How important is sleeping position for people with sleep apnea?

Positional therapy is a behavioral strategy used to treat positional sleep apnea. Some people have sleep apnea primarily when sleeping on their back. This is called the “supine” position. Their breathing returns to normal when they sleep on their side. Positional therapy may involve wearing a special device around your waist or back. It keeps you in the side position while you sleep. Another option is a small device that is placed on the back of your neck and gently vibrates when you start to sleep on your back. Without waking you up, the vibration alerts your body to change positions. Positional therapy can be used alone or together with another sleep apnea treatment.

This content originally appeared on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website.
Steven C. Smart, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
It is extremely important in many cases. We commonly see in sleep studies that apnea-related events are dramatically worse in the supine position, or sleeping on your back. Sleeping on your side is part of good sleep hygiene and prevents the tongue from falling back and obstructing the airway. In certain severe cases, position has no effect, but the majority of apnea-related events are significantly position related.

When you avoid sleeping on your back, it may help prevent the airway obstruction that results in sleep apnea, a common but serious disorder that causes interruptions in breathing while sleeping. However, it is difficult to maintain a certain sleep position throughout the night, so changing sleep position alone is likely not an effective treatment for sleep apnea.

If you have been diagnosed with or have symptoms of sleep apnea, be sure to discuss the disorder with your physician. Sleep apnea taxes the cardiovascular system and can contribute to heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.

Sleep position is very important. The recommendation is to sleep on your side and try to avoid sleeping on your back, which can cause your tongue to fall in the back of your throat, obstructing your airway.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.