davidson, the Florida-based founder of ZzzTape.
Indeed, mouth tape has migrated from the bedroom to the stadium. In August, the tennis player Iga Swiatek, a four-time major singles champion, made headlines when she was seen practising for a tournament with her mouth taped.
She later explained that it was meant to improve her endurance, since you have to work harder to breathe through only your nose.
Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, says mouth taping might actually improve athletic performance, but he questions its necessity.
“Restricting breathing can definitely increase cardiovascular stress. The perceived effort is higher, your heart rate is up,” he says. But there are other ways of achieving that. “You can also just increase the intensity of exercise.”
Still, it is true that breathing through your nose has many advantages over breathing through your mouth: filtering debris or toxins and warming and humidifying air, whereas mouth breathing just sucks in cold air and everything in it straight to your lungs.
As for snoring, mouth taping might work, but, says Boulos, “There are other ways people can improve their sleep.”
He recommends sleeping on your side and not your back, not drinking alcohol, wearing nasal strips and losing weight.
Putting a piece of tape over your mouth can seem like a much easier fix, especially if you’re desperate to improve your sleep and the quality of your relationships, Wellman says.
“I tell my patients, if they want to try it and it makes them sleep better, then go for it. And if not, don’t worry about it.”