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What is the Best Sleeping Position for Sleep Apnoea?

Medically Reviewed & Written By: Bobby Afshari (B.Pharm.MPS)
Last Updated: 05/01/2020

sleep position

Everyone has a preference, a favourite sleeping position. Whether this is sleeping on your back, your stomach, your side or even with an extra pillow. To many people, this is just a personal choice that elevates comfort. 

However, the way you sleep affects your overall health and body over time. How much sleep we get is just as important as the position we sleep in.

A lot of the questions we receive are:

  • How should you sleep if you have sleep apnea?
  • What is the best sleeping position to stop snoring?
  • Does sleeping on your stomach help sleep apnea?
  • What is the best sleeping position for sleep apnea?

Your favourite sleeping position could potentially improve or exacerbate sleep apnoea.

Sleep Apnea Posture 

When you’re standing upright, your airflow is unrestricted as your airways are pointing downward. However, once you lay down, your body is forced to breathe in a horizontal position, meaning gravity is now working against your airways.

For a person with sleep apnoea, snoring occurs when the throat muscles relax during sleep. This allows for the airways to collapse and restrict breathing either through the nose or throat. 

When the airways stop for 10 seconds or more, the brain senses distress leading a person to suddenly gasp for air or snort before going back to sleep. This can occur a hundred times a night without you realizing and can erode your health overtime (Michael Twery, director of National Center on Sleep Disorders Research). 

The Supine Position

Copyright Evelyn Bailey

The supine position is the worst position for sleep apnoea patients because gravity increases the tendency for the jaw, soft palate and tongue to drop back and restrict airways. This is referred to as positional obstructive sleep apnoea. Simply put, when the tongue relaxes back, your sleep apnoea worsens. 

Research has suggested that sleeping on your back is the least recommended sleep apnoea sleeping position. This is because a person is more prone to snoring and is twice as likely to experience sleep apnoea. 

If you sleep on your back you are also more likely to experience lower back pain over time.

Conclusion: The supine sleep position is generally not recommended for those who suffer from sleep apnoea as it restricts your airways. However, if you experience gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sleeping on your back may be helpful if your head is elevated above your stomach. This is often achieved by adding blocks under the legs at the head of the bed.

The Prone Position

Copyright Evelyn Bailey

Sleeping on your stomach may seem ideal to counteract breathing obstructions and sleep apnoea. This position works with gravity as it pulls the tongue and soft tissue forward, therefore eliminating airway obstructions and lessening the likelihood of snoring. 

However, a stomach sleeper is likely to block their nose or mouth on their pillow, or twist their neck to the side to maintain breathing. This works against good breathing and sleep apnoea.

The prone position also puts additional, unnecessary stress on the neck and lower back. If this is your default position, try using an extra pillow or no pillow at all to prevent any strain. 

Conclusion: People who sleep in the prone position are less likely to experience sleep apnoea, however there is a higher risk of neck pain.

The Lateral Position

Copyright Evelyn Bailey

According to Sleep Better Council, sleeping on your side is the best position for sleep apnea and for those who snore. It helps the airways become more stable, helps elevate issues like insomnia and provides relief for digestive concerns like GERD. 

Left side sleeping:

Sleeping on the left side is highly recommended as it allows for the best breathing position and best blood flow. 

However, people who are diagnosed with congestive heart failure should avoid sleeping on their left side to prevent further discomfort or stress on the heart. Do speak to your doctor before proceeding with left side sleeping to find the best solution for you.

Right side sleeping:

For those who cannot sleep on the left side, the right side is another viable option since it reduces the likelihood of snoring and promotes good airflow. 

However, studies have found that right side sleeping can aggravate symptoms of reflux. 

Conclusion: Sleeping laterally is the best sleeping position for sleep apnea. If you naturally switch positions throughout the night, try raising your head by 4 inches.

Sleep Apnea and Snoring Solutions

To conclude, the best sleeping position for obstructive sleep apnea is sleeping on your side (lateral). 

Whilst it is possible to stop snoring without CPAP, skipping CPAP therapy where needed may lead to serious health implications. However, there are other options to help you reduce snoring and prevent obstructive sleep apnea.

If you do not currently sleep on your side, a habit like this can take a while to change. To help you, there are positional therapy devices available. Options like slumberBUMPcontoured pillows or memory-foam pillows can help you maintain a lateral position throughout the night. These options can also help reduce snoring.

Ultimately, the quality of your sleep is just as important as how you sleep. If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of sleep apnoea, speak to one of our sleep apnoea experts today and they’ll help you find the best treatment option.

Bobby Afshari (B.Pharm.MPS)

Bobby Afshari (B.Pharm.MPS)

Bobby Afshari studied a Bachelor of Pharmacy and is a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. Bobby is the sleep technician at CPAP Online Australia.