Attention All Mouth Breathers – 5 Important Reasons Why You Must Breathe Through Your Nose

If you’re a chronic mouth breather because of a stuffy nose, you’re not alone. As the weather chills and allergies and colds abound, and nasal congestion becomes a common trend, mouth breathing inevitably follows-especially when you’re sleeping. I’m sure you’ve seen many passengers asleep on the subways and trains, head and pitched back, mouth wide open, and snoring louder than a diesel engine. Mouth breathing can surely ruin your social image, but that’s nothing compared to the havoc it can wreak on your health.


5 Potent Benefits of Breathing through Your nose

One of the most important reasons to breathe through your nose is because of a gas called nitric oxide that’s made by your nose and sinus mucous membranes. This gas is produced in small amounts, but when inhaled into the lungs, it significantly enhances your lung’s capacity to absorb oxygen, increasing oxygen absorption in your lungs by 10-25%. Nitric oxide also can kill bacteria, viruses and other germs. This is why you often hear fitness and yoga instructors emphasize inhaling and exhaling through your nose during workouts.

Also, if you can’t breathe well through your nose, your sense of smell will suffer and therefore your sense of taste, since your smell and taste buds are connected. This can lead to disturbances in your appetite and satiation levels, wreaking havoc on those struggling with weight issues.

Your nose also has vital nervous system connections to your lungs and heart. Not breathing well through your nose can alter your heart rate and blood pressure, as well as increase your stress responses.

Your nose makes about 2 pints of mucous every day. If your nose isn’t working properly and mucous isn’t cleared, the stagnant mucous can lead to infections such as sinusitis or ear infections, not to mention bad breath.

Lastly, not breathing well through your nose can aggravate snoring or obstructive sleep apnea. Nasal congestion alone doesn’t cause obstructive sleep apnea, but it can definitely aggravate it. If your palate and tongue structures are predisposed to falling back easily due to sleeping on your back and muscle relaxation in deep sleep, then having a stuffy nose can aggravate further collapse downstream. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can lead to chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Knowing all these benefits of breathing through your nose, however, doesn’t help much if you don’t know why you’re not able to do so.  To stop mouth breathing, the first thing you must do is to figure out what’s blocking up your nose.

What Can Stop Up Your Nose

Nasal congestion is something everyone experiences now and again. Yet, if you’re trying to prevent this from happening it’s important to explore the various reasons behind why and when this occurs.

Here are five of the most common reasons for a stuffy nose:

“I Have a Deviated Septum

By definition everyone has a slightly crooked (deviated) nasal septum. There are various reasons for having a deviated septum, including trauma, but the most common reason is no reason at all. It’s just the way your nose developed. What’s more important than how deviated your septum is is what’s happening in front of an around your septum.

Wings in Your Nose 

Turbinates are wing-like structures that attach to the sidewalls of the nasal cavity, opposite the midline nasal septum. They normally smooth, warm, humidify, and filter the air that you breathe, but they also become enlarged and produce mucous when inflamed. Turbinates also swell and shrink alternating from side to side, which is a normal neurologic process called the nasal cycle.

Is It An Infection or Allergies?

If you have allergies, a cold or any kind of infection, then your turbinates will swell up, clogging your nose with lots of mucous production. Contrary to popular belief, the color of the mucous has no relation to bacterial vs. viral infections.

Flimsy Nostrils 

Once you have inflammation and swelling inside your nose, for some people, depending on the configuration of your nose, your nostrils can literally cave in as you inhale. Different noses have differently shaped nostrils with various nostril thicknesses. The more narrow your nose, the more likely your nostrils can cave in. People who undergo cosmetic rhinoplasty are more at risk years later, since narrowing the nose can weaken the support structures of the nose.

A Nervous Nose? 

Some people’s noses are extra sensitive, especially to weather changes, like temperature, humidity, and pressure changes. Certain chemicals, scents and odors can set off a reaction as well. Many people mistakenly think this reaction is an allergy, but it’s really your nasal nervous system over-reacting to the weather or to odors. One of the most common reasons is from poor quality sleep, which causes a low-grade stress response, which can heighten your senses.

It’s All Under Your Nose

A chronically stuffy nose doesn’t happen by itself. Usually it’s part of a bigger picture, where the entire upper and lower jaws are more narrow and constricted, in addition to more narrow nasal cavities. I’ve described this process in my book, Sleep Interrupted, where due to modern human’s eating soft, mushy, processed foods, our jaws are much more narrow than normal, with dental crowding. Bottle-feeding, which is another modern, Western phenomenon, is also thought to aggravate this problem.

If you have a stuffy nose, it can also aggravate soft palate and tongue collapse when in deep sleep, due to muscle relaxation. With more obstruction, more stomach juices are suctioned up into the throat and nose, causing more swelling and more nasal congestion. All this from smaller and more narrow jaws. 


