Over the past few months, we have extensively explored the profound influence of sleep on our overall well-being, including its impact on certain ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, weight loss, and memory. Today, we aim to shed light on another frequently overlooked habit that can have a substantial negative impact on your health: breathing through the mouth while sleeping. Many individuals may unconsciously engage in mouth breathing while asleep. Although it may initially appear harmless, this seemingly innocuous habit can actually pose significant risks to your well-being.
Before delving into the health risks associated with mouth breathing during sleep, let's first understand why it occurs. "Mouth breathing during sleep can occur for several reasons, including nasal congestion, anatomical abnormalities, and sleep disorders. Nasal congestion caused by allergies, colds, or sinusitis can make it difficult to breathe through the nose, prompting individuals to resort to mouth breathing during sleep," Dr Rajneesh Srivastava, Consultant Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Medanta, Lucknow said.
He added that anatomical abnormalities such as narrow nasal passages or a deviated septum can impede proper airflow through the nose, leading to mouth breathing as a compensatory mechanism. "Additionally, individuals with sleep disorders like sleep apnea, characterised by airway blockages or collapses during sleep, may switch to mouth breathing to overcome the obstruction and maintain adequate oxygen intake," Dr Srivastava said.
Agreeing, Dr Sowjanya, Senior Pulmonologist, Kamineni Hospitals, Hyderabad said that the primary causes of mouth breathing during sleep can be attributed to two major factors. "The first is a potential problem or blockage in your nasal airway, such as a deviated septum or congestion. The second cause is solely attributed to poor habits."
Mouth breathing can be particularly harmful for children (Source: Getty Images)
While breathing through your nose offers various benefits to your brain, hormones, and even your mood, breathing through your mouth can have several adverse impacts on your health, experts said.
"Children who engage in mouth breathing may develop facial abnormalities, crooked teeth, and experience overall growth issues," Dr Sowjanya said, adding that an increased oral bacteria can lead to bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease.
Dr Srivastava concurred by saying that chronic mouth breathing in children can be caused by adenoid or tonsillar enlargement, causing obstruction of nasal airflow. "Chronic mouth breathing during sleep can potentially lead to long-term facial and dental changes, including a higher arched palate, crowded teeth, and an elongated face," he said.
These impacts were corroborated by a 2018 study, titled Sleep-disordered breathing and oral health in children, which found that children with sleep-disordered breathing had a higher prevalence of oral health problems, such as dental caries and gingivitis, indicating a potential association between mouth breathing during sleep and oral health issues.
But, this isn't all! Dr Ravi Chandra M R K, Consultant Pulmonology, Internal Medicine, Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center (Narayana Health City, Bangalore) added that mouth breathing during sleep can also lead to dry mouth and throat, leading to discomfort and dental problems. "Mouth breathing bypasses the nose's natural filtration and humidification processes, resulting in reduced oxygen intake, poor sleep quality, and increased vulnerability to respiratory infections," he said.
Further, according to Cleveland Clinic, people who breathe through their mouth and not their nose are more likely to develop sleep disorders, including sleep apnea.
This leads to us to our next question - how to control mouth breathing? Experts shared the following tips:
*You can train yourself to breathe through your nose by simply keeping your lips together.
*Pressing your tongue against your palate can also help maintain proper mouth posture more consistently.
*By performing oropharyngeal exercises, you can strengthen your tongue, which helps keep your airway open.
*Clearing nasal passages using saline sprays or rinses can alleviate congestion and promote nasal breathing.
*Maintaining proper sleep posture, such as sleeping on the side can help discourage mouth breathing.
*If symptoms persist, it is important to get evaluated, especially in children as early diagnosis may prevent irreversible changes in the airways.
(Next in the series: This rare condition can prevent a person from choosing when to wake or sleep)