Best Sleeping Position for Sleep Apnea
A person’s sleep position can have a direct impact on comfort, pain, and sleep quality. Sleep apnea, which stops your breathing repeatedly during sleep, is a very common sleep disorder that can be serious if not treated. Read on to learn about the two types of sleep apnea, followed by different strategies and recommendations for the best sleeping position for sleep apnea.
There are two types of sleep apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA).
Sleep apnea has many identifiable symptoms, such as daytime fatigue, snoring, gasping and choking in sleep, mood swings and headaches.
The best sleeping position for sleep apnea is sleeping on your side, although a medical professional should help you choose between your left and right sides.
Did you know?
Sleep apnea can affect our four-legged friends as well! Certain dog breeds with flat faces like bulldogs, pugs, and boxers, can experience sleep apnea.
Picture this: you're nestled under the covers, lost in the realm of dreams. The world is still, and the night is silent—until it's not. Suddenly, you're jolted awake, gasping for breath, your heart racing. If this scene sounds a tad too familiar, you might be dealing with a sneaky snooze assassin known as sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is more than just an annoying snore or the occasional restless night. It's a sleep disorder that can have significant health consequences if left unchecked. So, how can you tell if it's lurking in your bedroom shadows?
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common and potentially serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing repeatedly during sleep. These interruptions, known as apneas, can last for a few seconds to several minutes, and can occur numerous times throughout the night - the word “apnea” comes from the Greek word for “breathless.”
Many people with sleep apnea experience symptoms such as loud snoring, choking or gasping during sleep, and daytime sleepiness; if untreated, it can cause more serious problems like high blood pressure and heart diseases as a result, as well as type II diabetes.
What happens during sleep apnea?
Individuals with sleep apnea experience repeated interruptions in their breathing while they are asleep, which are caused by two different reasons:
1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): The most common type of sleep apnea, OSA happens when the muscles at the back of your throat relax too much during sleep, temporarily blocking or narrowing the airway. The blockage restricts airflow, leading to decreased oxygen levels in your blood. Your brain senses the drop in oxygen and can wake you up gasping for air, but it’s usually very brief so you will most likely not remember it. Still, these apneas disrupt your sleep cycle, leading to poor sleep quality.
2. Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): CSA happens when your brain doesn’t send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing; unlike OSA, there may not be a physical obstruction in the airway. CSA leads to a lack of effort in breathing during sleep, resulting in pauses in breathing. Like OSA, these pauses in breathing can wake the person briefly or disrupt their sleep cycles.
Symptoms to look out for
Sleep apnea has many symptoms, some of which are easier to spot than others:
1. Daytime Fatigue: The most telltale sign? Feeling like you've run a marathon every night. Excessive sleepiness and a lack of energy after waking up can be your body's way of saying you are suffering from sleep apnea.
2. Snoring: Loud snoring is a common sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), but you can also have sleep apnea without snoring at all.
3. Gasping and Choking: Your partner might notice you suddenly gasping or choking in your sleep as you struggle to breathe. Cheyne-Stokes breathing is a distinctive breathing pattern that can happen with central sleep apnea; it causes fast breathing that gets deeper and then shallower again until breathing stops altogether. After not breathing for several seconds, you’ll start breathing again, then, starting the pattern all over again.
4. Morning Headaches: Waking up with a pounding headache isn't the best way to start the day. Sleep apnea can cause decreased oxygen levels, leading to these unpleasant wake-up calls.
5. Irritability and Mood Swings: Ever felt like a grumpy bear in the morning? Sleep apnea might be the culprit. Poor sleep can seriously mess with your mood and patience, and can deteriorate into depression and anxiety.
6. Trouble Concentrating: Forgetfulness and difficulty focusing on tasks can be another red flag. A night of interrupted sleep leaves your brain feeling like it's lost in a fog.
7. Restless Sleep: Do you toss and turn all night, unable to settle into a peaceful slumber? Sleep apnea can cause night sweats and insomnia, disrupting your sleep cycle. You also may wake up repeatedly in the middle of the night, although you may not remember waking up.
The good news? Sleep apnea is manageable. So, listen to the signs, and let's work on making your slumber a true sanctuary once again.
What is the best sleeping position for sleep apnea?
