Best Sleeping Position for Breathing Problems

December 6, 2023 | Casper Editorial Team

Fact checked by Casper Labs Review In Progress

The best sleeping position for breathing problems is side sleeping because it allows your airways to stay open. Research shows that sleeping on your right side in particular can be beneficial for those with sleep apnea.

Whoever said “it’s as easy as breathing” never lost a night of quality sleep due to nighttime breathing difficulties. Though we often take breathing for granted, conditions like COPD, asthma, and sleep apnea can wreak havoc on our rest time by taxing our respiratory function.

What can you do about these issues at night? The key might be finding the best sleeping position for breathing problems.

The best sleeping position to breathe easily at night, for most people, is side sleeping. However, in this comprehensive article, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of each sleeping position for breathing problems, as well as additional practical tips — because at Casper, we believe everyone deserves quality sleep, no matter what challenges you face at night.

Why Your Sleeping Position Matters

After a long day, it might not seem like your sleep position matters that much. After all, when you’re tired, your first instinct is to find whatever’s comfortable so you can drift away to dreamland ASAP. But your sleep position can either exacerbate or relieve your breathing problems, so taking that extra time to find the right position is crucial.

Certain positions allow more oxygen to flow to the lungs, while other positions leave us vulnerable to airway obstructions — which can result in snoring and potential obstructive sleep apnea disturbances.

Let’s fully dive into the relationship between sleep positions and respiratory function with an in-depth look at each sleep position and how they can affect our breathing at night.

Analyzing Common Sleeping Positions for Breathing Problems

The three sleep positions — side, back, and stomach — each have advantages and disadvantages, and one is probably more comfortable for you than the others. However, if you suffer from breathing problems like nocturnal asthma and severe sleep apnea amongst others, the optimal position is side sleeping. Let’s explore why with a closer look at all three positions.

Sleeping On Your Back

According to health experts, sleeping on your back can cause your airway to become blocked or narrowed, resulting in apnea or snoring.1 For this reason, back sleeping is considered one of the suboptimal sleep positions to adopt if you have nighttime breathing issues. 

If you prefer to sleep on your back, consider elevating your head. A 2011 study found several significant benefits to head elevation among back sleepers, including relief from heartburn and sleep disturbances.2 Similarly, if you’re experiencing congestion, elevating your head can help open your airways and provide some relief.

Side Sleeping

Side sleeping is the best sleeping position for breathing problems because it allows your airways to stay open, alleviating mild sleep apnea symptoms and reducing snoring.3 When it comes to sleeping on your left side or right side, some studies have shown sleeping on the right side to significantly reduce apneatic episodes among patients with sleep apnea.4

Need help adapting to a side sleeping position to alleviate your breathing issues? 

Consider tucking a pillow between your knees to support the natural curvature of your spine. Additionally, consider investing in a quality mattress if you’re overdue for a replacement. Casper engineers some of the most supportive and comfortable mattresses out there, and can make a personalized recommendation based on how you sleep. Check out the full breakdown of the best mattresses for side sleeping for more information.

Stomach Sleeping

This position is a tricky one to recommend for those with breathing problems because it can be a mixed bag. Stomach sleeping can put a strain on your neck, back, and spine — however, it has the potential to open the airways and improve oxygenation when you sleep.5

For the best results sleeping on your stomach, invest in a mattress that is supportive and comfortable, as well as a pillow designed with your particular sleep position in mind. The expert-designed pillows from Casper support all sleep positions and come in a variety of designs to help you find the level of comfort, material, and firmness that perfectly matches you. And while you’re at it, check out the best mattresses for stomach sleepers.

Breathing Conditions and Their Impact on Sleep

Now armed with your recommended sleep positions, you can set yourself up for a restful night’s sleep even with breathing problems. But what are some of the more common breathing conditions that affect sleep, and how do each of them present unique challenges at night? 

  • COPD – Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs.6 Typically caused by cigarette smoking, the symptoms of COPD are most often shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and chronic coughing.6 Medications, nighttime coughing, and reduced lung capacity can challenge COPD patients trying to get a good night’s rest.7
  • Sleep apnea – Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), where muscles in the back of the throat relax and the airway narrows as you breathe in.8 This can cause the interruptions in breathing, which in turn forces your brain to briefly wake you up in the middle of the night to open your airway. 
  • Asthma – Asthma is a lung condition in which your airways narrow and swell and may produce extra mucus.9 Common symptoms include shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain, and wheezing that can be worsened by respiratory viruses like a cold or flu. Any or all of these symptoms can come into play at night (nocturnal asthma), resulting in difficulty sleeping for asthma sufferers.

