June 15

What Is the Best Sleep Position for Breathing?

The position that your body is in during sleep can have a big effect on the airway’s posture and your ability to breathe throughout the night. It is normal to use different positions during sleep, but some are better than others. One study showed across a large population of sleepers, 54.1% of total time in bed was spent sleeping on the side, 37.5% sleeping on the back, and 7.3% sleeping on the stomach. However, if you are snoring or not feeling rested in the morning, consider adjusting the position of your body while sleeping. If you find that changing your sleep position doesn’t help, there may be an underlying sleep disorder at play. So, what is the best sleep position for breathing? Read on to find out.

Side Sleeping

Side-sleeping is considered to be the most preferred method of sleep. It’s arguably the most healthy position, too. Side-sleeping helps with digestive, GERD, and gut issues, and also improves blood circulation throughout the body. And, because the spine is aligned, it helps with back pain, as well. When lying on the side, the airway is also in proper alignment, which reduces snoring and sleep apnea symptoms.

For the best night’s sleep while sleeping on the side, be sure to use a medium-to-firm mattress to support your joints well. It should not be too soft or too hard in order to provide ideal support. Avoid neck discomfort by keeping your ears and shoulders aligned, and not tucking in your chin. Work on keeping arms at your sides, and bend your legs slightly at the knees. Lifting your knees up towards yourself will also help release the strain on your lower back. 

Stomach Sleeping (Prone Position)

Stomach sleeping is definitely not the most popular sleep position. It tends to put strain on the neck and back, so isn’t the best for all sleepers. However, there are some benefits of sleeping on your stomach when it comes to breathing. Sleeping on your stomach helps keep your airway open, which reduces snoring and airway obstructions. This position allows your lungs and esophagus to fall into the most open position. Although stomach sleeping and side sleeping share similar effects when it comes to breathing, side sleeping has better effects on the whole body. 

If someone feels most comfortable as a stomach sleeper, we have concerns that they may be using gravity to help keep the airway open.

If you do choose to sleep on your stomach, be sure to invest in a thin pillow to keep your neck and spine in alignment. Place a pillow beneath your pelvis to change the angle of your lower back and reduce pressure. Use a firm mattress, as it will provide your body with the most support in this position. And take some time to stretch when you wake up! 

Back Sleeping (Supine Position)

Back sleeping is the second most preferred sleeping position, as it provides relief from neck and back pain. It also helps with nasal congestion (if you’re suffering from a cold or allergies). 

However, sleeping on your back may be one of the worst positions when it comes to airway alignment and breathing. Gravity tends to pull your airway and tongue down, which obstructs and narrows your airway. If you struggle with a breathing disorder, sleeping on your back will likely make it worse

If you don’t struggle with a breathing disorder (and if you’re not a back-snorer), sleeping on your back is okay. Ensure you use a pillow that keeps your head to the side, and a mattress that supports the spine well. Spread out your arms and legs to distribute your weight, and consider investigating positional therapy.

If you need help evaluating the sleeping positions you use and how it affects the quality of your sleep schedule a virtual consultation with Dr. Turner and we’ll help you find rest and relief.

Schedule A Sleep & Airway Assessment

Healthy sleep and breathing comes from an open airway. When that airway is obstructed (whether we are aware of it or not), it can cause a big range of health issues (including sleep-disordered breathing). Airway obstruction can happen over time (from infancy). Signs of it can be snoring and mouth breathing. A big indicator if you have sleep-disordered breathing is that you’re getting enough sleep, yet still feel tired.


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