• Clare Backhouse

Mood, Energy and Mouth-Taping

Yes, this really is about sealing your mouth up with tape. At night!

Let me explain...

One of the things I love about nutritional therapy is the way diet modifications can effectively support mood and energy.

But my work also includes what’s called ‘lifestyle medicine’ - that is, practical habits which have the potential to heal.

Here we’re going to look at how mouth-taping may help to reduce anxiety and fatigue.

Recently, I have been rather out of action, with two parents in two different hospitals requiring simultaneous support. It has also been a stressful time. For me, stress symptoms include grinding my teeth at night. What’s irritating about this, is that I wake up extra tired, with a sore jaw. Which doesn’t help with mood either.

Once, I wore a mouth guard to prevent myself from tooth-grinding. But as it wore away I became uneasy at the thought of chewing on plastic (including BPA free plastic) for 7-8 hours every night.

It was then I discovered that one of the physical reasons for teeth grinding – even when one isn’t particularly stressed – can be that one's airways are inhibited, and one begins to breathe through the mouth instead of the nose.

As yoga enthusiasts will know, nose-breathing ensures a better supply of oxygen to the whole body. This is because it mixes air with nitric oxide, which then significantly increases the absorption of oxygen in the lungs. (Jefferson, 2010).

Australian dentist Steven Lin has recently published a book on the links between diet, dentistry and general health, which addresses the wide range of problems connected with mouth-breathing.

Lin points out that reduced oxygen absorption means that there is less oxygen available for the brain, posing a risk for disorders such as Alzheimers. (For what it’s worth, I noticed that in my father’s hospital ward of confused elderly men, they were all mouth-breathers.)

Mouth-breathing can also cause a sense of anxiety or fatigue in the morning, because it has signalled a state of ‘fight or flight’ to the body throughout the night. We breathe through our mouths when under stress, or taking heavy exercise. And the way we breathe tells our nervous system how we are. Since mouth-breathing indicates ‘fight or flight’, or sympathetic mode, it can inhibit deep rest.

As some of my clients have heard me explain, it is crucial to shift into parasympathetic, or ‘rest and digest’ mode regularly, and particularly at night, in order to support relaxation and trigger successful digestive processes.

To breathe steadily through the nose throughout the night, is therefore to supply one’s whole body with sufficient oxygen, and signal to the nervous system that it is time to rest, promoting better digestion and deeper sleep. All of which support better energy and mood by the morning.

For all these reasons, I finally experimented with mouth taping. (Wearing a mouth guard was already unromantic enough; surgical tape was a mere side-step!) And I discovered that merely breathing consistently through my nose at night is enough to prevent most teeth grinding.

As well as grinding my teeth less, I felt more rested when I woke, and tended to breathe better and feel calmer during the day.

If you would like to experiment, here's a way to try:

Mouth taping steps*

*NB I've edited these steps, after discovering how little tape you actually need

1. allow the tongue to rest on the roof of your mouth with your lips closed.

2. check you’re breathing through your nose and into your diaphragm (not the chest)

3. take some surgical tape, eg 3M tape, about the length of your little finger or less

4. place it vertically over your upper lip, lips and chin

5. think of this as just reminding your lips to stay closed, not sealing them shut

6. breathe through your nose all night

7. in the morning, wash off the tape with warm water

I would love to hear how your experiments go!

And lastly, I should mention that sleep problems can often arise through food intolerances or other dietary factors. For me, chronic insomnia only cleared up after I stopped eating gluten, but it can be different for everyone. So do get in touch if you'd like to see if food and lifestyle approaches could support your mood and energy.

To your best of health, and deepest of sleeps,