Mouth Breathing vs Nose Breathing

Have you ever been told that your child should breathe through their nose? If this is news to you, you’re not alone. Mouth breathing is an area of concern which is rarely spoken about but should be a hot topic of conversation. And this is due to the negative impact that mouth breathing can have on the body.



To keep to the relevant field, sleep is an area which can be affected in a negative way when the body is taking air through the mouth. Do you know how important it is for the body to be breathing through the nose? You’d be surprise at just how important nasal breathing is.


When we nose breathe, a chemical messenger named nitric oxide, which is made by the nose and the sinuses, goes down into the lungs and sends a signal to the blood vessels and triggers them to open. As a result, more blood flows through them and the gas exchange between carbon dioxide and oxygen is correct. Therefore, when we breathe through our mouth, there is no nitric oxide which means there is no signal to send the blood to where it is best to be for the exchange between oxygen and carbon dioxide. When the body is nose breathing, it is nice and balanced and this is commonly referred to as homeostasis.

Once the body starts mouth breathing, or the oral posture is incorrect which compromises the breathing, the body is no longer balanced as the gas exchange is incorrect. The body will over-breathe as a result but the oxygen will be absorbed less. In the instance of sleep, when the body is asleep, the brain will remain on high alert because ‘oxygen levels are low’. This is what can lead to ‘sleep disordered breathing’.

Mouth breathing is a precursor for sleep disordered breathing (SDB), which is an umbrella term for a range of breathing disorders whilst asleep and essentially means lower levels of oxygen than ideally required. SDB is a medical concern, and is a leading cause of sleep difficulty however, your child does not have to be mouth-breathing to suffer from sleep disordered breathing.


Sleep disordered breathing can present in many ways, whether your child is mouth-breathing frequently or occasionally, even if they are not mouth breathing at all but their oral posture is incorrect, or whether their lips are only slightly parted or open wide.


Any of the fields on the above spectrum will indicate sleep disordered breathing and to truly resolve this, we need to understand the real trigger here.


Some symptoms associated with Sleep Disordered Breathing Symptoms are listed below and are not exhaustive:

  • Loud or audible breathing

  • Snoring

  • Has mouth open (open mouth posture)

  • Coughing or spluttering in sleep

  • Brief pauses in breathing when asleep

  • Restless sleep

  • Frequent night waking

  • Sleep resistance (difficulty falling asleep)

  • Short sleep patterns

  • Parasomnias (sleep walking, talking, night terrors etc)

  • Sweating heavily during sleep


The impact that mouth breathing has on sleep is that when the brain recognises the lower levels of oxygen, it will trigger a range of responses from the body. SDB also affects the sleep quality as the brain remains on ‘look-out’ to keep itself safe during these times of low oxygen.


Since mouth breathing can certainly lead to sleep disordered breathing, it is super important that we reverse the oral posture and ensure that the tongue is in the roof of the mouth, and the lips are sealed therefore resulting in a closed-mouth posture. Whilst I do not assess exactly how your child is breathing, I am able to assess your child for risk factors and presenting symptoms. You will most likely need a health care professional to formally assess and manage your child’s oral posture and create a personalised approach to work towards adequate nasal breathing and after a one on one consultation, I will be able to recommend you on to the most appropriate professional for you to obtain a formal assessment.


This is a field of speciality for me and I have training and knowledge in the area. If your child is mouth breathing, and you would like some further help to navigate this, then please book in for a 15 minute discovery call and mention that your child is mouth breathing - www.shereennielsen.com/service-page/discovery-call


Forever bringing sleep to families,


Shereen xx


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