Sleeping Position and Snoring

man in different sleeping position

Sleeping on your back 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.

Back-sleepers can try a variety of techniques to prompt themselves to sleep in healthier, quieter positions …

How to improve your sleeping position

If you find yourself sleeping on your back and snoring, it’s time for some “positional therapy”. Simply put: 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.

Side note: a history of side-sleeping

It has long been known that side-sleeping prevents snoring. Soldiers in the American War of Independence and in the First World War were advised to wear their rucksacks filled with bulky things whilst they slept. This was to stop them rolling onto their backs and snoring, giving their position away to the enemy [1].

Your sleeping position is an ingrained habit, so can be hard to change. That said, there are techniques that can make a huge difference.

You can try to change your sleeping position with 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.

1. Homemade hacks

Before you buy something to help you sleep on your side, give some of these free tactics a go:

  • Tennis ball therapy. Tape one or sew a pocket for one to the back of your pajamas to make sleeping on your back difficult.
  • Inflatable pillow prop. Stuff a fully inflated camping pillow into an empty pillowcase. Lie on the empty portion of the pillowcase with your back resting on the inflated pillow. We learnt this trick from SnoreLab user Michael

“I use a small inflatable camping pillow, about half the size of my normal pillow. I blow it up to just short of its maximum so it is very firm and difficult to roll on to and push this inside a normal pillow case all the way to the end which leaves a tail. Sleeping on this tail stops the camping pillow from rolling away whilst propping me up and stopping me from rolling onto my side. If I want to get onto my back it’s quite a struggle and doesn’t happen by accident.”

  • Bed head elevation. For stubborn back sleepers – slot some books underneath the head end of your bed to create the couple of degrees of elevation that could make a real difference.

Read SnoreLab’s full article on homemade hacks to improve your sleeping position


2. Specially designed pillows

Some pillows are designed to keep you in more favourable positions to stop your snoring:

  • Wedge pillow. For the stubborn back sleeper who simply can’t sleep on their side; wedge pillows elevate your head which lessens the effect of weight on your airway. Check out SnoreLab’s recommended memory foam wedge pillow.
  • Neck realignment pillow. If you find side-sleeping uncomfortable on your neck and back, try one of these. SnoreLab’s approved pillow has adjustable height and aligns your airway to reduce the chance of snoring.
  • Pillows to promote side sleeping. Some pillows make it difficult to sleep on your back either with ergonomically designed ridges or with arm holes to stop you turning in your sleep.

“I was recommended a wedge pillow to elevate my head. I saw on the app that this could let me still sleep on my back but in a more elevated position so I was drawn to this idea. I found the position comfortable as I could go back to my preferred sleeping position. It’s also quite firm so my head was nicely elevated which gave me instant success.”Fiona, SnoreLab user.

Read SnoreLab’s full article on specialist anti-snoring pillows


3. Vibrating training devices

These are devices that attach to your body and vibrate when they detect that you are sleeping on your back – the automated equivalent of a nudge in the ribs from your sleep-deprived bed partner.

The subtle vibration creates a subconscious prompt for you to roll onto your side. Evidence for their effectiveness is growing, with tests showing positive results for mild obstructive sleep apnea comparable to using a mouthpiece [2].

“The efficacy of sleep position training therapy was maintained over 12 months and was comparable to that of oral appliance therapy in patients with mild to moderate positional OSA.” [2]

The Snooor wearable trainer is a small and discreet device that sticks to your head or chest. We believe it has the potential to be one of the most effective snoring remedies available:

  • Non-invasive. Simply stick it to your forehead or breastbone. You’ll soon forget it’s there.
  • Easy to use. Simply press the button to turn on and then start feeling the vibrations after 20 minutes.
  • Lightweight and discrete. Measures only 40mm x 40mm.
  • Affordable. Unlike other positional trainers, the Snooor wearable doesn’t require a prescription and is far cheaper than alternatives.

The science bit – why does sleeping on your back worsen snoring?

When you sleep on your back, your mouth has a tendency to fall open. This changes the shape of your upper airway.

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.

Researchers have measured these altered airway dimensions meticulously: using MRI, radiography and infra-red analysis of the upper airway [3][4]. They found that when you sleep on your back:

  • 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.

Sleep-breathing problems are often related to an unhealthy sleeping position. More than half of all obstructive sleep apnea cases are referred to as “position-induced” sleep apnea [5], where the severity of the condition is massively reduced when switching to side-sleeping.

Conclusion

If you think your sleeping position is influencing your snoring, it may be time to consider positional therapy to start to sleeping in quieter, healthier positions.

Remember to check out our guide to specialist snoring pillows and clever hacks to help you sleep on your side.

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References

  1. Ravesloot MJL, et al. The undervalued potential of positional therapy in position-dependent snoring and obstructive sleep apnea – a review of the literature. Sleep and Breathing 2013; 17(1): 39-49. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22441662 
  2. De Ruiter MHT, et al. Durability of treatment effects of the Sleep Position Trainer versus oral appliance therapy in positional OSA: 12-month follow-up of a randomized controlled trial. Sleep and Breathing 2018; 22(2): 441-450. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11325-017-1568-4
  3. 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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2016.01.022
  4. Saigusa H, et al. Three-dimensional morphological analyses of positional dependence in patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Anesthesiology 2009; 110(4): 885-890. https://doi.org/10.1097/ALN.0b013e31819b5d57
  5. 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. https://dx.doi.org/10.5664%2Fjcsm.6622

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