You might have seen a friend or a family member sleeping with their mouth open, or maybe someone has told you that you sleep that way. This might lead to questioning whether sleeping with your mouth open is normal.
People who snore during their sleep are more likely to sleep with their mouth open, and while it may look a little weird, it's not unusual to breathe through the mouth when sleeping.
Breathing through your mouth may cause some possible issues in the long run and try to be avoided if possible, which it isn’t for everyone.
In this article, we discuss why people breathe through their mouths during their sleep, the possible side effects of mouth breathing, and how the condition can be managed.
Why do people sleep with their mouth open?
Normally, people breathe through their noses, whether they're awake or they are sleeping. Humans are physiologically and anatomically designed to breathe through the nose as a way to allow oxygen to flow through the body's respiratory system.
People breathe through their mouths if there are any nasal obstructions that limit the normal flow of air.
The mouth breathing carries over even when you're sleeping, as your body continuously requires oxygen.
What causes nasal obstructions?
There are many factors that can cause an obstruction in the nasal airway. Each of them can affect nasal breathing in different ways.
One of the most common culprits is nasal congestion, which could be caused by the common cold, an allergic reaction, or a sinus inflammation.
In the case of nasal congestion, there could possibly be an excess buildup of mucus in the nasal pathways, which prevents the smooth flow of air entering through the nose.
There are also other causes of nasal obstructions such as enlarged tonsils, nasal polyps, or a deviated septum. In these cases, it is best to seek medical advice to clear out any problems.
In other cases, some people are just born with nasal obstructions. The shape of the nose and the jaw can affect how people breathe, and their nasal passage may just be shaped in a way that causes struggles.
Does it have anything to do with sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder among adults, where they experience pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep.
People living with sleep apnea often have difficulty getting as much oxygen as their body needs during their sleep. Opening their mouth during sleep is a reflex as they try to breathe in more amounts of oxygen.
What are the side effects of breathing through your mouth?
Your upper airways can end up dehydrated
Mouth breathing tends to lead to dehydration in the upper airways; this includes the mouth, the nasal cavities and the throat.
Breathing through your mouth while sleeping dries up the fluids inside your mouth and can lead to problems with your oral health.
In the case of having a dry mouth, gum disease and tooth decay are relatively common side effects that could be experienced.
Side effects of dry mouth include gum disease and tooth decay. Poor oral health caused by dehydration can also lead to bad breath or halitosis, and nobody wants that.
Problems with the jaw may develop
The mouth's natural resting position during sleep is to keep it closed, and sleeping with your mouth open places your jaw in an unusual position.
Having the mouth for a prolonged time can lead to jaw pain, teeth grinding, developing an overbite or an underbite and other problems with the jaw.
Mouth-breathing causes you to snore more
While a little snoring every now and then is normal when you sleep, chronic mouth breathing can make you snore more frequently and intensely.
Loud snoring isn't just a disturbance to the person you sleep with, it may also lead to sleeping discomforts, daytime sleepiness, and generally poor sleep quality. In studies, chronic snoring is also believed to have negative effects on a person's overall health.
How can I prevent mouth breathing at night?
There are many ways where you can reduce nasal congestion, which could prevent sleeping with your mouth open. Most of the methods just involve a few adjustments to your sleeping environment.
Ensuring that your bedroom is clean and free from dust and allergens can significantly decrease the occurrence of nasal congestion.
You may also want to take a look at your bedding. Not all materials are equal and some can trigger allergies. Bamboo is an incredible material that is naturally hypoallergenic, leaving you with a sniffle-free sleep.
Sleeping on your back with your head elevated is also another way to help breathe through your nose at night.
The elevated position allows gravity to let everything flow out of your nasal passage instead of building up inside, or flowing backward toward the throat.
Can mouth breathing be treated?
Mouth breathing is treated depending on the cause. If it's caused by a cold or an allergy, then a nasal decongestant may be prescribed to allow for better breathing through the nose.
Allergies can also be treated using antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays, but it is best to discuss with your doctor to see if this is best for you.
If the problem is anatomical in nature, a nasal dilator can be used for the nostrils to help decrease airflow resistance in the nose.
Likewise, if the mouth breathing begins to affect the jaw, a dentist may recommend the use of braces and other orthodontic approaches to address the problem.
And lastly, for people living with sleep apnea, sleep specialists may recommend sleeping with a CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) machine to ensure steady breathing during your sleep.
Sleeping with your mouth open is normal in most cases, it's just your body's natural way to get more air for you to breathe during your sleep.
But, when it begins to occur more often or starts causing issues, have a think about why you've been sleeping with your mouth open, and consider seeing a doctor if there are concerns.