In dental surgery, I see many signs and reasons for snoring. As a professional, the direct evidence of open mouth sleep can actually be found with a quick dental exam. The noticeable signs for patients are often different, they often describe tiredness and low energy, as well as, restless sleep.
As I explore here, snoring is actually more dangerous than many people realize:
Snoring has a close link to sleep apnea symptoms. There are some warning signs that your dentist will identify about snoring. They may link to a sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea.
Dental sleep apnea symptoms can include:
Sleeping with mouth open
Small, narrow jawbone crooked teeth and high palate
Jaw pain or temporomandibular dysfunction (TMJ)
Increased teeth sensitivity or tooth aches
Unexplained oro-facial pain
Progressive gum disease
Reflux or GERD
If you add snoring to any of these conditions, you should see your dentist, GP, or sleep physician to get a sleep test.
Lack of oxygen and causes of snoring
Not ALL snoring is harmful. So when is snoring normal and does snoring cause lack of oxygen and sleep disorders?
Studies suggest that 60% of men and 40% of women snore when they reach their 60s. 35% of people who snore have obstructive sleep apnea. The primary sleep apnea symptoms are pauses in breathing during sleep. They’re related to snoring and lack of oxygen to the brain during sleep.
The reasons for snoring stem from the relaxation of throat muscles when you sleep. Less airway volume can mean that the relaxed throat vibrates when you breathe. It’s the universal cause of snoring (harmful or normal).
Not all snoring is sleep apnea. Breathing noise or ‘snoring’ can be normal.
But sleeping with mouth open and pauses in breathing may or show sleep disorders. If you sleep on your back, your tongue falls into your airway.
If pauses reach a duration of 10 seconds, it’s called an ‘apnea.’ That’s where the term sleep apnea comes from, and it’s different to the normal causes of snoring.
Is sleeping with mouth open normal?
For optimal breathing, we should be breathing through our nose. Sleep apnea is your body experiencing breathing dysfunction during sleep.
Nasal breathing prevents oxygen deprivation. Nitric oxide is produced in the nasal sinuses. It acts to increase blood flow and deliver oxygen to the lungs. Air is also warmed and moistened in the nasal sinuses. When you breathe through your mouth, you provide cold, dry air that may cause lack of oxygen.
The tongue is one of the main factors in snoring and sleeping with mouth open. It can also reveal sleep apnea symptoms.
Your tongue both contains and connects to the largest group of muscles in the body.
It sits like a sling in your lower jaw bone. But the muscles of the tongue support the airways with connections to the jaws, neck, and base of the skull. It attaches to the hyoid bone (which is a floating bone that supports your airway).
When you go to sleep, the primary muscles of your tongue and your throat relax. They are paralyzed during the deep (REM) cycle of sleep. Only your eyes and diaphragm remain ‘awake’ during this period of sleep.
For you to keep your airway open, support muscles for the throat must hold firm.
The normal posture of the tongue is to sit against the top of your mouth. This position turns on the muscles that support the throat and airways.
Sleeping with mouth open is a sign your tongue is not supporting your airway. The tongue can then fall back into the airway, blocking normal breathing.
Mouth breathing can also cause lack of oxygen and sleep apnea.
Tongue exercises to stop sleeping with mouth open
One way to prevent snoring and sleep better is daytime breathing and tongue habits. Daytime mouth breathing fails to turn on your throat muscles. These are the muscles that hold the airway open at night.
Strengthening the muscles in your tongue can improve snoring and sleep apnea symptoms.
To strengthen your tongue, complete these exercises twice per day. They will help to hold your tongue at the top of your mouth at rest. It will teach these muscles to keep the airway open at night.
In each of these exercises, the base of your tongue and sides should feel tired. It’s a sign you’re exercising the right areas.
To prevent snoring:
In bed prop yourself on your side to prevent your tongue falling backward. The goal is to avoid sleeping with mouth open.
Tongue exercises to improve snoring:
1) Hold your tongue behind the back of your front two teeth. The spot is just in front of two rough lines on your palate. Press with upward force and hold for 3 minutes. Complete twice daily.
2) Tap tongue behind back teeth to this same point making ‘tut tut noise.’ Complete 20 times and repeat five times per day.
3) Move tongue backward against the palate, from the spot behind your front teeth. Push against the top of the palate and move towards the back of the mouth as far as it will go. Repeat ten times, twice a day.
4) Hold a spoon at the top of your mouth, or you can also use a paddle pop stick. With force, hold for 2 minutes and repeat two times per day.
Have you tried these exercises yet? Did they improve snoring in yourself or a loved one? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.
For more information on Dr. Lin’s clinical protocol that highlights the steps parents can take to prevent dental problems in their children: Click here.
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Thank you for your instructions for tongue exercises. I will put them to the test as I have problems with my mouth being open at night. I do sometimes notice my breathing is irregular, causing sounds of perhaps snoring. I came across information to use gauze tape to keep my mouth closed at night. This seems to so much help my sleeping be more restful and normal. I try to remember to sleep on my side because of the tongue interfering with normal breathing. Thanks again for the exercise tips to help the tongue muscles. Nancy
Mike Brown says
I am 81 years old and sometimes sleep with mouth open and awaken with a mouth so dry it feels like it will crack. That happens about once a week. I have had throat cancer twice, cured 3 years apart, once with chemo and radiation, the second time 3 years ago with laser surgery. I also find myself breathing with my mouth open while awake! My nasal passages are clear. I have become more conscious of that after reading your article. Even so my mouth gets dry after a few minutes of concentrating on keeping it closed. My post treatment instructions warned me about a condition called dry mouth. Using Biotene as suggested by the oncologist relieves the dryness but I still find my mouth open occasionally even when awake and sitting up or sleeping on my side. My wife says I don’t snore, but “rattle.” I have not discussed this with a sleep physician YET, but that is my next appointment.
I have decided to try making some significant lifestyle changes to address my snoring and poor sleep patterns and will try the exercises you suggested. This is my first night of trying these, and will update in appropriate time any changes I experience.
Vivian Lopez says
The post is very useful, I learned a lot from it. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you so much for your kind words! We’re glad that this helped.
Stop Snoring Mouthpiece says
You have some audacity to speak against the order. This post is entertaining and also motivates people to speak against the ills. The writer has not left any nook or corner to explore while writing. I would sincerely express my thanks to the writer for bringing something to the online world which is completely new.
Emma Hartson says
It was informative when you said that 35% person od people who snore have obstructive sleep apnea and that they are related to a lack of oxygen in the brain during sleep. This sounds really dangerous, it might be a good idea to take my hubby to the professional to be checked out. He never snores before, and aside from this, since he started snoring, his health also declined. He probably needs a treatment plan.
Thanks for addressing the subject. But after a few weeks trying these exercises I am still breathing through my mouth. My childhood orthodontist said it is caused by my having a pinch, something about the shape of my face; I have always been a mouth breather, sleeping in fits and waking to disgusting breath. Do you have any other advice for those with a pinch?
Joan Riches says
I am 82 years old and live alone. Most mornings my throat feels dry when I wake up. I have full dentures which I take out at night. Would it help to leave them in?
Thank you for the tongue exercises. They certainly make my tongue feel tired.