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How to Stop Mouth Breathing at Night? 14 Tricks to Try

Stop mouth breathing at night by treating congestion, mouth taping, and doing breathing exercises. Good sleep hygiene will boost sleep and energy even further.
Published
2023-03-22
Updated
2024-03-13
22 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
Man breathing through mouth at night while sleeping

How to Stop Mouth Breathing at Night? 

  • Stop mouth breathing at night by treating congestion, sleeping on your side or with your head elevated, mouth taping, or doing breathing exercises.
  • Good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding eating and drinking alcohol before bed, will also help.
  • The RISE app can help you build good sleep hygiene habits by telling you exactly when to do 20+ behaviors each day.

Mouth breathing at night can cause snoring, brain fog, and high blood pressure. But it’s not an easy habit to break — it happens when you’re asleep after all. 

Below, we’ll cover how to stop mouth breathing at night, what causes mouth breathing, and why mouth breathing is something you want to fix in the first place. Plus, we’ll share how the RISE app can help you get better sleep and more energy — even when mouth breathing is your only option.

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

“How you stop mouth breathing at night will all depend on what’s causing you to breathe through your mouth,” says Rise Science sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, a double board certified doctor in psychiatry and sleep medicine.

“If you’re congested, for example, try sleeping on your side or using nasal strips or a humidifier. If mouth breathing is simply a bad habit for you, try breathing exercises to get used to nasal breathing.”

How to Stop Mouth Breathing at Night?

You can stop mouth breathing at night by treating congestion, using nasal strips, mouth taping, sleeping on your side or with your head elevated, and practicing good sleep hygiene, like avoiding food and alcohol close to bedtime. 

Here are 14 treatments for nighttime mouth breathing. 

1. Treat Congestion 

When you can’t get enough oxygen through your nose, you’ll naturally breathe through your mouth. 

You might be congested due to a cold or allergies, when pregnant, or when on medications for blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, depression, and seizures. 

Try these tips to ease congestion: 

  • Try over-the-counter decongestant sprays (just be sure not to overuse them as, ironically, overuse of decongestants can lead to more congestion).
  • Use a neti pot with saline solution to flush out your nasal passages.
  • Breathe in steam from a hot shower or hold your head over a bowl of hot water. 
  • Don’t let pets sleep in your bed. 
  • Clean your sheets, pillowcase, and bedroom regularly to prevent dust from building up. 
  • Drink plenty of water to flush out congestion. 
  • Try sleeping with a humidifier to add moisture to the air. 

Want to stop congestion from ruining your sleep? We’ve covered how to sleep with a stuffy nose here, and more advice on sleeping with allergies here.

2. Use Nasal Strips or a Nasal Dilator 

Nasal strips stick to the outside of your nose and stretch open your nostrils. Nasal dilators sit inside your nostrils, pushing them open. 

Both devices widen your nasal passages, making it easier to get enough air through them.

3. Stop Eating Two to Three Hours Before Bed 

What does nighttime eating have to do with nighttime breathing? When you eat and lay down, digestive juices can flow up into your nose, ears, mouth, and sinuses, causing inflammation and congestion and making it more likely you’ll breathe through your nose. 

Avoid eating spicy foods in particular close to bedtime as these can not only cause congestion, but cause digestive issues that can disrupt your sleep. They can also trigger acid reflux, which can also cause congestion and keep you awake. 

Eating close to bedtime can also cause digestive issues that can keep you awake, and it can disrupt your circadian rhythm, or biological clock, which can cause health issues like weight gain, depression, and type 2 diabetes. 

We’ve covered more on when to stop eating before bed in more detail here. 

RISE can tell when to have your last large meal of the day to stop late eating from impacting your sleep. 

RISE app screenshot showing when to have your last large meal of the day
The RISE app can remind you when to have your final meal each day.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their avoid late meals reminder here.

4. Do Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises can help with decongestion, make nose breathing easier, and they can help you relax and drift off. 

Here’s one breathing exercise you can try to decongest your nose

  • Take a normal breath through the nose 
  • Use your fingers to pinch your nose to hold your breath 
  • Continue pinching and nod your head up and down, then side to side 
  • Hold your breath for as long as you can, until you feel the urge to breathe 
  • Let go of your nose and try to breathe through it as calmly as possible  
  • Rest for 30 to 60 seconds then repeat. Do this six times. 

