Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. People with obstructive sleep apnea experience breathing difficulties when they sleep due to a collapsing of the upper airways.
The brain reacts to the lack of oxygen by prompting the body to awake for air. These mini-arousals or apneas can occur dozens, even 100 times per hour. One of the leading treatments is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.
As you adapt to using CPAP, you will learn new habits that can make sleep comfortable while you use the device. Your sleep mask and your sleep position are two critical factors in using CPAP optimally.
What Is CPAP?
A CPAP device supplies a steady flow of pressurized air while you sleep. This keeps the upper airways open, preventing the interruptions to breathing -- and reduced blood oxygen levels which can increase the risk of serious health complications.
A CPAP machine filters air from the bedroom before supplying this air along a tube to a mask worn overnight at a pre-programmed pressure setting.
There are three types of masks used with the therapy:
- Full face mask – often worn by mouth breathers, the mask covers both the mouth and the nose
- Nasal mask – worn over the nose only, this can be a good option for people who twist and turn a lot during the night
- Nasal pillow mask – this mask covers just the area by the nostrils, with some models having prongs which fit in to the nostrils.
Best Position to Sleep When Using CPAP
It can take a little getting used to wearing a mask when sleeping -- and some people may find they need to adjust their sleeping position to remain comfortable.
For those with sleep apnea, sleeping on your back is usually the worst option; gravity will pull the tongue and the soft tissues in the throat down, further blocking your airways.
However, when prescribed a high-pressure setting, sleeping on the back can be the best position to sleep with CPAP. The back position is more comfortable, as well as more manageable, when wearing a full-face mask.
Sleeping with your head tilted toward the side can also reduce the effects of gravity blocking the upper airways.
Sleep On Your Stomach?
This position negates the effects of gravity on the soft tissues and the tongue. However, turning your head sideways can cause an obstruction to the airways. Therefore, it is best to use a soft pillow to help position the head to point down to keep the airways open.
Sleeping on our stomach tends to be the rarer sleeping position -- and can make wearing a mask difficult as it may press into the face. For this reason. a nasal pillow mask is the best option -- as it has a minimal profile and is less likely to be dislodged during the night.
You may also find using a CPAP-friendly pillow will help accommodate the mask and tubing better, too.
Can You Sleep on Your Side with CPAP?
Sleeping on your side is seen as the best sleeping position for those with sleep apnea -- as it prevents gravity from impacting the upper airways.
Moreover, sleeping on your left side can help reduce acid reflux which may aggravate your sleep apnea. Sleeping on your right side may reduce your snoring, one of the prime symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.
When you sleep on your side, try to avoid curling up; instead, stretch yourself out to help maximize lung capacity -- and to reduce the risk of acid reflux and other issues that may trigger sleep apnea.
When you sleep on your side, your head will naturally be positioned to the side too. This can feel far more comfortable than sleeping on your back and tilting the head to the side to counter the impact of gravity.
Side sleepers can find it easier to adjust to wearing a mask too, providing they are provided with the correct type of mask.
A nasal mask or a nasal pillow mask will likely be the better option than a full-face mask. The more minimal mask design prevents it from becoming dislodged and the all-important seal broken, leading to air leakages.
Adhering to your sleep apnea treatment is crucial. The sleep deprivation and lack of oxygen resulting from sleep apnea increases the risk from serious health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.
Your sleep position can affect the frequency of your breathing stoppages.
Working with your physician, you can find the best sleeping position and mask to ensure your treatment is efficient and effective.
CPAP therapy can prevent interruptions to your sleep by keeping the airways open. This improves the quality of your sleep, helping you feel more refreshed and alert during the day, and reducing the risk of serious health conditions linked to sleep apnea.