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How Your Sleep Position Can Affect Sleep Apnea

There are many factors that can influence the severity of your sleep apnea. While most of the focus tends to be on other health issues, such as being overweight, using alcohol or sedatives, or having medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, these are far from the only risk factors.

For some people, the severity of their sleep apnea may be related to something as simple as the position they sleep in.

Believe it or not, how you sleep can have a significant impact on your sleep quality — and not just in making you feel sore or stiff in the morning. Your preferred sleep position can greatly influence the number of sleep apnea episodes you experience during the night. Here is a closer look at how common sleep positions can affect your condition.

Sleeping On Your Back: A Sleep Apnea Contributor

person lying on bed while covering face with pillow and holding eyeglasses

Sleeping on your back is generally considered the worst position for those with sleep apnea. Sleeping on your back makes it easier for the tongue and soft tissue to fall back into a position that blocks the airway (gravity at work). This position is also commonly associated with snoring, which rarely occurs in other sleep positions. For some people, sleeping on their back can also contribute to lower back pain.

With that being said, those who have acid reflux are often advised to sleep on their back to better manage that condition. In this case, the best compromise is to sleep with your head elevated. This is best achieved by sleeping in a recliner or an adjustable bed. This way, the head is elevated in a way that minimizes gravity’s impact on your airways.

Stomach Sleeping: Not Recommended

While sleeping on your stomach seems to be better for sleep apnea, it is still not the most advisable sleep position. On the positive side, sleeping on your stomach means that gravity will pull your tongue and soft tissues down and away from your airways, making them unlikely to block your breathing during the night.

However, sleeping on your stomach can be hard on your breathing for other reasons. Generally speaking, you will need to sleep with your head tilted to one side to breathe comfortably. Otherwise, your breathing is going to be blocked by your mattress or pillow. This can easily lead to neck pain. Because of this, those who sleep on their stomach are typically advised to use either a thin pillow or no pillow at all.

Side Sleeping: Your Best Option

Photo of Sleeping Man

For those who struggle with sleep apnea, sleeping on your right or left side is considered the best option for a good night’s rest. This includes sleeping in the fetal position, where your knees are slightly bent toward your chest. Sleeping on the side keeps the airways from collapsing, without the potential discomforts of stomach sleeping.

Interestingly, research shows that side sleeping does more than reduce your risk for sleep apnea. It can also help the brain clear toxins that contribute to Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions. Side sleeping can also reduce back pain by helping the spine and neck stay properly aligned during sleep. Sleeping on the left side is also believed to aid in digestive health.

The good news is that side sleeping is the most popular option — in fact, an estimated 40 percent of people prefer to curl up in the fetal position. Despite this, sleeping on your side can put extra strain on the neck, hips, and knees. To alleviate this, you should use a firm pillow that provides plenty of neck support. Some people also benefit from placing an additional pillow between their knees.

What’s Your Preferred Sleep Position?

While most of us know what position (or positions) feel most comfortable when we first get into bed, the reality is that most people will change their sleep position throughout the night. Someone who went to sleep on their side could very easily end up on their back later on, greatly increasing the severity of their sleep apnea.

If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, scheduling a sleep study can be a great way to determine if your sleep position or other factors are contributing to your condition. During this overnight study, specialists evaluate your breathing rate, heart rate, brain activity, and more to make a diagnosis and offer recommendations.

In some cases, your sleep apnea could be almost entirely positional — simply sleeping on your side instead of your back could be enough to eliminate the breathing interruptions. For others, however, the condition may be so severe that only a CPAP or BiPAP machine will be sufficient to address it.

Regardless, understanding what contributes to your sleep apnea — and taking steps to address it — will make a significant difference in your ability to get quality sleep.

Sleep Better With Help From No Insurance Medical Supplies

Regardless of your preferred sleep position, finding ways to manage your obstructive sleep apnea is essential for getting the rest you need. For some, this means changing their sleep position, while others will rely entirely on CPAP therapy.

Here at No Insurance Medical Supplies, you’ll find a wide range of CPAP machines and other devices to help you manage your condition — including the Philips Respironics NightBalance - Sleep Position Therapy device, which provides mask-free treatment by helping you stay off your back during sleep.

Many of these products are available at significant discounts off MSRP, and financing is available to make them even more affordable. Relief from sleep apnea is possible, allowing you to sleep comfortably and get the rest you need.


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