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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13 thoughts on “Attention All Mouth Breathers – 5 Important Reasons Why You Must Breathe Through Your Nose

  1. another important point to consider is the crutch reflex. when we lie down, the turbinates will reflexively swell. lie on your right side, and the right side of your nose becomes congested. lie on your left side, and the left side of your nose becomes congested. lie on your back and both sides become congested. I don’t hear much about this so perhaps it is exaggerated in me, but I cannot go to sleep without using Afrin first, or I wake unable to breathe through my nose, even if I nasal breathe fine all day long. it is not caused by my residual OSA because it can happen while I’m awake, if I lie down flat.

  2. Useful article .I love it .I’ve been a regular user of Breathe Right strips for years. When I tried these, I was impressed. There was a noticeable difference between these and the other strips I’d been using (small tan). I don’t intend to go back to regular Breathe Right strips. However, I use them primarily for sleep. They’re rather wide, so if you use them in public (for workouts, etc.), you may find them to be too unsightly. Also, they say they’re one size fits all. I had no problem with the size (obviously), but I can’t speak for how they’ll fit others (they are a little longer than Breathe Rights smalls). I definitely recommend trying them.

  3. Thank you Dr. Park. I have OSA. I have had chemical sensitivities for years, some days they are worse than others. Thank you for explaining how poor sleep quality the night before might cause my chemical sensitivities. I do think the two correllate with me. Chemicals seem to make me sneeze more when I’m tired from lack of sleep.
    I also have mild COPD and have been heeding your advice about breathing through my nose and have good lung oxygen absorption, probably as a result of conciencious nose breathing.

  4. Thank you so much for the time you spend in educating the community it is a gift beyond words that you are so generous, thank you again.
    My husband suffered loud yawning and sleep apnea so when I heard of the Beuteko breathing method classes in town I enrolled him. His yawning stopped very quickly and his painful aching in the neck also went but it was learning to breathe through his nose that made a huge difference to his anxiety and sleeping. He now uses a paper tape over his mouth every night to make sure he breathes through his nose whilst asleep. Whenever he gets over anxious he sits down and does the Beuteko breathing to calm himself.
    Kind regards Lorrayne

  5. Wonderful service that you are providing-really like these short helpful tips. I share them with my sleep patients and a few docs. Never know if they are offended or appreciative for the short/concise message, talking about the docs, or course. I bet they do not offer something so readable and understandable as your work. If offended, then I suspect they are not open-minded to be the guy I would choose for me or my patients.
    Blessings to you and your lovely wife.

    jim hales, Grants Pass. Oregon 9-6-16

  6. I have a 17 year old down syndrome daughter whose nose stays stuffed up all yr long, tried all allergy meds.they haven’t worked.

  7. I have a chronic stuffy nose, worse at night,,I use 2 nose sprays that equal Dymista(much cheaper), Breo and occasional Benadryl. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea several years ago, it was a bad experience and hard to tolerate being a mouth breather, then new insurance wouldn’t cover anything,
    My latest is waking up with a bad sore throat and I sound like I have laryngitis, have used salt water gargle, throat sprays pain killers and nothing is helping! This has been about 6 days in a row, I also use breathright strips. I don’t sleep well and tired ALL the time,
    Any suggestions would be appreciated!
    Thank you, Nancy

  8. Very informative. My daughter struggles with mouth breathing and this article is very helpful.

  9. I generally don’t mouth breathe except in cold wet weather. I used to have chronic sinusitis, but now it is intermittent.

    I find your articles and podcasts very interesting. Your wife is a delightful cohost.

  10. Dr Park,

    Thanks for your informative articles.
    I have a question…I am 64, and had my palate expanded surgically (SARPE) 8 yrs ago, and more recently, and nasal surgery last year to repair a deviated septum, and balloon sinuplasty.
    I have tried a dental MORA, and didn’t like the feeling or shifting of teeth in the AM.

    My nose is clear throughout the day, and for about 2 hours at night. But then my nose gets stuffy, and my mouth dries so much that it wakes me. I then have problems going back to bed even after taking water or nose spray. I don’t want to bother my wife, so I sleep on the couch.

    I have used a netti pot, air ionizer, and dust-mite covers for years.

    Any thoughts?



  11. I recently consulted with an orthodontist and an ENT. They were both encouraging me to consider septoplasty and turbinate reduction. I know you’ve written and spoken about the deviated septum myth, but I’m not clear what evidence justifies the procedure.

  12. Doug,

    The point of my articles on the deviated septum myth is that although no one has a perfectly straight septum, if it’s contributing to your nasal congestion, surgery is an option. In many cases large turbinates and flimsy nostrils are also major contributors. Optimal nasal breathing the the first step. Good luck.