My mom bought me the book Breath by James Nestor after I earned my breathwork facilitator certification. It sat on my car passenger seat for a couple months while I wrapped up other books and projects, wary to take on something else. One day while sitting in the lobby of a carwash, I decided to dive in, and haven’t looked back since. I’m not even halfway through this non-fiction, research-driven exploration of humanity, and I’ve already learned more than I did in college.
Somewhere in the beginning of the book, Nestor discusses why and how humans evolved from having perfectly straight teeth to needing pallet expanders, braces, and more. It brought me back to the fact that my parents never made me get braces. My brother did, but I didn’t. And yes, my teeth are passable, but there is a significant amount of crowding that has led to several health issues.
Around the age of 18, I talked to my dentist about my options. He explained in order to have a Crest commercial smile, he’d have to remove eight teeth total: four wisdom teeth and four molars. What the hell? That seemed extreme. So, I had my wisdom teeth removed and then went with Invisalign — I didn’t expect perfection, just something better than what I was born with. Soon after completing my trays, I moved to Maui to live on a farm for a month and threw all common sense to the wayside. My retainer was one of those ‘common sense societal constraints’ I couldn’t be bothered with. Well, as soon as possible, my stubborn teeth went right back to their starting position.
Sorry mom and dad, I’ll pay you back someday.
Nestor talks about how he had a similar predicament in his youth. His pallet, which on a ‘normal’ person expands side to side, rose vertically instead. I ran my tongue around the roof of my mouth. Yup, same here! But lucky for Nestor, his parents made sure all eight of his teeth were removed in preparation for braces and other decorative headpieces.
However, he still struggled with breathing and other health issues stemming from the space beneath the face. But like all seemingly unfortunate circumstances, they’re a blessing in disguise.
Nestor’s ailments led him to a breathwork class, recommended by a physician. His initial skepticism stayed with him for the first 20 minutes. It was around that time he passed out, only to be woken up by the teacher in a pool of his own sweat. He recalled a euphoric feeling for several days after, which prompted his quest to discover what happened to his mind and body in that creaky wooden warehouse. That’s when the idea for Breath came to life.
SIDE NOTE: I recommend reading Breath if you’re interested in the connection between our evolution, crooked teeth, breathing issues, and the deteriorating health of the human race (and how to fight back). For this blog, I’m focusing on why I related to Nestor from the jump, and the specific benefits of mouth taping.
Mouth Breathing = Malnutrition
So far, Breath consists of interviews with medical professionals and experiments where Nestor plays guinea pig. The most shocking studies so far involve the dangers of mouth breathing. According to Dr. Mark Burhenne, DDS — who has studied the links between mouth breathing and sleep for years — mouth breathing can cause snoring and sleep apnea. It also contributes to periodontal disease, bad breath, and is the number one cause of cavities.
For optimum health and wellness, nose breathing beats out mouth breathing hands down. Nose breathing causes the sinuses to release nitric oxide, which helps the body and mind maintain healthy immune function, mood, weight, sexual abilities, and circulation. On the other hand, mouth breathing through the night blocks this essential molecule.
To further prove how mouth breathing handicaps human function, Nestor had his nasal cavity obstructed for a week and a half by Dr. Jayakar Nayak of Stanford’s Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery Center. During that time, Nestor could only breathe out of his mouth. Halfway into the experiment, Nestor’s blood pressure spiked to stage 1 hypertension, his body was in a state of stress, his pulse increased, body temperature decreased, and mental clarity disintegrated. These statistics steadily worsened for Nestor and the other participant.
What really intrigued me was the correlation Nestor brought to light between mouth breathing and ADHD. I’ve struggled with ADHD for as long as I can remember, and even though I don’t snore (often), I sleep with my mouth open. My parents have said they’ve peeked in my room while I was sleeping to find me on my back, mouth breathing. My partner confirms this.
Before reading Breath, I was already on a quest to find natural remedies that ignite focus. These include running anxious energy into the ground, meditating to calm overthinking, or waking up at 4:30am, long before distractions take flight. However, when it comes to tasks I have an aversion to, nothing works quite like Adderall, or a fast-approaching deadline. So, I surrender.
How does mouth breathing cause ADHD?
During Nestor’s monitored self-experimentation, he could attest to the fact that mouth breathing inhibits the production of brain cells. This was originally discovered in a Japanese study [on humans] from 2013. The same trial found that mouth breathing disturbs the flow of oxygen to the area of the brain associated with ADHD: the prefrontal cortex.
So, what does Dr. Burhenne — the Silicon Valley dentist mentioned earlier — recommend?
Mouth taping before bed.
In the book Breath, Dr. Burhenne recalls how mouth taping helped his five year old patient conquer ADHD; a learning disability directly correlated with bedtime breathing issues.
Nestor remained skeptical until Ann Kearney, a doctor of speech and language pathology at the Stanford Voice and Swallowing Center, not only condoned mouth taping, but practices it herself.
Due to mouth breathing, Dr. Kearney’s nose had atrophied, worsening her congestion issues. Mouth taping forced her to breathe through her nose at night, strengthening her nasal cavity, which naturally healed her nose obstruction.
“Use it or lose,” Dr. Keaney stated during her interview in Breath.
My experience with mouth taping
The night after discovering mouth taping, I decided to give it a shot. I found clear Scotch tape to be tolerable enough for this new venture. To my surprise, I kept it on the whole night — but don’t be bummed if you end up ripping it off. Dr. Kearney said she ripped hers off the first night after five minutes, and that it took several weeks to fully adjust.
After about a week of mouth taping, I’ve noticed significant changes in my WHOOP app. WHOOP monitors my sleep through a variety of metrics, all gathered from my heart rate. The major changes I’ve noticed since mouth taping include improved respiratory rate and a notable decrease in sleep disturbances (from 11 a night to about four). On top of that, I’ve been working on a blog post that requires considerable research since 6 am, and I’m not getting paid to do it (yet). I can’t deny feeling more focused and capabale than usual. Of course, it’s still quite early in my self-experimentation, but I am remaining hopeful!
Great, so how do I mouth tape?
Well, you can do what I did and grab some clear Scotch tape. Or, you can test out other brands. Nestor said he uses a square sticker from 3M for his nightly mouth taping. Since taking on this bedtime ritual himself, Nestor said his snoring decreased from four hours to 10 minutes. Over time, his sleep apnea disappeared, and he stopped waking up in the middle of the night to pee. This is because nose breathing prompts the pituitary gland to release vasopressin, which allows you to sleep soundly — without bladder interruption. I’m not going to lie, I am an avid night-peer, and the mouth taping hasn’t changed that. Yet. I remain positive.
Mouth breathing during breathwork
Ironically, the breathwork I teach requires mouth breathing, but only for short periods of time with a controlled pattern. Therefore, it is not dangerous and still provides benefits such as stress, anxiety, and depression management, decrease in blood pressure, and diaphragm strengthening. Plus, Nestor’s Breath journey began with a breathwork class, and the unexplained relief and euphoria he experienced after.
To bring this full circle, breathing is a powerful tool that can make or break our health. Before adding another pill bottle to your medicine cabinet, I encourage you to look at how you’re breathing.
You already have so much power inside of you, don’t give it away before looking at what the magnificent human body has to offer.