July 15, 2020

What is the Best Position to Sleep With Sleep Apnea?

What is the Best Position to Sleep With Sleep Apnea?

What is Sleep Apnea and What Causes It?

The word 'apnea' comes from the Latin phrase for 'without breath'. 

A grand majority of sleep apnea cases are a result of physical blockages in the upper airways. This can usually be directly attributed to relaxed throat muscles during sleep, but it is especially dangerous when combined with alcohol. These cases are called obstructive sleep apnea. OSA accounts for 80% of all sleep apnea cases.

If you have been diagnosed with OSA, you may be able to make nights easier for yourself by simply sleeping sideways.

People who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea often also experience hypopneas, which are partial reductions in the airways during sleep. 

Whether totally or partially blocked, most pauses in breathing last between 10 and 30 seconds. The interruptions in your breathing pattern can actually last upwards of one minute. This leads to abrupt drops in blood oxygen saturation, with oxygen levels plummeting 40% in some cases.

Types of Sleep Apnea and How Your Sleeping Position Can Help  

A man sleeping on his side

Obstructive sleep apnea

It can sometimes be fixed by sleeping sideways.

Sleeping sideways can grant immense relief with this kind of apnea because gravity will pull the obstruction out of harm's way. 

This is the most common form of sleep apnea. It makes up an estimated 80% of all cases. During OSA, something is physically obstructing the upper airway and preventing fresh oxygen from entering the lungs. 

Most often, this is a combination of age and having excess tissue in and around the airways. Having a larger-than-average tongue or tonsils can lead to blockage. It also has the unfortunate tendency to develop as a consequence of CSA, which we will go over next. 

Central sleep apnea

Sleeping position can't do as much to fix this kind of apnea.

This kind of sleep apnea accounts for about 15 - 20% of cases. It results from a failure of communication between your brain and the rest of your system. It is called central sleep apnea because the problem originates from the central nervous system. Since it is a communication error between the nervous and respiratory systems, it cannot be directly affected by changing your sleeping position.

Nevertheless, there is hope. New research suggests that sleeping on your side may also indirectly benefit people affected by CSA.

CSA brings added symptoms and manifests itself more frequently in men than in women. 

CSA patients may be served best by servo-ventilator machines or unvented masks, which monitor breathing directly and kick in with extra pressure when necessary. These machines are referred to as APAPs and BiPAPs.

Simple Lifehack if Sleeping Sideways Does Not Come Naturally to You

Try using a contoured pillow if you want to sleep sideways for your health, but are having difficulty adjusting. Sometimes, people will have problems with this position because the pillow isn't firm or soft enough. 

Worst Sleeping Position and Other Risks for People with Sleep Apnea

A man sleeping on his back

The worst position you can sleep in if you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea is called soldier style. Basically this means on your back with your face up.

When you experience chronic apneas and hypopneas, your lack of high-quality rest affects every aspect of your life. Your immune system becomes compromised, your risk for heart attack grows dramatically, and you might even find that your mood changes.

Sleep apnea is a serious condition, but a diagnosis doesn't have to last you your whole life. There is something you can do about it!

There is a correlation between obesity and sleep apnea. Other correlations include:

  • Being middle-aged or older: People over the age of 60 have a higher risk of sleep apnea.
  • Being male: Central sleep apnea is more common in men than it is for women.
  • Heart disorders: A heart attack increases your risk of developing sleep apnea.
  • Using pain medications: Especially opioid-based medicine.
  • Sleeping soldier style: This is what WebMD calls sleeping on your back.

Conclusion: Sleep Sideways. Never Soldier-Style!

If you get told that you are constantly snoring loudly and you find yourself waking up tired every morning, you may be one of 22 million Americans who live with this condition. 

After you take the sleep test and your doctor officially diagnoses you with sleep apnea, the next step will be to talk about treatments. 

Your doctor will probably ask you to change certain lifestyle habits as a sustainable and cost-efficient solution to your sleeping problems. An introduction to CPAP therapy will likely follow. 

We can help in two ways. 

  1. If you think you may have sleep apnea, take our free sleep apnea test to check what your next steps should be. 
  1. If you already know you have sleep apnea, trust our sleep experts to provide you the most unobtrusive CPAP machines on the market.  

Meanwhile, don't forget. Sleeping sideways is probably one of the single best things you can do to relieve obstructive sleep apnea. Of course, you should take measures to deactivate the root causes altogether, but in the meantime, a simple change in sleeping habits can go a long way.

Written by The Sleeplay Team

Share this post