We all have a favorite sleep position—the way we feel most comfortable and let our body sink into sleep. Many people need only a soft pillow and their favorite sleeping position to fall asleep in seconds. That said, most of us probably haven’t given much thought to how our sleep position affects our health or our body over time. We probably think of our sleep position simply as a preference or a decision that improves our comfort. But it’s so much more.
Believe it or not, your sleep position has a huge impact on how you breathe, and your favorite sleep position can actually improve or exacerbate your sleep apnea.
How to Sleep with Sleep Apnea
You probably have always had a preferred sleeping position—whether it’s on your stomach, back, or side. But what you may not know is that regardless of if you have mild, moderate, or severe sleep apnea, there is actually such a thing as the best position to sleep in. This is because the different parts of your body that regulate your breathing while you sleep are positioned contingent on how you lay in bed (e.g.: your mouth being inadvertently covered by your pillow if you sleep on your stomach).
If you do take a sleep study test, and it shows that you have one of the three types of sleep apnea, you may need to work with your body to adapt your sleeping position to the one that’s best for your breathing during sleep. If after trying different ways to adjust your sleeping position you are still not able to adapt or get used to it, there are other alternatives to CPAP therapy that may end up working best for managing your sleep apnea without compromising your preferred sleeping position.
But, do you know which sleeping position is best for those with sleep apnea? Read on below as we rank them, starting from the most to the least ideal.
Sleep Position #1: Left-Side Sleeping
You can’t go wrong with side sleeping in general, according to the Sleep Better Council because it helps alleviate issues like insomnia and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can both contribute negatively to sleep apnea. And since the quality of sleep is as important as the quantity of sleep, it’s crucial to choose a sleep position that allows for our best possible rest. For those reasons, left-side sleeping takes the gold.
Specifically, sleeping on your left side is highly recommended because it allows for the best blood flow and creates little to no resistance for breathing conditions. If you want to become a left-side sleeper, start by finding a good, firm pillow that can support your neck and back. And with a little will-power, you can make it happen.
One thing worth noting about this position is that people who have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure should check with their doctors before choosing this sleep position because left-side sleeping is generally discouraged for them as it can cause discomfort or add unnecessary stress on the heart.
Sleep Position #2: Right-Side Sleeping
Right or left side side-sleeping actually makes a difference if you have sleep apnea. Right-side sleeping is a good choice as it reduces the likelihood of snoring and promotes good air and blood flow throughout the body.
However, a study has found that right-side sleeping can aggravate symptoms of reflux because it can relax the lower esophageal sphincter. If you struggle with acid reflux, talk to your doctor before sleeping on your right side.
One of the right-side sleeping variants, the fetal position, is actually the most popular sleeping position for Americans. It’s not a threat to sleep apnea, but it can create other issues with your neck or back especially as you get older. If you prefer to sleep in the fetal position, consider staying on your side but stretching out a little bit. Another option is to consider putting a pillow between your knees to allow for additional comfort and good back and neck support. You may find that this is a healthier and more pleasant alternative.
Sleep Position #3: Prone (Stomach) Sleeping
Next on the list in third place is prone (stomach) sleeping. Stomach sleeping works with gravity because it pulls the tongue and soft tissue forward, eliminating airway obstructions and lessening the likelihood of snoring.
It’s not the worst position, but it is common for a stomach sleeper to bury their face too far in the pillow or to allow the pillow to cover some or most of the mouth, which can actually work against good breathing and sleep apnea.
Stomach sleeping can also put additional, unnecessary stress on the neck, which can create a host of issues that affect good health and rest. If you choose to sleep this way, be sure you make safe decisions with regard to your pillow and your posture.
Sleep Position #4: Supine (Back) Sleeping
Ending our countdown to the last sleep position for sleep apnea is supine sleeping—or sleeping on your back.
Supine sleeping is not generally recommended and receives the lowest rating. Back sleeping is the least recommended position as it causes the sleeper to be more likely to snore and twice as likely to experience sleep apnea.
Back sleeping works against gravity and causes the soft tissues in the upper airway (including the adenoids, the tongue, and the uvula) to crowd and create upper airway resistance. The term for this type of obstruction is positional obstructive sleep apnea. Simply put, when the tongue relaxes back, our sleep apnea gets worse. Many people who struggle with sleep apnea have historically chosen back sleeping as their sleep position of choice.
The best thing you can do is avoid back sleeping and train yourself to sleep in one of the other positions on this list.
If you are currently a back sleeper, get a better pillow, and try experimenting with side sleeping to see what it can do for your rest As a bonus, you may find that it is more comfortable over time!
Think You May Have Sleep Apnea? Take Our FREE Sleep Apnea Quiz!
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Already a left-side sleeper? Congratulations! We hope your CPAP therapy is helping you achieve quality sleep.
How we sleep is as important as how much we sleep. Both quantity and quality have a direct impact on our health and quality of life, and our sleep position has a lot to do with it. The good news: if you don’t like your current sleeping position, you’re not stuck with it. With a little education and effort, you can pursue positional therapy for sleep apnea and train yourself to sleep differently.
