Sleep Apnea

Best Sleeping Positions for Sleep Apnea

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 sleep 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, sleep positions have a huge impact on how we breathe, and our favorite sleep position can actually improve or exacerbate sleep apnea.

Here are the four most common sleep positions and how they rate as the best sleeping position for sleep apnea:

Sleep Position #1: Left-Side Sleeping

Side sleeping is the general recommendation, 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 important to choose a sleep position that allows for our best possible rest. And left-side sleeping is the recommendation.

Specifically, sleeping on the 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 additional note: 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 as it can cause discomfort or add unnecessary stress on the heart.

Sleep Apnea Rating: Side sleeping is rated #1 on this list.

Sleep Position #2: Right-Side Sleeping

Since side sleeping is the general recommendation, sleeping on the left side, specifically, is highly recommended. But for those who cannot sleep on the left side for one reason or another, right-side sleeping is also a good choice. It reduces the likelihood of snoring and promotes good air and blood flow throughout the body.

Note: Studies have found that right-side sleeping can aggravate symptoms of reflux because it can relax the lower esophageal sphincter. So if you struggle with acid reflux, talk to your doctor before sleeping on your right side.

Sometimes people prefer to sleep in the fetal position, which is essentially side sleeping with the knees brought up and the back curved forward. While sleeping in the fetal position is not typically a threat to sleep apnea, it can create other issues with the neck or back, especially as we get older. If you prefer to sleep in the fetal position, consider staying on your side but stretching out a little bit. Or 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 Apnea Rating: Right-Side sleeping is rated #2 on this list.

Sleep Position #3: Prone (stomach) Sleeping

Stomach sleeping is a popular sleep choice and not the worst one on the list as it relates to sleep apnea. Stomach sleeping works with gravity, because it pulls the tongue and soft tissue forward, eliminating airway obstructions and lessening the likelihood of snoring. However, it is common for a stomach sleeper to bury his or her 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.

Bottom line: The fewer the obstructions, the better.

Stomach sleeping can also put additional, unnecessary stress on the neck, which can create a host of issues that affect good health and rest. Stomach sleeping is not a bad decision, but if you choose to sleep that way, be sure you make safe decisions with regard to your pillow and your posture.

Sleep Apnea Rating: Prone (stomach) sleeping is the third-highest sleeping recommendation on this list.

Sleep Position #4: Supine (back) Sleeping

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!

Sleep Apnea Rating: Supine sleeping is not generally recommended and receives the lowest rating.

Get a good night’s sleep.

How we sleep is as important as how much sleep we get. 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 sleep 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: We take sleep seriously and want to help you get some good rest.

Check out our positional sleep apnea treatment options here.

12 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. angela graham Reply

    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.

  3. 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: cpap@cpap.com.

      I hope to hear from you soon!

  4. 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: cpap@cpap.com.

      Have a great day!

  5. David Cahill Reply

    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.

    • Hey David,
      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!

    • Gloria Gray Reply

      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.

      • Hi Gloria,
        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: cpap@cpap.com

        Please don’t give up on your therapy, have a great weekend!

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