Whether you prefer to sleep flat on your back or curled up in the fetus position, it seems that everyone has a position that suits them best for sleeping comfortably through the night. Unfortunately, for those who struggle with obstructive sleep apnea, their sleep position of choice could actually be making their condition worse.
By understanding how different sleep positions affect sleep apnea, you can make a conscious effort to alleviate your symptoms. While changing your sleep position doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to go without a CPAP machine, it can go a long way in improving your overall sleep quality.
The Worst Choice: Sleeping on Your Back
The back is widely regarded as the worst sleep position for those who suffer from sleep apnea. This is in part because sleeping on your back increases the likelihood of your tongue falling back in a way that blocks the throat. The jaw and soft palate also drop toward the throat while sleeping on your back, which can make your breathing passages more narrow.
With your airways already narrowed while sleeping in this position, the number of sleep apnea incidences you experience during the night is likely to increase. As a related side effect, your snoring will also tend to be worse when sleeping on your back — something your partner probably won’t appreciate.
Individuals who are overweight are especially prone to these problems while sleeping on their back, as the fatty tissue collapses around the throat in a way that can cut off the flow of oxygen.
That being said, individuals with acid reflux are often advised to sleep on their back to manage that health condition. If you experience both sleep apnea and acid reflux, try to keep your head raised while resting on your back. Using a recliner or a foam wedge-shaped pillow can help you achieve a head elevation that reduces sleep apnea episodes.
Sleeping on Your Side
Sleeping on either your right or left side is generally considered the best option for reducing sleep apnea symptoms during the night. Research has found that sleeping on your side helps keep your airways stable, making them less likely to collapse.
Sleeping on your side is also associated with several other health benefits, such as reducing joint and low back pain and aiding the digestive process. Best of all, the side is the most popular sleep position, meaning many people are already dispositioned to rest in a way that improves their sleep apnea symptoms.
Despite the benefits of side sleeping, it isn’t without its drawbacks. Without proper head and neck support, the head has a tendency to collapse into the collarbone, leaving individuals feeling stiff and uncomfortable in the morning. Some people also experience pain in their hips and knees after sleeping on their side all night.
To get the benefits of side sleeping without the drawbacks, pay attention to your pillows. Some people benefit from placing a firm pillow between their knees to alleviate joint strain and provide additional support to the hips. A sturdy head pillow that helps keep the head properly aligned with the spine will prevent neck pain.
What About Stomach Sleepers?
To some people, sleeping on their stomach seems uncomfortable or downright strange. Also known as “prone sleeping,” it is estimated that only 14 percent of people prefer this sleep position.
As to stomach sleeping’s impact on sleep apnea, opinions are mixed. Some argue that it is better than sleeping on your back, because gravity pulls the tongue, jaw, and soft palate forward and away from the throat. However, in order to breathe while sleeping on your stomach, you generally need to keep your head twisted to one side — otherwise, your breathing will be blocked by your pillow.
In addition, stomach sleeping is believed to contribute to other health issues by putting extra strain on the spine and nerves.
How Can You Identify Your Sleep Position?
While surveys may indicate that people have their own “preferred sleep position,” the reality is that most shift their sleep position throughout the night. Someone who starts the evening sleeping on their left side could easily roll onto their back later in the night, putting themselves at greater risk of interruptions to breathing.
For those who suspect they have sleep apnea, a sleep study is necessary for learning this and other important information. A sleep study monitors your heart rate, breathing, sleep position, and other vitals during the night to provide a comprehensive view of your disorder.
In some cases, simply controlling your sleep position could be enough to keep sleep apnea in check. For many, a CPAP machine will also be recommended to alleviate symptoms. In this case, sleep specialists would write a prescription for appropriate equipment based on the severity of your condition.
Get the Quality Sleep You Need With Help Medical Supplies
Regardless of your preferred sleep position, Help Medical Supplies can help you get the necessary equipment to control your sleep apnea at a price you can afford. In addition to standard CPAP machines, we also offer innovative products like the Philips NightBalance, a sleep position therapy device that encourages you to shift off your back during sleep.
Of course, the cost of such equipment can seem like a barrier for many, particularly when insurance doesn’t provide adequate coverage. This is why Help Medical Supplies aims to make such purchases more affordable, with available financing options and free shipping on orders over $89.
With the right equipment (and the right sleep position), fatigue and exhaustion from sleep apnea can soon become a thing of the past.