If So, Back Off!
No doubt you have a favourite sleep position that you adopt as you are drifting off to sleep. And most people change positions several times during the night, which is very healthy for your circulation and muscle tone.
Only 8% of us are back sleepers. But if you are one of them, you better check with your bed partner to verify if you snore or if your breathing seems to be erratic and interrupted. These are characteristics common to Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
Snoring and OSA are much more frequent when a person is sleeping in the supine position. So, if you are one of these noisy sleepers (like I am), then you want to do everything you can to STAY OFF YOUR BACK.
In the deeper stages of sleep, your airway and throat muscles become more and more relaxed.
If you are sleeping on your back, gravity will force the soft palate and base of the tongue to collapse onto the airway. This causes more forceful breathing and tissue vibration as air struggles to get through your narrowed breathing passages. The result can be some very creative breathing sounds.
With OSA, the throat can close off completely, and this causes short periods where your blood oxygen level drops. When this happens, you don’t regain your regular breathing rhythm until the brain is signaled and alerts you to wake up and make an extra effort to breathe.
Most of the time, people won’t remember these episodes, but they severely disrupt the restorative effects of sleep. People with moderate or severe sleep apnea may be waking up hundreds of times every night without knowing it!
Your Sleep Position Could Be
Sabotaging Your Energy
Sleeping on your back can also aggravate or cause headaches, heartburn, and back pain. Those are symptoms you don’t need.
Because both snoring and sleep apnea are related to your throat and nasal anatomy, you can improve these symptoms by changing your sleeping position to be curled up on your side, like a sweet little baby in utero. This is the healthiest position to sleep in, because it helps keep your airways open and it complements the natural curvature of the spine.
What To Do
Back sleeping is so closely linked to sleep apnea that doctors prescribe side sleeping as a treatment.
Changing your preferred sleep position isn’t easy, because even if you fall asleep in a deliberate new position, you might find yourself rolling back and awakening in your old favourite way.
But give it a try!
Adopt a side sleeping position, and use extra pillows placed against your back to stop you from rolling. There are also many positional devices available that wedge your spine into side sleeping, and prevent you from turning over.
If you do roll onto your back, ask your bed partner to wake you and nudge you back to your side sleeping position. (They are probably awake anyway due to your snoring or gasping, and are happy to advise you of this correction. Don’t be annoyed with them; they are doing you a favor.) People also say that the trusted old method of sewing a tennis ball into the back of your pajamas works too!
It’s imperative that your vital organs (brain, lungs and heart) are well-oxygenated at all times, and with some attention to your sleep position, you can take this first most logical step to manage snoring and OSA. You will soon experience more refreshing mornings and increased daytime energy.
Here’s to quieter nights for all!
Dr. Chris Carruthers is a sleep health champion providing individuals with the information and skills they need to take smart action to overcome insomnia and conquer fatigue.
With a lifetime career in healthcare and recovered after 7.5 years of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, Chris shares her sleep strategies through speaking, coaching and her signature program, The Sleep Well Tonight Method.