We’ve covered other breathing exercises before bed here, including many that encourage nasal breathing.

And if you need a helping hand, RISE can walk you through breathing exercises like diaphragmatic breathing, which come with the added bonus of helping reduce stress and anxiety before bed.  

5. Try Breathing Re-Education 

If there’s no obvious reason you’re breathing through your mouth at night, it may be down to habit. And while tricky, habits can be broken. 

One paper states with certain exercises, “the breath can be “trained” to restore nasal breathing, improve diaphragm function, slow the respiratory rate, and increase tolerance to changes in arterial carbon dioxide (CO2) pressure.”

These exercises can help your breathing during the day and night. The paper adds: “If poor breathing patterns during wakefulness can be addressed, it is likely that this may provide a mechanism whereby sleep-disordered breathing can also benefit.”

Breathing re-education (BRE) aims to do this. It includes exercises to help you:

  • Start breathing through your nose during the day and night
  • Slow your breathing rate
  • Correct the resting position of your tongue 
  • Restore diaphragm function 

One benefit of BRE is that it treats the root cause of the problem. You train yourself to breathe through your nose, instead of relying on mouth tape or nasal dilators to make this happen.

For example, try taking deep breaths through your nose during the day to improve your nasal function and get used to breathing this way. Remind yourself to breathe nasally throughout the day by setting reminders on your phone or sticking a Post-it note to your bathroom mirror.

6. Try Mouth Taping (Cautiously!) 

If your mouth opens during the night, mouth taping can literally stop this from happening.

Mouth taping involves placing a small piece of tape over your lips to keep your mouth closed while you sleep. It could be useful for those who are able to breathe through their nose, but have a bad habit of mouth breathing. 

Some people find they only have to mouth tape for a few weeks to get used to nasal breathing. They can then breathe through their nose while sleeping without any tape at all. 

It sounds like an easy fix, but mouth taping can be dangerous, especially if you can’t get enough air through your nose. 

You can buy mouth tape that doesn’t actually cover the lips, it just surrounds the mouth and keeps the lips closed. You can also buy devices like chin straps that hold the mouth closed while you sleep. 

Seek medical advice before you try mouth taping, especially if you have asthma or sleep apnea. 

For more advice, we’ve covered mouth taping for sleep in more detail here.

7. Cut Down on Alcohol (and Avoid it Three to Four Hours Before Bed) 

Alcohol may make you feel relaxed and sleepy, but it isn’t doing your breathing — or sleep! — any favors. 

Alcohol can irritate your airways and cause congestion, making it much harder to get air in through your nose. It can also increase your odds of sleep apnea, which can cause mouth breathing.

Cut down on alcohol to see if this eases congestion. Avoiding alcohol in the run-up to bedtime will also make sure it doesn’t disrupt your sleep. 

Can’t drift off after a drink? We’ve covered why you can’t sleep after drinking alcohol here. In general, avoid alcohol three to four hours before bed. RISE can tell you when exactly to have your last alcoholic drink. 

These reminders help RISE users sleep more soundly: 

“I’m sleeping better regardless of time asleep (we all know life happens) because it’ll give me notifications about when to stop drinking coffee and alcohol, and when my ideal time to go to bed is.” Read the review

RISE app screenshot reminding you when to avoid alcohol
The RISE app can tell you when to have your final alcoholic drink each day.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their avoid late alcohol reminder here.

8. Quit Smoking 

Smoking can cause irritation and inflammation in your nasal airways, meaning you may breathe through your nose. And smoking, just like alcohol, isn’t a friend of sleep. 

Quit or at least cut down to see if it helps you reduce your mouth breathing. 

If you live with a smoker, this too can be a cause of your mouth breathing as tobacco smoke in the air can irritate your airways. 

9. Reduce Stress and Anxiety 

Stress and anxiety may trigger mouth breathing by activating the sympathetic nervous system, which controls your flight-or-fight response. Instead of slow nasal breathing, you may be breathing quickly, shallowly, and through your mouth. 

Stress and anxiety can also cut into your sleep time. RISE users say they’re the biggest barriers they face when trying to get a good night’s sleep.   