If you suffer from COPD, sleep apnea, or asthma, consider the side sleeping position to optimize your airflow and prevent wake-ups due to blockages.

Don’t let anything disturb the sleep you deserve — especially the additional factors below that can especially affect those with breathing problems at night.

Other Factors Influencing Breathing During Sleep

Choosing the correct sleep position can be a tremendous help in relieving respiratory symptoms at night, but be aware of these additional factors that can keep you up later and wake you up more often if you have a breathing condition.

  • Allergies – Studies show that allergies can be a source of breathing-related sleep disorders. In particular, allergies can result in OSA symptoms, daytime sleepiness, and other sleep problems.10 Keep your allergies at bay at night by investing in quality hypoallergenic sheets and washing your sheets regularly. You can also choose hypoallergenic sheets to keep dust and allergens at bay while you snooze. Check out our guide on the best sheets for allergies for more information.
  • Humidity – Striking the right humidity balance in the bedroom can be just what you need to leave your restless nights in the dust — and not create an environment where dust thrives. Excessive dampness from humidity can aggravate asthma symptoms, while dryness from low humidity can cause a sore throat or respiratory infection.11 To combat humidity horrors, consider a quality dehumidifier for the bedroom.
  • Anxiety – If not treated, sleep apnea can cause anxiety and depression, which can contribute to your difficulties sleeping.1 To help relieve nighttime sleep anxiety, try practicing any of these relaxation techniques before you get tired to help calm you so you can sleep peacefully: taking a warm bath, journaling, or listening to soothing music or sounds.7 

Now you have the means and know-how to fight both nighttime breathing problems and the additional factors that can come with them — but why stop there? Let’s go over a few more practical tips from the experts at Casper to give you the edge you need to get the sleep of your dreams.

Practical Tips for Improved Breathing and Sleep

Fight back against your breathing issues at night by making lifestyle changes during the day to set yourself up for hours of sleep. 

Regular Exercise

People with COPD and other breathing conditions often experience drops in oxygen at night.7 Physical activity such as an exercise program can help you build up your oxygen supply, so try to get regular exercise if you can.

Warm Bath or Shower

Taking a warm bath or shower before bed doesn’t just help you relax — studies have shown that taking a hot shower 1 to 2 hours before bed can help you fall asleep faster, as it aids the body’s natural temperature regulation process.12

Clean Bedding

For a not-so-secret tip to make the most of your bed sheets: wash them regularly. Keeping pets out of the bedroom will also help reduce allergens and keep your sheets cleaner longer.

Higher-Quality Mattress

Finally, consider upgrading to a quality mattress or investing in new bedding. Casper bed sheets offer maximum comfort and breathability, keeping you cooler longer and irresistibly cozy. 

Commit to Quality, Healthy Sleep with Casper

Your sleep and your health go hand in hand — at Casper, this truth is at the core of everything we do. For solutions you can count on to help you maintain comfortable, healthy sleep with your breathing conditions, Casper can help.

Whether you’re looking for the perfect pillow to support your new sleep position or a new mattress to revolutionize your nighttime comfort, Casper has everything you need and more.

Visit us at Casper today to explore our entire line of thoughtfully designed sleep products, or talk to one of our Sleep Specialists about personalizing your best sleep today. 


  1. Penn Medicine. Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
  2. National Library of Medicine. Effect of bed head elevation during sleep in symptomatic patients of nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux.
  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Choosing the Best Sleep Position.
  4. National Library of Medicine. Influence of the right- versus left-sided sleeping position on the apnea-hypopnea index in patients with sleep apnea.
  5. Medium. This One Sleep Position May Be Destroying Your Health.
  6. Mayo Clinic. COPD.
  7. WebMD. Sleep Tips for People With COPD.
  8. Mayo Clinic. Sleep Apnea.
  9. Mayo Clinic. Asthma.
  10. National Library of Medicine. Allergy-related outcomes and sleep-related disorders in adults: a cross-sectional study based on NHANES 2005–2006.
  11. Sleep Foundation. Humidity and Sleep.
  12. Sleep Foundation. Showering Before Bed.