Pulmonologists speak to US News about the best sleeping positions to prevent sleep apnea.
“Sleep apnea is often worse in the supine (on your back) position because of gravity,” Tsai says. “The tongue falls back and blocks the airway,” so sleeping on your side “may improve sleep apnea and symptoms.” Fotinakes adds that sleeping on your side or in a prone (on your stomach) position “may lessen or even eliminate snoring and apnea in many cases.”
Sleeping on your stomach can be awkward, and some people who try it find they wake up with a stiff neck. Choosing a very thin pillow or a pillow made specifically for stomach sleepers may help reduce strain on the neck when lying face down.
When sleeping on your side, you’ll likely need a thicker pillow to support the head and neck. Some people prefer to cuddle up to a large body pillow to help keep them in the right position. There are lots of pillows that are marketed specifically for addressing sleep apnea concerns, so do a little research and try out a few to find one that feels right for you.
If you must sleep on your back – some people who have sleep apnea also have acid reflux, and sleeping on your back with your head elevated is often recommended to reduce symptoms of that condition – try elevating the head of the bed, Tsai says. “Sleeping with the head as elevated and upright as possible, such as with an adjustable bed or in a recliner, may be helpful in improving sleep apnea symptoms.” Wedge-shaped pillows made of foam (rather than a squishier material) can help you achieve the right position that keeps the airway more open. Some people even elevate the head of a conventional bed with bricks or a bed riser to get the necessary height to lessen symptoms of sleep apnea.