Sleep Apnea and Sleep Position: What You Need to Know

Sleep Apnea and Sleep Position

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by episodes of stopped or shallow breathing during sleep. These episodes can last for a few seconds to minutes, and they can happen dozens of times per hour. Sleep apnea can disrupt your sleep and make you feel tired during the day. It can also lead to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

The Causes of Sleep Apnea

There are a number of factors that can cause sleep apnea, including:

  • Obesity
  • A large tongue or uvula
  • A narrow airway
  • A deviated septum
  • Alcohol use
  • Smoking
  • Medications

The Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three main types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when the muscles in the throat relax during sleep, narrowing or obstructing the airway.
  • Central sleep apnea (CSA): CSA occurs when the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles responsible for breathing.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome: Complex sleep apnea syndrome is a combination of OSA and CSA.

How Sleep Position Affects Apnea Severity

Sleep position can have a significant impact on the severity of sleep apnea. Certain positions, such as sleeping on one’s back (supine position), can exacerbate the symptoms of sleep apnea by causing the tongue and soft palate to collapse to the back of the throat, leading to a greater likelihood of airway obstruction. Alternatively, other positions, such as side sleeping, can help reduce the severity of sleep apnea by promoting better airflow and reducing the risk of airway collapse.

Side Sleeping: Pros and Cons for Apnea

Side sleeping is often considered the best sleep position for individuals with sleep apnea, particularly for those with OSA. This position helps to keep the airway open and reduce the likelihood of airway collapse. Additionally, side sleeping can help alleviate snoring, which is a common symptom of sleep apnea. However, there are some potential downsides to side sleeping as well. This position can sometimes cause discomfort in the shoulders and hips, as well as exacerbate acid reflux in some individuals.

Supine Position: A Common Apnea Trigger

Sleeping on one’s back, also known as the supine position, is a common trigger for sleep apnea. In this position, the tongue and soft palate have a greater tendency to collapse to the back of the throat, obstructing the airway and leading to apnea episodes. For this reason, individuals with sleep apnea are often advised to avoid the supine position and choose alternative sleeping positions.

Prone Position: Is It Beneficial for Apnea?

The prone position, or sleeping on one’s stomach, is a less common sleep position and its impact on sleep apnea is not as well established as that of side sleeping or the supine position.

Special Pillows and Devices for Apnea Relief

There are a variety of special pillows and devices on the market designed to help individuals with sleep apnea find relief and achieve better sleep quality. Some examples include wedge pillows, which elevate the head and upper body to help prevent airway collapse, and positional therapy devices, which encourage side sleeping by providing support and discouraging supine sleeping. For individuals struggling to find a suitable sleep position, these products may offer a helpful solution.

The Role of Body Weight in Sleep Position

Body weight can also play a significant role in sleep position and its impact on sleep apnea. Excess weight, particularly in the upper body, can put additional pressure on the airway and cause it to narrow or collapse more easily. Additionally, individuals with obesity may experience greater difficulty finding a comfortable and effective sleep position. In these cases, weight loss may be recommended as part of a comprehensive sleep apnea treatment plan, in addition to positional therapy and other interventions.

The Connection Between Sleep Position and Snoring

Snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea, and sleep position can have a significant impact on the frequency and severity of snoring. As previously mentioned, the supine position can increase the likelihood of snoring, as it can cause the airway to become more easily obstructed. Side sleeping, on the other hand, can help reduce snoring by promoting better airway patency.

Finding Your Ideal Sleep Position

In conclusion, sleep position plays a crucial role in the development and severity of sleep apnea, with some positions offering potential relief while others exacerbate the symptoms. Side sleeping is generally considered the best position for individuals with sleep apnea. However, it is important to experiment with different positions to find one that is comfortable and effective for you. If you are struggling to find a comfortable sleep position, or if you are concerned that you may have sleep apnea, please talk to your doctor.


Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can have a significant impact on your health. If you think you may have sleep apnea, it is important to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. With early diagnosis and treatment, you can improve your quality of life and reduce your risk of developing other health problems.

Here are some additional tips for finding a comfortable and effective sleep position for sleep apnea:

  • Experiment with different pillows and positions until you find one that works for you.
  • Use a wedge pillow or positional therapy device to help keep you from sleeping on your back.
  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Avoid alcohol and sedatives before bed.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine to help you wind down before bed.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool.

If you are still having trouble finding a comfortable and effective sleep position, talk to your doctor. They may be able to recommend other treatment options that can help you get a good night’s sleep.

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