Here’s how to reduce them: 

  • Do a calming bedtime routine: Do relaxing activities in the run-up to bedtime like reading, listening to music, journaling, or doing yoga. We’ve got more bedtime routine ideas here.
  • Do a brain dump: Write down everything you have to do. Research shows writing a to-do list can help you fall asleep faster compared to other types of journaling. Write your brain dump in RISE and the app will remind you of everything you write down the next day. 
  • Do a relaxation exercise: Too stressed to sleep? Try progressive muscle relaxation, which is when you tense and relax one muscle group at a time. RISE can walk you through this relaxation technique, among others.

You can learn more about how to sleep with anxiety here.

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10. Get Checked for Sleep Apnea 

You may be mouth breathing because of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when your breathing stops temporarily during the night. It can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure, so it’s important to get tested for it if you have symptoms. 

Symptoms of sleep apnea include: 

  • Waking up gasping for breath 
  • Waking up with a dry mouth, sore throat, or headache 
  • Snoring 
  • Memory problems 
  • Breathing that stops and starts in the night (your partner might notice this one)

We’ve covered more on how to know if you have sleep apnea here.

A doctor will be able to test you for sleep apnea and recommend the best treatment options for you, like weight loss or sleeping with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. 

11. Sleep on Your Side 

The position you sleep in could make a difference to how you breathe at night. 

Sleeping on your back can make you more likely to mouth breath as you may get more congestion build-up in your nose. Back sleeping is also the worst position for sleep apnea and snoring. 

If you’re a back sleeper, try switching to sleeping on your side. If you find this difficult, experiment with body pillows to make side sleeping more comfortable, and try sleeping with a firm pillow behind you to stop you from rolling onto your back. 

Which side exactly should you choose? We’ve covered the best side to sleep on here.

12. Sleep with Your Head Elevated 

If you find side sleeping uncomfortable or impossible, sleeping on your back with your head elevated is another position that can reduce mouth breathing. 

Try using a wedge-shaped pillow to elevate your head and upper torso while you sleep. Aim for an elevation of 30 to 60 degrees. This should help to keep your mouth closed, making you breathe through your nose. 

Sleeping with your head elevated can also help to reduce snoring and improve sleep apnea. 

We’ve covered more about whether to sleep with or without a pillow and proper pillow position for sleeping here.

13. Lower Your Sleep Debt 

Sleep debt is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body. The more sleep debt you have, the more your energy, mental performance, motivation, and overall health will suffer. 

Research shows sleep deprivation can also make you less likely to do goal-driven behaviors and rely on habits instead — that’s bad news if mouth breathing is a habit for you. 

Lowering your sleep debt will help. You’ll have more energy and motivation to devote towards fixing mouth breathing — and everything else you want to do in life.

Lowering your sleep debt may help improve your nighttime breathing directly, too. One small study found when participants got only four hours of sleep a day for six days they snored more and those with sleep apnea experienced more sleep apnea episodes. 

You can lower your sleep debt by: 

  • Taking short afternoon naps: Check RISE for the best time to nap.  
  • Heading to bed a little earlier.
  • Sleeping in a little later: Keep this to an hour or so to avoid disrupting your body clock. 
  • Improving your sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene is the set of daily habits that can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often. RISE can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits. 

You can also check RISE to see how much sleep debt you have. Users say lowering it makes a huge difference to how they feel: 

“Before seeing the sleep debt numbers I didn’t understand how exhausted I really was. The biggest difference was when I finally reduced it to 0. It was a journey of several months, but I felt years younger after.” Read the review.

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can calculate your daily sleep debt.

Heads-up: Sleep debt is measured against how much sleep you personally need. RISE works this out, too, and it’s not a simple eight hours for everyone. 

For example, when we looked at how much sleep 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and older needed, it ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes. 

The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need
How much sleep RISE users need.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click view their sleep need here and view their sleep debt here.

14. Speak to a Doctor 

Not sure the reason behind your mouth breathing? Speak to your healthcare provider. They can determine what exactly is stopping you from breathing through your nose and suggest treatment options or lifestyle changes to help. 

In some cases, surgery may be needed. Nasal blockages — like excess tissue, tonsils, or adenoids — can be removed. Fixing a deviated septum may also help. 

Can You Train Yourself to Stop Mouth Breathing at Night?

Yes, you can train yourself to stop mouth breathing at night if this is simply a bad habit for you. Try breathing exercises that encourage nasal breathing, sleeping on your side or with your head elevated, mouth taping, or devices like chin straps that keep your mouth closed while you sleep. 

How to Keep Your Mouth Closed While Sleeping?

