Side sleeping is a position that many with breathing problems prefer. When done right, it may help open up the airways and reduce snoring.
For instance, it’s a position that eases symptoms of sleep apnea. This breathing condition occurs during sleep.
And it's when the tongue collapses to the back of the throat. This causes an obstruction, which results in breathing pauses and loud snoring.
Sleep Foundation says physicians recommend side sleeping for those with sleep apnea(1). It keeps the airways open compared to sleeping on your back. This position keeps your tongue from falling back and causing you to stop breathing.
Other Benefits of Side Sleeping
Side sleeping has several other health benefits.
It’s good for the digestive system, especially if you have GERD or constipation. This sleep position promotes better digestion and allows gas to clear your system. In the case of acid reflux, it prevents the backflow of stomach acids.
Science Daily says some research suggests that sleeping on your side is good for your brain. It promotes better removal of waste accumulated by the brain while we’re awake(2).
It’s the ideal position to sleep in when you’re pregnant. Stomach sleeping is possible in the first few months. But it’s not recommended in the second or third trimesters.
Plus, side sleeping promotes better blood and oxygen flow for both mother and child.
It goes without saying that it’s a good sleeping position when you have back pain. Again, you need to do it right to keep your spine in neutral alignment.
Sleeping on Your Side: How to Do It Right
Start by lying down on one side, making sure to align your head, chin and shoulders. Keep in mind your shoulders need to align with your hips, too.
Now you might be wondering why all this is necessary. The answer is simple: your spine needs to be in a neutral position for you to get the most out of side sleeping. Otherwise, you may experience neck, shoulder and lower back pain.
Avoid curling up too much as you sleep on your side. This may cause tension in your shoulders and neck. Not to mention cause an unnatural curvature to your spine.
One common complaint about side sleeping is when the arms and shoulders fall asleep. A solution is to use a side pillow made especially for taking the pressure off your shoulders.
It’s crucial to use the right mattress and pillows for side sleeping. These provide adequate support and reduce the risk of body aches.
For the pillow under your head choose one that has medium to high firmness and a height of 3 to 6 inches. Placing a pillow between your knees helps maintain your spine’s natural curvature. Use a medium to firm hybrid mattress or one that’s made from memory foam.
Yup, the side posture can be an ideal sleeping position for breathing problems. Like sleep apnea and snoring. But it's important to know how to do it right.
💡 Key Takeaway: Side sleeping has many health benefits, including reducing snoring and opening airways. But it’s important your spine remains in a neutral position for the best results. Make sure to choose the right kinds of mattresses and pillows for adequate support and to help prevent soreness.
Back Sleeping Position for Breathing Problems
If you have breathing problems, sleeping in the supine position isn’t ideal. In fact, it can make breathing more difficult in most cases.
Let’s take a look at sleep apnea. Back sleeping makes it easier for your tongue to collapse to the back of your throat. Basically, it’s gravity doing its job. It's the same for snoring.
If you’re congested, have COPD or a sinus infection, sleeping flat on your back won’t help. To start, it’s not the best way to maintain open airways throughout the night.
Plus, it won’t help with allowing fluids to drain. Instead, they’ll go back from your nose to your sinuses.
There’s one way to make this posture work as the best sleeping position for breathing problems. If you must sleep on your back, elevate your head with a pillow.
Keep your head above heart level. It'll help you breathe better if you have a sinus infection or congestion. If you have sleep apnea, it will open your airways compared to lying flat on your back.
Use a pillow that will support your neck so you don’t wake up with aches and pains.
Benefits of Back Sleeping
The most important benefit of the supine sleep position is it's good for your back. This position maintains the spine’s natural curvature — provided you do it right.
If you suffer from constant neck and shoulder pain, sleeping on your back is a good option. It doesn’t put unnecessary strain on your joints, which side sleeping can sometimes do. It’s also good for tension headaches.
It’s also the best position for the skin on your face. When you sleep on your back or stomach, you press your face against your pillow for a long time. This can lead to temporary sleep creases, which may turn into permanent wrinkles.
How To Sleep On Your Back
To get the most out of back sleeping, do it right. Use the correct pillows and mattresses.
