Does Sleeping On Your Side Help Sleep Apnea? - The Sleep Institute

Does Sleeping On Your Side Help Sleep Apnea?

Does sleeping on your side help sleep apnea? Before we answer that, we need to know what exactly sleep apnea is. Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep. These interruptions can lead to fragmented sleep and various health problems, including cardiovascular issues, daytime fatigue, and cognitive impairments. One important factor that can influence the severity of sleep apnea is your sleeping position. In this article, we will discover the answer to the question: does sleeping on your side help sleep apnea? We will also compare it to other sleep positions, such as sleeping on your stomach.

Understanding Sleep Apnea and Sleeping Positions

Sleep apnea comes in different forms, with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) being the most prevalent. OSA occurs when the muscles at the back of your throat relax excessively, causing a temporary blockage of the airway. Central sleep apnea, on the other hand, is less common and involves the brain failing to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

The way you position yourself during sleep can significantly impact the severity of sleep apnea. For instance, sleeping on your back can worsen the condition, as gravity pulls the tongue and soft tissues down, obstructing the airway. Conversely, people with sleep apnea who sleep on their stomachs may alleviate some of these issues.

Does Sleeping On Your Side Help Sleep Apnea?

The short answer is yes, sleeping on your side can help reduce the severity of sleep apnea for many people while on the right or left side. These sleep apnea sleeping positions help keep the airway open, reducing the chances of obstruction. Side sleeping is often recommended by sleep specialists and has been supported by various studies.

Can You Have Sleep Apnea If You Sleep On Your Side?

Yes, it is possible to have sleep apnea even if you sleep on your side. While side sleeping may help mitigate the symptoms, it does not completely eliminate the risk of sleep apnea. Other factors, such as weight, age, and anatomical features, also play a crucial role in the condition.

Is Sleeping On Your Stomach Good for Sleep Apnea?

For some individuals with sleep apnea, sleeping on your stomach can indeed help reduce sleep apnea symptoms. This position can keep the airway open more effectively than back sleeping. However, sleeping on your stomach is not without its drawbacks. It can lead to neck and back pain due to the unnatural position of the head and spine. Additionally, some people find it uncomfortable to sleep on their stomach for extended periods.

Sleep Apnea Positions: Side vs. Stomach

When comparing side sleeping and stomach sleeping for sleep apnea, both positions have their advantages and disadvantages. Side sleeping is generally more comfortable and less likely to cause neck or back pain. It also has the added benefit of reducing acid reflux, which can exacerbate sleep apnea symptoms.

Stomach sleeping, while effective in keeping the airway open, can lead to discomfort and musculoskeletal issues. Therefore, side sleeping is often considered the better option for most people with sleep apnea.

Can You Have Sleep Apnea If You Sleep On Your Stomach?

Similar to side sleepers, stomach sleepers can also have sleep apnea. Although stomach sleeping can help reduce airway obstructions, it is not a foolproof solution. Factors such as obesity, anatomical variations, and other health conditions can contribute to sleep apnea regardless of sleeping position.

Optimizing Sleep Positions for Sleep Apnea

To optimize your sleep positions for apnea, consider the following tips:

  1. Use a Pillow: A pillow designed for side sleeping can help maintain proper neck and spine alignment, reducing discomfort and improving airway patency.
  2. Wear a Sleep Position Trainer: Devices that encourage side sleeping can help if you tend to roll onto your back during the night. One notable device is the SlumberBUMP which works better in less heavy individuals.
  3. Maintain a Healthy Weight: Weight loss can significantly reduce the severity of sleep apnea symptoms.
  4. Avoid Alcohol and Sedatives: These substances can relax the muscles in the throat, increasing the risk of airway obstruction.


In summary, sleeping on your side may help reduce the severity of sleep apnea for many people. This position helps keep the airway open, making it less likely for obstructions to occur. While stomach sleeping can also be beneficial, it may lead to discomfort and is not suitable for everyone. Ultimately, the best sleep apnea sleeping position varies from person to person, and it may take some experimentation to find what works best for you.

If you suspect you have sleep apnea, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. While adjusting your sleeping position can help, many people will require treatment (eg. CPAP) to manage the condition effectively.

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