While severe sleep apnea may require a range of treatments from a CPAP machine to an operation, there are physical advantages to certain sleeping positions, which can help reduce snoring and general symptoms of sleep apnea.
Among the various sleeping positions, the best posture for sleeping is on the side. Sleeping on your side helps arrange the tissues in your mouth and throat into a position where they will not block your airway while sleeping, leaning towards your cheek instead of backward into your upper airway, which helps with addressing OSA.
Research also shows that side sleeping can reduce breathing problems caused by CSA, because sleeping on the side alters the amount of space available in the lungs, and the relay of signals between the brain and body that control your breathing.
As sleep apnea interrupts one’s sleep cycle, a weighted blanket can help with deeper sleep by boosting natural melatonin production by the calming, grounding effect produced by the weight of the blanket. Cortisol, the stress hormone, also spikes during the night when one suffers from sleep apnea; a weighted blanket can help lower cortisol levels using deep touch pressure.
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Which side to sleep on
Then which side—left or right—is the best sleeping position for sleep apnea, you may wonder.
Sleeping on the left side is one of the most effective sleeping positions for curing sleep apnea, especially for people with high blood pressure because it encourages blood flow and minimizes the chances of airway obstructions. Also, if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), more commonly known as heartburn, while sleeping, you may find more relief by sleeping on your left side.
However, sleeping on the right side is recommended for people who have developed sleep apnea due to heart conditions, as it places less pressure on the heart and helps reduce heart rate. People with congestive heart failure should not sleep on their left side, as it can cause discomfort or add unnecessary stress to the heart.
There are several Bearaby products that can help with positional therapy for sleep, training yourself to sleep in a medically healthy position that can help with your sleep apnea.
A great supplement to help change your sleeping position is finding the right body pillow to help you sleep on your side. Our Cuddler is ideal for this purpose, for it molds to your body and alleviates pressure while preventing you from rolling onto your back. You can adjust it comfortably to take your choice between being the big spoon, half spoon, and the little spoon.
Keep in mind that it is important to consult with a medical professional who can provide personalized advice based on your underlying health condition.
How to sleep on your back
Back sleep is the worst sleeping position for sleep apnea, both OSA and CSA. This is because gravity pulls your tongue and soft tissues slightly back towards and into the airway, inducing OSA; loud snoring is another side effect of the narrowing of your airway. Research has shown that sleeping on your back also worsens CSA symptoms.
If you are a back-sleeper, and you cannot fall asleep in any other position, you should consider elevating your head to reduce sleep apnea symptoms, as it will help limit how much gravity can pull your tongue and soft tissues backwards into blocking your airway.
Try placing a bolster pillow like our Cuddling under your usual pillow of choice, to provide extra height and support for your neck.
Which direction is best to sleep?
While there is no conclusive research connecting sleep apnea to sleep direction, there is some evidence that sleeping toward the south may reduce risk of high blood pressure. One study compared people who slept in an east-west direction versus north-south direction; after a period of three months, those who slept in the north-south orientation, aligned with the Earth’s electromagnetic field, had lower blood pressure, better sleep quality, and longer sleep overall.
Is sleeping on your stomach bad?
Gravity can work in your favor with stomach sleeping because it pulls the tongue and soft tissue forward, keeping the throat clear. However, your pillow will most likely partially block your mouth while sleeping on your stomach, which can result in breathing problems for those with severe sleep apnea. Bed sleeping on your stomach can also worsen neck problems because your neck and upper airway will not be aligned properly, resulting in further discomfort.
Best sleeping position for children with sleep apnea
There is no conclusive answer regarding the best sleeping position for children with sleep apnea. This research showed that children with obstructive sleep apnea, contrary to adults, sleep best when they are sleeping on their backs, while other research indicates that infants under 8 months are more prone to sleep apnea when they are sleeping on their backs.
If your child suffers from sleep apnea, you should adjust your child’s sleeping position and observe to note the sleeping position that they sleep the best in. If there is no improvement, you should consult a specialist for personalized treatment.
Ultimately, it is up to you to recognize the signs of your sleep apnea and decide the comfortable sleep position after trial and error. However, understanding the positions that assist or aggravate a sleep apnea condition can be powerful; if you find the symptoms familiar, listen to your gut instinct and seek help from a medical professional. You know where to turn, to get the best night’s sleep!