Updated on March 13th, 2023 at 06:11 pm
My wife has always had a loud snore. Other than the snoring, I recently caught her not breathing in her sleep. This freaked me out that I started researching, ‘what is the best position to sleep with sleep apnea?’
Several studies show that sleeping on your side is the best position for sleep apnea and snoring. When the body is in this position, the airways are stable and less prone to collapse and restricting airflow. Sleeping on your back causes the upper airway to drop and crowd the airway, worsening sleep apnea symptoms.
Let’s look at how these positions affect your airways and help improve sleep apnea. We’ll rate these positions from best to worst.
What is the best position for sleeping with sleep apnea?
Breathing when you are vertically upright and lying down isn’t the same. When you are on your feet (standing or seated), your airway points downwards and unrestricted, allowing for effortless breathing.
When you are lying horizontally, you create different breathing conditions. When you sleep, your muscles relax and, with the help of gravity, constrict your airway. As you breathe in and out, the relaxed tissue vibrates, causing loud snoring.
If the throat muscles relax further, you can develop Sleep Apnea because a complete airway block will stop your breathing. This will force you to awaken and choke to start breathing again. You might not realize you’ve woken up.
The sleep episodes are known as arousals and are similar to someone shaking you to wake up. These arousals cause your sleep to get fragmented and be non-restorative. In the end, you suffer from daytime sleepiness.
Below are side sleeping options for sleep apnea sufferers.
Sleeping on your left side is the best position if you have sleep apnea. It helps alleviate problems like gastroesophageal reflux disease and insomnia, which negatively contribute to sleep apnea. Sleeping on your left side is recommended since it improves your blood flow and reduces resistance when breathing.
If you want to turn into a left-side sleeper, you should find a firm pillow to support your back and neck. However, if you have congestive heart failure, you should consult with your doctor before making this your sleeping position. It can cause some discomfort and add unnecessary stress to your already strained heart.
Right side sleeping
Like left-side sleeping, right-side sleeping improves blood flow, breathing and prevents snoring. According to a medical study, right-side sleeping can worsen reflux symptoms because it relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter. If you suffer from acid reflux, you should consult your doctor before making this your go-to sleeping position.
The right side sleeping position has multiple variants, including the fetal position. This is the most favored sleeping position in the US. It doesn’t aggravate sleep apnea, but it might create other problems with your back or neck as you get older.
If you love the fetal position, you should consider stretching once in a while. Alternatively, you can put a pillow between your knees to improve comfort and provide good neck and back support. With the additions, the fetal position may be the most pleasant for sleep apnea.
Stomach sleeping works with gravity as it pulls the soft throat tissue and the tongue forward, which prevents airway obstructions and reduces the chances of snoring. This is not the worst position for a person with sleep apnea, but often, stomach sleepers bury their faces too far into their pillows or allow their pillows to cover a large part of their mouth, which can work inhibit good breathing and cause sleep apnea.
Stomach sleeping might put unnecessary stress on your neck, which leads to multiple health issues and feelings of tiredness. If you opt to sleep on your stomach, ensure you assume the right posture and decide how to place your pillow.
Supine (back) sleeping
Supine sleeping isn’t recommended for sleep apnea sufferers. It is twice as likely to make you snore and experience sleep apnea.
Supine sleeping lets gravity work on your soft tissues. The uvula, tongue, and adenoids drop and crowd and cause obstruction called positional Obstructive sleep apnea.
When the tongue relaxes back, your sleep apnea worsens. Most people who struggle with sleep apnea used to sleep on their back. As a back sleeper, you should train yourself to sleep on your side. Getting a Sleep apnea pillow will help with the transition.
Does Sleeping in a recliner reduce sleep apnea?
Sleeping in an oversize recliner chair might help with obstructive sleep apnea. In a small medical study, 13 overweight males suffering from sleep apnea were put to sleep at 60-degree angles. At this angle, more than 50% of sleep apnea symptoms disappeared.
In another clinical study, 52 middle-aged, overweight females and males were put to sleep with their heads elevated at 7.5 degrees. This simple set adjustment reduced their sleep apnea symptoms by 30%.
Based on these studies, sleeping in a recliner at the right inclination can improve your sleep, especially if you suffer from mild to moderate sleep apnea.
Is it best to sleep sitting up with sleep apnea?
Sleeping sitting up is neither inherently unhealthy nor healthy. If you are comfortable, you can get enough sleep. In this position, and with proper neck support, you will experience fewer sleep apnea symptoms.
If you are tall, be sure to sleep on Furniture like a Big and tall recliner to prevent your legs from hanging off the end. However, this sleeping position should be used as a temporary measure until you can comfortably sleep in a bed without sleep apnea symptoms.
How do you increase oxygen levels while sleeping?
There are several ways to boost your oxygen levels when you sleep. Developing good and healthy habits during the day can help promote healthy oxygen intake, setting you up for success when you sleep. Some strategies to improve blood oxygen levels when you sleep include:
- Take deep breaths – Practicing taking deep breaths throughout the day has a calming effect. Moreover, it increases your blood oxygen levels. It’s better if these deep breaths are taken in an open space with fresh air.
- Sleeping on your side – Many people tend to breathe better when they assume a side-sleeping position. This is because gravity isn’t a factor. When you sleep on your back, the weight of your body presses down on your lungs and airways, and your upper airways drop and crowd, causing an obstruction. Side sleeping protects the airways from collapsing and reduces snoring.
- Reduce and manage your stress levels – There are lots of strategies you can use for stress management:
- Using mindfulness apps
The pressure from your environment can be too much to handle, but there are numerous resources to help you cope with the pressures.
- Exercise – Oxygen levels spike during exercise because the respiration rate increases too. Cells use up a lot of oxygen during an exercise session than other times. When the brain notices an increase in carbon (IV) oxide levels in the body, it increases the respiration rate to expel and replace it with oxygen.
- Avoid alcohol right before sleep – Alcohol causes the throat muscles to over-relax and worsens sleep apnea. When you avoid alcohol 4 hours before going to sleep, your breathing and oxygen levels improve. Alcohol intake before sleep also causes fragmented sleep, which results in day tiredness.
- Eat well – Ensure you don’t become anemic. Anemia can result in low oxygen levels. Eat foods rich in iron like shellfish, dark chocolate, red meat, dark green veggies, and lentils, or take a multivitamin several times a week.
Low vitamin D in your bloodstream is linked to low oxygen levels in your blood. Get enough vitamin D by eating red meat, fatty fish, and egg yolks. Spending enough time outdoors helps to improve your vitamin D levels as well.
Sleep apnea is a serious but treatable condition. If you snore loudly or wake up feeling tired, you should consult your doctor. The above sleeping positions will help reduce sleep apnea symptoms, but they are not substitutes for professional treatment.
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