Sleep apnea, a widespread sleep disorder, is marked by interruptions in breathing and reduced airflow while one slumbers.1 These disturbances hinder individuals with sleep apnea from reaching the deep, rejuvenating sleep stages. The aftermath? A debilitating sleep shortage that affects overall health and day-to-day performance.
The role of one’s sleeping position is crucial when considering sleep apnea. While some positions enhance air circulation, others might further obstruct it. Identifying the right sleeping positions can be a game-changer, enhancing sleep quality at night and boosting daytime vitality.
There are two main types of sleep apnea – obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA).2 OSA is the more common form, affecting around 22 million Americans.
For OSA sufferers especially, sleeping position is paramount. If you’re a back sleeper, you can actually exacerbate the problem as gravity pulls down on the tongue and throat tissues, leading to airway obstruction.
A polysomnogram, an overnight sleep study, is often used to diagnose sleep apnea. This analysis tracks brain activity, oxygen levels, heart rhythm, breathing patterns, and more.4 Alternatively, some might undergo an at-home sleep assessment using a device that measures factors like oxygen saturation and snoring.4
These evaluations provide doctors a window into your nocturnal breathing patterns. The frequency of breathing pauses and the drop in oxygen levels determine the sleep apnea’s severity. Mild to moderate OSA presents 5-30 interruptions hourly, while severe cases can exceed 30.5
For many, side sleeping is the best sleeping position for alleviating both OSA and CSA symptoms. It counters the gravitational force that might otherwise cause the tongue and tissues to collapse into the airway.6
Choosing the right side can be particularly effective against OSA. Since our stomach and liver are right-oriented, resting on this side aids in pulling the diaphragm downward, enhancing airway openness.7
Though right-side sleeping takes the trophy for OSA, the left side can be a boon for acid reflux and heartburn sufferers. The esophagus enters the stomach on the right, so left-side sleeping keeps acid down through gravity.8
Left side sleeping also improves circulation and blood flow for pregnant women.9 The aorta artery that transports blood to the fetus is located left of the spine.
Is it bad to sleep on your stomach? Sleeping face down in a prone position is controversial when it comes to sleep apnea. While some find it beneficial as it prevents the airway from being blocked,10 others argue it might intensify sleep apnea symptoms. It’s also reputed to strain the spine, potentially leading to neck and shoulder pain.11
A study from 2014 discovered that sleeping in a prone position benefited individuals with OSA. Notably, 80% of participants with position-related OSA and 42% with non-positional OSA experienced a notable reduction in breathing interruptions every sleep hour.12
If you do choose to sleep on your stomach, turn your head to the side to allow room for breathing, and be sure to explore the best mattresses for stomach sleepers. You can use a thin pillow under the pelvis and abdomen to prevent hyperextending the neck.
Sleeping on the back is often considered the worst sleep position for sleep apnea. In the supine position, gravity pulls the base of the tongue and throat muscles down into the airway. This narrows breathing passageways and commonly worsens obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.
Using a very firm mattress can help keep airways open if you sleep best on your back. Avoid pillows to keep the head flat and prevent the tongue from falling into the throat. This allows for better air movement.
If using a pillow, consider a wedge pillow to elevate the head. Position the body at a 30 degree incline or higher to minimize the gravitational effects on the tongue and soft tissues.
Turn the head slightly to the side while back sleeping as well. Rotating the head left prevents structures from closing off the airway. A small pillow can help maintain the turned head position. Knowing how to sleep on your back properly is key.
Frequent position shifters can mix side and stomach sleeping to optimize breathing.
Start out on the right side to allow gravity to pull the diaphragm down and open airways. When moving to the stomach, rotate the head to the left to keep the airway clear. Use a thin pillow under the stomach if needed, and long periods on your back or left side.
Proper head positioning is key to optimizing the airflow, regardless of the overall sleep position. Rotating the head so the mouth and throat are open, rather than pressed into the mattress or pillow, can significantly impact sleep apnea management.
Right-side sleepers should tilt their heads down to move the chin away from the chest. This prevents compression of the airway. Left-side sleepers can turn their heads up slightly to maintain an open airway.
Back sleepers should turn the head to either side to avoid direct pressure from the mattress closing the mouth and throat, allowing for better air movement.
Stomach sleepers should rotate the head to the left or right to allow room for breathing away from the mattress. Avoid keeping the head and neck in line with the back as this can constrict airflow.
Since obesity is a leading risk factor for OSA,13 maintaining an optimal weight through diet and exercise can help reduce apnea episodes. Even losing 10-15 pounds can open up breathing passageways for better sleep.
Both alcohol and smoking can relax muscles and worsen OSA.14 It’s wise to steer clear of these, especially before hitting the sack.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices provide pressurized air to the throat to keep airways open using an oral mask.4 While not natural, CPAP is an effective medical treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea.
Congestion, allergies, and sinus issues can restrict nasal airflow causing mouth breathing during sleep.15 Using saline sprays, antihistamines, and breathing strips can help open nasal passageways.
A comfortable, high-quality mattress and pillow are essential for those with sleep apnea to get truly restorative sleep. Having the best mattress for sleep apnea paired with supportive bedding optimizes sleeping positions and head alignment to minimize apneas.
The Casper Original memory foam mattress strikes the ideal balance between comfort and support. The Zoned Support system provides softer foam by the shoulders for side sleeping while firmer foam by the hips and core reinforces proper spinal alignment.
The perforated foam allows for cool airflow to prevent overheating, and the seamless mattress design minimizes pressure points for uninterrupted sleep. Plus, with Casper’s 100-night risk-free trial, what’s there to lose?
Sleep position and quality bedding play a key role in effective sleep apnea management. Casper bed mattresses perfectly complement your sleep apnea management strategies. Choose Casper and witness an unprecedented difference in your rest, translating to better health.