You can keep your mouth closed while sleeping by mouth taping or by using devices like a chin strap. You should only use these if you can breathe through your nose and you’re a mouth breather out of habit.

Exercises to Stop Mouth Breathing 

Exercises to stop mouth breathing include clearing nasal congestion by pinching your nose and nodding your head up and down and side to side, then continuing to hold your breath until you feel a strong urge to breathe. When you breathe, do so through your nose. Do this six times with a 30-to-60-second break in between. 

Reminding yourself to breathe nasally throughout the day will also help make this your go-to breathing method. 

How to Tell if You’re Mouth Breathing at Night?

Look out for these symptoms to tell if you’re mouth breathing at night: 

  • Dry mouth 
  • Bad breath 
  • A hoarse voice 
  • Feeling tired
  • Irritability 
  • Brain fog 
  • Snoring (ask your partner or record yourself while sleeping)

If you have trouble breathing through your mouth during the day, or catch yourself doing it despite being able to breathe through your nose, you probably breathe through your mouth at night, too. 

You can also speak to your healthcare provider who can help diagnose mouth breathing. 

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What Causes Mouth Breathing at Night?

Mouth breathing at night can be caused by nasal congestion, nasal obstructions, sleep apnea, stress, dry air, medications, or being in the habit of mouth breathing.  

But there are many reasons you might be breathing through your mouth instead of your nose. 

Common culprits include:  

  • Congestion from a cold, illness, or sinus infection 
  • Congestion from allergies  
  • Large adenoids, or lumps of tissue at the very back of your nose 
  • A deviated septum 
  • Nasal polyps, or growths in your nasal passages
  • Tumors
  • Obstructive sleep apnea, when your brain wakes you up to kick start your breathing, you may gasp for air through your mouth, promoting the habit of mouth breathing
  • Dry air 
  • Stress 
  • Pollution and poor air quality  
  • Medications (meds for high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, depression, and seizures can cause congestion as a side effect) 
  • Physical impediments, such as the mouth growing too wide, causing the nasal passages to be smaller 
  • Being in the habit of mouth breathing 

For most of us, upper airway resistance lowers as we sleep when we breathe through the nose. So, we’ll subconsciously breathe through our noses unless there’s something getting in the way. If nasal breathing is too hard, or impossible, we’ll subconsciously switch to mouth breathing to get the oxygen we need. 

Why Can’t I Breathe Through My Nose When I Sleep? 

You may not be able to breathe through your nose when you sleep due to nasal congestion, nasal obstructions, sleep apnea, stress, dry air, medications, or being in the habit of mouth breathing.  

Is it OK to Breathe Through Your Mouth While Sleeping?

It’s OK to breathe through your mouth while you're sleeping when this is the only way you can breathe, such as when you’re ill, for example. But mouth breathing can lead to health problems like infections, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, impaired brain function, and brain fog, so, if possible, you want to breathe through your nose. 

Is Mouth Breathing in Your Sleep Bad? 

Yes, mouth breathing in your sleep can be bad for your health. We’re meant to spend most of our time breathing through our noses, and disturbances to our breathing can damage our health.

Mouth breathing can lead to: 

  • Dry mouth 
  • Sore throat 
  • Bad breath 
  • Tooth decay and gum disease 
  • Throat and eye infections 
  • Snoring (not good for you or anyone you share a bed with)
  • Sleep apnea  
  • Low energy 
  • Symptoms that look like ADHD 
  • Impaired brain function, memory, and learning ability 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Lowered blood oxygen levels 
  • Increased stress response
  • Brain fog 
  • Malocclusion (misaligned teeth) 
  • Reduced lung volume, as you’re not breathing with your diaphragm as much

Mouth breathing and congestion can create a vicious cycle. When our nasal airways are congested, bacteria can thrive. This bacteria grows and can lead to infections and more congestion, and therefore more time spent mouth breathing. 

Despite all this, try not to panic about the effects of mouth breathing if it’s a temporary problem, like when you’ve got a cold. 

Here’s why else mouth breathing can be bad for your health, and why you want to fix it, if possible.

Mouth Breathing Causes and Worsens Sleep Apnea 

Sleep apnea is when you temporarily stop breathing throughout the night. It’s a serious sleep disorder that can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure — among other problems. 

