If you or someone you love is struggling to get good rest or has recently been diagnosed as having sleep apnea, you may be feeling overwhelmed. With so much information out there, it’s hard to know where to start or who to trust. So we’ve compiled some basic things you need to know about positional therapy for sleep apnea.
Who Has Positional Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
In other words, if you struggle with at least two times as many sleep apnea breathing events at night while sleeping on your back (versus your side), you may actually have positional sleep apnea. The good news?—This type of apnea responds well to what is called positional therapy. Meaning, you may be able to improve your rest simply by sleeping in a new position. And you can make take steps immediately to improve your quality of sleep.
That’s good news, right?
Research shows that our sleep position directly and powerfully impacts the number of sleep apnea occurrences we experience.
Positional Therapy Strategies
According to research, “Positional therapy may be a promising therapy option for patients with positional sleep apnea. With appropriate adherence, it yields a reasonable success rate in the clinical routine.”
If you recently learned that you have sleep apnea, don’t be overwhelmed. There are many common positional sleep apnea treatments to help you get the rest you need. And the strategies around how you sleep in your bed—or the position of your body while you’re resting—is known as positional therapy. Thankfully, many positional therapies exist to help you. You can be on the road to better rest in no time.
Time to Turn Over
According to The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, sleeping on your back—specifically—is associated with obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleeping on your back is referred to as “sleeping in the supine position,” and is considered to be the worst position for someone with sleep apnea. This is due, in large part, to the simple effect of gravity. When sleeping on your back, your lower jaw, tongue, and the soft tissues of the uvula and palate naturally fall back and block your airway. This can cause breathing disturbances and disruptions that impede your airway and, ultimately, your good rest.
If you sleep on your back and wake up feeling like you didn’t get good sleep, it may be time to try sleeping on your side. Side sleeping often helps patients who struggle with sleep apnea. For some people, not sleeping in the supine position is enough to improve or eliminate their sleep apnea.
To make this happen, some people wear a special device or wearable belt that fits around their waist or back that makes back sleeping uncomfortable. Others rely on alarms or buzzers that affix to their clothes and alert them during the night if they roll to their back. Others use special pillows or pads that easily and effectively encourage side sleeping.
There are many options in all sizes and budgets to help you train your body and brain to sleep in a new and better way. Many positional sleep apnea products exist to help you manage your sleep posture. Specifically, many products exist to help coax you into sleeping on your side and discourage you from rolling onto your back while you rest. All of these fall under positional therapy for sleep apnea and can be powerfully effective over time.
How to Change Your Sleep Position
You probably have your favorite way to sleep—we all do—but if your current sleep position is contributing to your sleep apnea, it’s a good idea to make a change. Or at least give it a try to see if it improves your sleep quality. It is possible to change our habits.
And the good news?—it may be easier and less costly than you might think. One of the cheapest, most effective ways to avoid sleeping on your back, for example, is to sew a tennis ball onto the back of your shirt. If you roll on your back, the tennis ball will create discomfort and you’ll quickly make a change. Sounds silly, but it works!
Positional therapy can work very well in combination with other sleep apnea treatments. Positional therapy for sleep apnea can be utilized by itself or in combination with other options. We always recommend that you talk to your doctor to find the therapy combination that will be most effective for you. Often, it is helpful to implement positional therapy strategies in addition to a CPAP machine. This will restore your sleep and assist you in achieving greater rest and better health.
It should be noted that many other factors can affect the quantity and quality of your sleep. From your sleep environment, mattress quality, pillow choice, bedtime routine, lifestyle choices, and body weight, everything affects the type of rest you get. But all of these things have the power to be improved, so there’s hope! Your rest and health can get better.
If you are looking for a specific brand or product—or if you’d simply like to see your options for managing sleep apnea—we’d love to show you what we offer.
Aaron McCann has been working in the CPAP industry for nearly five years researching and learning about the latest and greatest in CPAP therapy and equipment. Aaron is committed to helping the CPAP community achieve better sleep and a better quality of life!