Everyone has a go-to sleep position: some like staying curled up in a ball, or flat on the stomach, or splayed out on the back. It may not seem important; after all, you do move around when you sleep. Still, some positions are better than others for relieving sleep apnea and other conditions.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by a relaxation of the muscles controlling the upper airway. They flap closed at intervals during sleep, preventing sufferers from getting enough air. Loud snoring, interrupted breathing, and gasping while asleep are common symptoms. Being overweight aggravates this condition because it creates excess tissue around the throat.
Is Side Sleeping Better for Sleep Apnea?
The Sleep Better Council recommends sleeping on your side with your back as straight as possible. Sleeping on the left side, where your heart is, appears to work best for relieving sleep apnea symptoms. It optimizes the flow of blood throughout your body and reduces the chances of airway collapse.
Side sleeping has other benefits, too: It keeps the spine in alignment to reduce strain, improves insomnia, and relieves acid reflux. If you are pregnant, left-side sleeping has also been shown to improve blood flow to the fetus.
Some people have a difficult time adjusting to left-side sleeping; the Sleep Better Council offers encouragement, saying sleeping on the right side is almost as effective at relieving sleep apnea symptoms.
Stomach Sleeping and Sleep Apnea
Face-down sleeping may also help relieve OSA, thanks to gravity. This position pulls tissues in your mouth and throat forward, making airway obstruction less likely. Make sure you use a thinner pillow and position it so that your nose and mouth are not covered.
The Worst Sleep Position for Sleep Apnea
You might have guessed that sleeping on your back is not conducive to keeping airways open. It allows gravity to pull the throat’s soft tissue downward and make it more likely to collapse.
Encouraging Good Sleeping Positions
You can train yourself to sleep on your side by attaching a tennis ball to your back through a belted device or tape. It is not the most comfortable solution and takes significant adjustment time.
A better option is to work with a qualified sleep specialist and combine positional therapy with another treatment. One recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine is oral appliance therapy (OAT). This mouthguard-type device gently repositions the jaw and tongue to keep the airway open. OAT can be used with or without CPAP machines.
If you have tried positional therapy for sleep apnea and want to explore another solution, please schedule an appointment with our Sleep Apnea Treatment Glen Burnie office.