How to Stop Mouth Breathing with a CPAP

The Mouth Breather’s Guide to CPAP 

Mouth breathing is a common sign of sleep apnea. Whether you’re newly diagnosed with sleep apnea or a seasoned veteran of CPAP treatment, mouth breathing during sleep can pose many problems. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the common issues experienced by people with sleep apnea.

There are many reasons why people breathe through their mouths. Anatomical makeup is one cause. A lack of muscle tone causes the jaw to drop open during sleep, resulting in narrowing or even blocking the airway - triggering a sleep apnea episode. As oxygen levels drop, the brain sends out a mayday signal to breathe, often resulting in a loud snore or an instinctive - and quite distinctive - gasp for air, which can happen multiple times per night, disrupting sleep. Others may suffer from chronic nasal congestion due to allergies or anomalies in the nasal passage, resulting in mouth breathing to take in enough air. Most people diagnosed with sleep apnea are habitual mouth breathers; sleeping with their mouths open to fulfill the need for oxygen. Happily, CPAP treatment can help mouth breathers retrain and reset, so they’re breathing fully, deeply, and freely during sleep.

How to Stop Mouth Breathing With CPAP

Since mouth breathing is so common in newly diagnosed sleep apnea patients, it’s important to retrain the brain and body to breathe through the nose, especially during sleep. For people with sleep apnea, constant air pressure is required to keep airways fully open, which is the purpose of a CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device. Mouth breathing during sleep can also lead to dry mouth and scratchy or sore throats, so it’s not ideal. That’s why choosing the right type of CPAP mask is so critical for those undergoing treatment for sleep apnea.

The Best CPAP Masks for Mouth Breathers

When first undertaking CPAP therapy for sleep apnea, most sleep specialists recommend a full face mask. Leaving the mouth uncovered while connected to the CPAP device can reduce the effectiveness of treatment, as sleeping with an open mouth reduces the air pressure required to keep airways clear and oxygen flowing to the lungs. Most patients who began mouth breathing during the night do it to compensate for the lack of oxygen due to sleep apnea episodes. Using a well-fitted full face CPAP mask, many mouth breathers will quickly relearn how to sleep with their mouths closed. After a few months of successful compliance with CPAP treatment, they can graduate to a less invasive nasal mask or nasal pillow mask. 

Since full face masks can be difficult to adjust to sleeping in, you may be wondering ‘can mouth breathers use nasal pillow masks’? The answer is yes, you can try this type of mask, however, most will not feel like their therapy is working. Why? Because the mouth can still open during sleep, defeating the purpose of CPAP treatment. Mild to moderately affected mouth breathers may be able to solve the open mouth problem by using a simple, inexpensive chinstrap that gently holds the jaw securely shut, promoting breathing through the nose. Others may always need to use a full face CPAP mask to get full benefits from their sleep apnea treatment. We recommend consulting your sleep therapist when choosing/fitting a CPAP mask.

What to Do If You’re a Mouth Breather

If you’re a mouth breather and you always feel tired, even after a full night’s sleep, you may be one of the millions of Americans who have undiagnosed sleep apnea or other sleep disorders. Left untreated, the chronic sleep deprivation associated with sleep disorders can lead to bigger problems. Sleep deprivation lowers productivity, negatively impacts your mood, and increases the risk of stroke and other serious health conditions. Proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment is easier than you think and could change your life for the better. Whether in person or by virtual consultation, an experienced sleep professional will evaluate your sleeping habits and determine the appropriate next steps - either a diagnostic sleep study or just some simple coaching sessions with a sleep therapist. It’s that easy!

Our Community Health Talk series addresses all sorts of topics about why sleep is so important to health, different sleep disorders, using a CPAP, and other subjects of interest. Want to know more about the care and cleaning of CPAP equipment, other common issues experienced by CPAP users, and how to fix them? Join us for an upcoming event!

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