Sleeping Position and Snoring

man in different sleeping position

Your sleeping position matters

Sleeping on your back (supine) makes you more likely to snore or experience sleep apnea. Switching to sleeping on your side (laterally) is one of the most basic and effective ways to reduce snoring. This is because side sleeping reduces the compression of your airways.

The evidence for a sleeping position role in sleep-breathing problems is overwhelming. More than half of all obstructive sleep apnea cases are referred to as “position-induced” sleep apnea [1], where the severity of the condition is massively reduced when switching to side sleeping.

Why does sleeping on your back worsen snoring?

By sleeping on your back, your mouth has a tendency to fall open which causes changes to the shape of your upper airway. Additionally, the effect of gravity on your face, head and neck starts to compress your airway; this is particularly poignant if you are overweight due to the excess fat on the neck. Science has gone as far as measuring these airway dimensions meticulously: using MRI, radiography and infra-red analysis of the upper airway [2].

Findings from these studies show that by sleeping on your back, several changes put you at risk of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea [3]:

  • Your jaw recedes, compressing the upper airway
  • Your tongue falls back
  • There is more oval shape of the upper airway

All of these factors combine to compress the airway, disturb airflow and cause vibration – i.e. snoring. In the worst-case scenario, they cause complete blockage and sleep apnea.

What to do next

The good news is that simple causes have simple solutions; try sleeping on your side! Making this basic change, without the need for any invasive techniques, complicated devices or significant expenditure could have a huge impact on your snoring or sleep apnea.

If you find yourself sleeping on your back and snoring, it’s time for some “positional therapy”. This can include hacks you engineer at home, specially designed pillows or even vibrating training devices that tell your subconscious mind that it’s time to turn over.

Have a think about your usual sleeping position and consider positional therapy to start to sleeping in quieter, healthier positions.

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  1. Madeline JL, et al. Efficacy for the New Generation of Devices for Positional Therapy for Patients with Positional Obstructive Sleep Apnea: A Systematic Review of the Literature and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 2017; 13(6): 813-824. 
  2. Chen H, et al. Three-dimensional imaging of the upper airway anatomy in obstructive sleep apnea: a systematic review. Sleep Medicine 2016; 21: 19-27.
  3. Saigusa H, et al. Three-dimensional morphological analyses of positional dependence in patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Anesthesiology 2009; 110(4): 885-890.

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