Struggling with nose breathing tolerance during sleep, activity, and exercise? The problem might be your tongue. Tongue strength and range of motion are needed for proper development of your face and jaw – which is a big part of good breathing.
You Might be Struggling
… and not even know it.
We tend to be poor judges of our own mouth or nose breathing status. Most of us breathe through our mouths more than we realize.
There are many potential obstacles to nasal breathing:
- Habit – we simply breathe through our mouth because that’s what we’ve always done.
- Belief – we’ve been taught mouth breathing is better for activity and exercise.
- Restriction – we can feel that we can’t get enough air through your nostrils. This could be caused by a deviated septum or broken nose.
- Difficulty – Nasal breathing feels too hard and gets in the way of activity or performance.
FACT: We experience 40% less resistance when mouth breathing as opposed to nose breathing. It does feel easier. But there is a cost…
The Problem with Mouth Breathing
Chronic mouth breathing changes your face development, posture, and sleep. When you breathe through your mouth, the tongue drops to a low position in the mouth, and your head drifts forward. This creates poor posture habits and blocks your airway. Overtime, this pattern disrupts sleep.  
Mouth breathing confuses the nervous system. Mouth breathing perpetuates our sympathetic nervous system – fight or flight response – which is also accompanied by a chest breathing pattern and fast breath rate. By mimicking our normal fight or flight response, our central nervous system prevents our parasympathetic system from turning on – which typically helps us rest, digest and feel better.
Mouth breathing creates a blood chemical imbalance. Mouth breathing creates over breathing, and leads to hypocapnia – low CO2 levels – a shift in our blood’s pH, and micro damage to your organs, tissues, and brain.
In short, mouth breathing drops the ceiling on performance… whether in work, play, rest, or athletic endeavor.
Better tongue strength and range of motion leads to more peaceful, efficient, and effective breathing, improved sleep quality and a more relaxed state of the masticatory/jaw system. 
Check these two markers:
- Strength: Produce a crisp and loud “tongue pop or cluck”. Simply place the tongue on the roof of your mouth and then make a pop or cluck noise. This should be a strong, crisp, loud pop and stay consistent for 10 repetitions.
- Range of Motion: The greatest indicator of adequate tongue ROM is the ability to open your mouth with your tongue on the roof of your mouth and not drop your total ROM greater than 50%. For example, if you open your mouth with your tongue down and it is 40mm, but with your tongue up it is only 20mm, that is a 50% reduction in ROM and indicates a tongue tie or restriction.
Learn more with a FREE 30 minute consultation.
How Nick Got it Right
Nick is a self-proclaimed high-strung guy – aware of his own mouth breathing and upper chest breathing tendency. He believes his high stress job has left him with head and jaw pain along with poor sleep.
Assessment revealed low baseline CO2 and poor recovery from guided over breathing (Measured with capnography). While his tongue range of motion was good, his actual tongue strength was very weak.
With a few changes, Nick reduced his perceived stress level by 50%! He also reported sleeping much better and transitioned to nasal breathing 90% of the time during the day and 100% at night.
Nick’s simple effective changes:
- Progressive tongue strengthening (myofunctional retraining)
- night taping
- nasal breathing practice
- tongue (& whole-body) postural correction
- general hourly awareness of his exhale
As it turns out, learning to strengthen and rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth allows the masticatory muscles to relax and nasal passages to open. This affects your overall breathing and all the positive benefits that go along with it.
Learn more with a FREE 30 minute consultation.
- Most people mouth breathe more than is healthy for good breathing. Keep working to increase your nose breathing tolerance.
- Practice tongue strength by clicking the tongue on the roof of your mouth until you can do 10 or more crisp clicks without hesitation.
- Check your tongue range of motion to ensure you’re not going below 50%.
About the author, Kelly Reed, PT
BYT Coach and Trainer. Kelly is an orthopedic physical therapist with 30+ years of experience. Grounded in breathing practices she has specialty in the temporomandibular region and most recently completed study in the arena of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy.
Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy (OMT) optimizes chewing, swallowing, and breathing with the common thread being the tongue. OMT crosses science and many realms of medicine touching upon dentistry, speech pathology, feeding, growth and development of the child, sleep medicine and psychology. OMT also impacts the relationship between poor oxygenation and cognition. 
 Guilleminault, C. and Y.S. Huang, From oral facial dysfunction to dysmorphism and the onset of pediatric OSA. Sleep Med Rev, 2018. 40: p. 203-214.
 Boyd, K., et al., Myofunctional therapy. Part 1: Culture, industrialisation and the shrinking human face. Eur J Paediatr Dent, 2021. 22(1): p. 80-81.
 Guilleminault, C., Clinical Aspects of OMD’s and OSA. 2014.
 Academy of Orofacial Therapy Manual 2022.