One medium-loft pillow to support your head and neck. Another one under your lower back to support where your back curves. And finally one under your knees for extra spine curvature support.
A firm mattress is also the best option when it comes to back sleeping. One that’s too soft won’t give your body enough support and cause tension in your muscles.
The supine posture may not be the best sleeping position for breathing problems. But it has other health benefits. If you want to continue sleeping on your back despite this, keep in mind what we discussed in this section.
Now let's explore stomach sleeping as another potential sleep position for breathing problems.
💡 Key Takeaway: Back sleeping has many benefits. But it isn’t the ideal position for those with breathing problems. If you must sleep on your back, elevate your head with a pillow.
Stomach Sleeping Position for Breathing Problems
When it comes to breathing problems, the prone sleep position may help in specific cases.
It’s true nothing beats side sleeping when it comes to obstructive sleep apnea and snoring. But according to a few studies, stomach sleeping may lessen breathing pauses. Take note, if you have a CPAP machine, this position isn’t for you.
It isn't related to sleep. But Healthline says doctors use the prone position to treat those with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Or severe cases of COVID-19(3). Placing patients on their stomachs helps their lungs expand completely. This then allows them to expel the liquid in their lungs by coughing.
It's true stomach sleeping doesn’t have as many benefits as the other positions. But the prone sleep position may also help with severe cases of GERD. However, this is on a case-to-case basis and also doctor-recommended.
The Correct Way of Sleeping on Your Stomach
Lie flat on your tummy, turn your head to one side, then extend your arms outward. While there’s an option to tuck your hands underneath you, it may cause your arms and hands to fall asleep. Arrange your pillows and body until you’re comfy.
Use a thin pillow for your head. Too high and your neck won’t be aligned with your spine. For the mattress, a firm one works. Like sleeping on your back, a sagging bed could cause joint and muscle pain in the morning.
💡 Key Takeaway: Stomach sleeping may provide relief from snoring, neck pain, and acid reflux. Use a thin pillow and firm mattress to maintain a comfortable position throughout the night.
Common Questions About the Best Sleeping Position for Breathing Problems
What sleeping position opens your airways?
To keep your airways open while sleeping, it's best to sleep on your side with a pillow between your legs. This will help maintain proper alignment of the spine and prevent airflow obstruction.
Elevating your head with a pillow may also help clear nasal passages and reduce snoring. If you have breathing problems, it might be best to sleep with an air purifier to clear the bedroom air of toxins.
On top of this, use a sleep mask for side sleeping to block out light as you catch zzzs. The fewer sleep interruptions, the better your sleep quality.
What is the best way to sleep for your lungs?
It varies from one person to the next. But the best sleep position for your lungs is one that promotes optimal airflow. Avoid lying on your back unless your head is above heart level.
Instead, try sleeping on your side or stomach with a pillow between your legs if necessary.
Keep the room well-ventilated with clean air (and that means cigarette smoke, too). And as much as you hate to do it, keep your fur babies out of the bedroom, so their dander doesn’t cause allergies.
Which side sleeping position is good for the lungs?
Side sleeping improves breathing. Your chest cavity expands more, so you can take deeper breaths for more oxygen intake. Side sleeping also keeps your airways open.
And when it comes to snoring or sleep apnea, either side will do.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution when finding the best sleeping position for breathing problems. Experiment with different positions and find what works best for you.
Remember that side sleeping may help as it opens up airways. And if this doesn’t help, try back and stomach sleeping the right way (as described above).
Ultimately, the best sleeping position to improve breathing depends on your needs and comfort. And of course, what your health provider recommends.
(1) “Side Sleeping: Which Side Is Best and How To Do It.” Sleep Foundation, www.sleepadvisor.org/zero-gravity-sleep-position-benefits/. Accessed 05 April 2023.
(2) “Could body posture during sleep affect how your brain clears waste?” ScienceDaily, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150804203440.htm. Accessed 11 April 2023.
(3) “Understanding How Prone Position Is Used in Medical Settings” Healthline, www.healthline.com/health/lung-cancer/prone-position. Accessed 14 April 2023.
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