Bottom line: the fewer the obstructions, the better. We take sleep seriously and want to help you get good rest. If you are not a side sleeper and have sleep apnea, check out our positional sleep apnea treatment options here.
Eric graduated from Texas State University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He has worked as a freelance photographer, editor, and writer. Eric is committed to providing the most value possible to CPAP.com readers by creating a highly approachable user experience, with an emphasis on actionable information and thorough research.
12 thoughts on “Best Sleeping Position for Sleep Apnea”
Sleep Apnea has been a long time problem for me. I absolutely have to sleep on the right side, since I have a medical implant on the left side for my seizures. Life’s been hard for me.
I feel you. Ive had sleep apnea since a child buy diagnosed while in my 30. same time develop epilepsy. I am in my 40s. I can remember having to go to school and only sleeping 1 or 2 hrs of horrible sleep especially in high school and college. I guess it became too much for my system that I feel the effects have so negatively impacted so many functions especially my ability to think deeply and communication skills.
Any other women experiencing hair breakage due to the back strap of the cpap machine? Any recommendations? I have tried wearing a silk scull cap but I get so hot during the night. I find myself adjusting the strap back on my head. I can’t figure out if it is too loose or too tight but it keeps coming off my head during the night and I have notice my hair is damaged and breaking off as a result of it.
Hey Angela, i’m sorry to hear about the hair damage/breakage, that you are experiencing. Please see the link below for a mask that may work for you since it has no headgear.
For further questions, or concerns, please feel free to reach us at: 1-800-356-5221, you may e-mail us at: email@example.com.
We wish you the best!
I am 52 yr old.i frequently feel choking in night sleep mode.Tonge and throat dry in night.what shud I do,got depressed.
Hi Tejraj, I’m so sorry to hear about the problems you’re having. Are you currently using a CPAP machine? If not, have you spoke with your doctor about being tested for Sleep Apnea? If not, the first step to getting the help you need would be to speak with your doctor.
If you would like to speak with me further please feel free to call 1-800-356-5221, ask for Carol. You may e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope to hear from you soon!
Is there a better sleeping position for those of us already using a cpap each night? I prefer sleeping on my back which keeps the full face mask from slipping (little to no air leak) but would like your thoughts/advice on this. Thank you.
Hey John, the number one recommended sleeping position is on your left side. Some folks aren’t able to adjust to this position easily, but as stated in the article, if you want to become a left-side sleeper, start by finding a good, firm pillow that can support your neck and back.
For further questions, or concerns, please feel contact us at: 1-800-356-5221, or you may e-mail your questions to: email@example.com.
Have a great day!
I have had been diagnosed with sleep apnea 2 years ago but suffered for years b4 that.i would wake up 50 times a night and fall asleep by 2 o clock next day.
Now that I’m on the CPAP machine I feel so much better but i still dont sleep great at night still wake and agitated.when i take mask off in the morning I try sleep without mask but just keep waking every 10mins .I’m getting so frustrated i know i have sever sleep apnea.
I’m sorry you’re having a tough time with your therapy. I totally understand your frustration, but please help me better understand what your challenges are.
For starters, what type of mask are you using (full face, nasal, nasal pillow)? Do you feel that you’re getting too much air, or not enough? Have you tried any other masks? Have you spoken with your doctor, so that your therapy data could be reviewed to determine if you would benefit from a setting adjustment?
In some cases, small changes like a different mask, pressure, ramp, or other comfort settings can help to drastically improve your CPAP therapy, but it starts with us understanding your areas of complaint.
Please give me a call at: 1-800-356-5221, ask for Carol M., so that I can gain a better understanding of your needs.
I hope to hear from you soon!
I have been using CPAP since 2013, last year I received a new machine now, when I use my machine my teeth hurts and my mouth is completely dry when I wake every morning. I am tempted to stop using my machine. Is there anything that I can do to correct the problem.
I’m very sorry to hear about the teeth pain and dryness, you’re experiencing. What type of mask are you using (nasal, full face, nasal pillow)? Some masks may put pressure on your upper lip and cause pain in your teeth. Also, if you are over-tightening your mask, this may cause teeth pain.
If you’re using a nasal mask, or a mask that sits on your upper lip, you may benefit from trying a different mask.
In reference to the dry mouth, are you currently using a humidifier with your therapy? If not and your machine has the option to add one, you may consider doing so and a heated hose if the option is available with your machine, this may decrease the dry mouth issue.
Also, are you using a full face mask? If not, your mouth may be falling open during your sleep and this will cause severe dryness and it would mean you’re not receiving the treatment you need.
Basically, if you aren’t using a full face mask, please consider switching to one, or adding a chinstrap. If you’re using a full face mask, be sure that you’re using the correct size, if there isn’t any sizing issue, please check your leak rate under your therapy data. If more than 24L/m, you should change your mask’s cushion, or entire mask.
Keep in mind your mask cushion should be changed every 3 months and complete mask with headgear should be changed every 6 months.
For further questions, or concerns, please reach us at: 1-800-356-5221, or you may e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please don’t give up on your therapy, have a great weekend!