Everyone has a favorite sleep position – a perfect way to lay at night that allows us to relax and drift off to sleep. But have you ever given any thought to how your favorite sleep position affects your body and health? If you are like most people, you probably think of your favorite sleep position as simply a nighttime comfort. However, it is much more than that – especially if you have sleep apnea.
The position in which you sleep has an impact on how you breathe at night and, depending on the position you choose, could either exacerbate or improve your sleep apnea.
These are the most common sleep positions and their impact on sleep apnea from best to worst:
Left side sleeping. Experts agree, sleeping on your left side is the best position for most people**- with or without sleep apnea. Sleeping on your left side allows for the best blood flow through your body and keeps airways the most open. It also helps to alleviate the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If you want to be a left-side sleeper or make sleeping on your left side more comfortable, choose a firm pillow that offers strong support for your neck and back.
**If you have congestive heart failure, speak to your doctor before sleeping on your left side. This is one condition in which it is usually discouraged because it can cause unneeded stress on the heart.
Right-side sleeping. Though left side sleeping is optimal, right side sleeping is a close second. Sleeping on your right side still helps with air and blood flow, but the downside is that it relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter aggravating reflux.
Fetal position. The fetal position is essentially side sleeping, only you are curled into a ball of sorts. Sleeping in the fetal position is not necessarily a threat to sleep apnea patients, but as you get older it can cause problems with the neck and back. It is better to try and sleep in a less curved position. If you find yourself in the fetal position a lot, try using a pillow between your knees to better support your neck and back.
Prone sleeping. Sleeping in a prone position means that you sleep on your stomach. Sleeping on your stomach works with gravity pulling your tongue forward helping to eliminate obstructions of the airway and lowering your odds of snoring. Unfortunately, stomach sleepers will often bury their faces into their pillows covering much of their nose and mouth. This can inhibit breathing and cause problems for sleep apnea sufferers. Sleeping on the stomach can also add stress to the neck which can cause several health issues.
Supine sleeping. Sleeping in a supine position means that you sleep on your back. Sleeping on your back is not recommended for people with sleep apnea. Sleeping on your back works against gravity and causes the soft tissues of your upper airway to obstruct your airways. Essentially, the tongue, adenoids, and uvula relax crowding your airway and worsening sleep apnea.
As you can see, how you sleep is just as important to your health as how much sleep you are getting. If you find that you are sleeping in a position that is not optimal for sleep apnea, there are adjustments you can make. You can purchase pillows intended for side sleeping to make the transition more comfortable or you could inquire about positional therapy for sleep apnea.
If you suffer from sleep apnea and struggle to get quality sleep at night visit us at Valley Sleep Therapy or call us at (480) 361-0124.