You’d think breathing through your mouth would stop this from happening — it’s a bigger airway after all. But mouth breathing can actually lead to and worsen sleep apnea

Here’s how: 

  • Mouth breathing can lead to snoring, and snoring can lead to sleep apnea as it damages your airways, making them more likely to collapse. 
  • Reduced lung volume from mouth breathing makes your throat more likely to collapse and cut off your breathing. 
  • When your mouth is open, it’s easy for your tongue to fall back and block your airway.  
  • Mouth breathing decreases pressure in your airways, making soft tissue at the back of your mouth relax and fall inwards. This makes your airways smaller and breathing harder. 

It’s a vicious circle as mouth breathing makes sleep apnea worse, but sleep apnea can cause you to get into the habit of mouth breathing.  

Insomnia is also linked to poor breathing at night. A study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found many people with insomnia also have sleep apnea.

Even when you’re not mouth breathing completely, but breathing through obstructed nasal airways, you could be doing damage. Nasal obstruction has been linked to sleep-disordered breathing like snoring and sleep apnea. 

When you breathe only through your nose, and it’s unobstructed, air pushes soft tissue back, keeping your airways more open. Eventually, the tissue and muscle become more toned and stay back, meaning you can more easily breathe through your nose. Breathing through your nose regularly trains the tissues in your nasal airways to stay open. 

Mouth Breathing Makes Getting Enough Sleep Harder

Mouth breathing can cause you to wake up more often during the night, cutting into your sleep time. 

This might happen because:

  • You snore: Maybe the noise wakes you up directly or it’s your partner waking you up with an elbow to the ribs.
  • You’re awoken by a sleep apnea episode: This can happen multiple times an hour. 
  • You become a lighter sleeper: Mouth breathing lowers your arousal threshold, or how easily you’re awoken from sleep. You may be more easily awoken by a noise, light, or by poor sleep hygiene. For example, mouth breathing may make late alcohol or caffeine consumption or evening light exposure even more disruptive to your sleep. 
  • You need to use the bathroom more: Increased intra-abdominal pressure, higher secretion of atrial natriuretic peptide (a substance that balances levels of salt and water in your body), and arousals can lead to nocturnal urination. And if you pee more, you might get the urge to drink more, and need to go again. Plus, mouth breathing can cause your body to lose 40% more water — one reason you wake up with a dry mouth. This too can lead to drinking more, and needing to use the bathroom more at night. 

All these disruptions can lead to sleep debt, which can lead to low energy, trouble concentrating, irritability, and serious health conditions. Plus, sleep debt may make snoring and sleep apnea — and therefore mouth breathing — worse.

Is Mouth Breathing Bad in Children? 

Yes, mouth breathing can be bad for children’s health. It can lead to development issues in their teeth and facial growth, crooked teeth, and sleep loss, which can impact their growth, behavior (leading to a misdiagnosis of ADHD), academic performance, and overall health and well-being. 

A 2023 study found nighttime mouth breathing in kids can lead to more severe symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing, including waking up in the night, daytime sleepiness, poor performance in school, and hyperactivity. 

What are the Benefits of Nasal Breathing?

The benefits of nasal breathing include:

  • Reduced snoring 
  • Reduced sleep apnea 
  • Increased energy 
  • Reduced anxiety 
  • Reduced infections and the common cold 
  • Protecting your airways from narrowing due to exercise 
  • Reduced severity of exercise-induced asthma 
  • Reduced allergens (your nose filters, heats, and humidifies air as you inhale)
  • Improved performance for memory consolidation, memory recall, and visuospatial tasks
  • Boosted nitric oxide — nitric oxide is linked to immune system function, weight, circulation, mood, sexual function, and it may even help reduce the severity of COVID
  • Improved self-reported sleep quality

Make the Switch to Nasal Breathing at Night  

Mouth breathing comes with a whole host of potential health issues, from the small (like bad breath, dry mouth, and sore throat) to the much more serious (like sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and impaired brain function). 

But breathing through your nose at night isn’t always easy. Try treating congestion, sleeping on your side or with your head elevated, and doing breathing exercises to help. 

Beyond these quick hacks, RISE can help you lower your sleep debt and improve your sleep hygiene with 20+ daily reminders. These changes can help you make the switch to nasal breathing, and have more energy, motivation, and focus while you work on your breathing — and beyond.

Want proof? 80% of RISE users get better sleep and feel more energy within five days.

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