How Sleep Position Might Impact Your Snoring

Man snores loudly due to position because sleeping on the back can cause snoring
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You have likely heard it before: "I only snore when I sleep on my back." How does sleep position really impact your snoring? Is there a cure for it that might leave you sleeping better?

Sleep Position and Snoring

Snoring results when the upper airway, specifically the throat and the nasal passage, vibrate from turbulent airflow during breathing while asleep. This commonly affects the soft palate and uvula, the tissue that hangs down at the back of the throat. Narrowing at the base of the tongue may also play a role.

Snoring may be worsened in the context of nasal congestion, including with a cold or allergies. Mouth breathing will allow the jaw (and tongue) to shift backward. In addition, alcohol intake can exacerbate the sound. This occurs because alcohol is a muscle relaxant that may affect the muscular tissue lining the throat.

If you sleep on your back, you may be more predisposed to snoring. This occurs because the airway is more subject to collapsing, both from internal factors as well as an external influence (such as the weight of your neck or chest pressing down). Gravity can more easily shift these tissues into the throat, blocking adequate airflow.

Not only can sleeping on your back cause snoring, but it may also lead to complete airway collapse called sleep apnea. Pauses in breathing, gasping or choking, and other symptoms such as daytime sleepiness may result. This can also have significant and even deadly consequences, so it is important to address this problem if it is present. It is important to note that some people may have sleep apnea without evidence of snoring.

Sleeping on your side may be just what you need to breathe and rest more comfortably. Studies, including a study of 21 people who snored without sleep apnea, support that sleeping on your side can significantly reduce time spent snoring and the intensity of snoring.

How to Change Your Sleep Position

Suggesting that you just learn to sleep on your sides may seem pointless as you are, after all, asleep. However, about half of people who are encouraged to sleep on their sides will learn to do so and can maintain the positioning. Often a sharply placed elbow from a bed partner reinforces the behavior.

For those who need a little extra encouragement, there are a number of devices that may be helpful. These include postural alarms, vibrating neck bands, special positioning pillows, bumper belts, and even modified nightshirts. Research suggests that long-term compliance with these interventions is low, perhaps as little as 2 percent after several months.

One inexpensive home remedy is to outfit a snug-fitting T-shirt with a pocket sewn over the spine and a tennis ball placed in the pocket. It may also be possible to use a backpack or fanny pack to accomplish the same thing. Thus, whenever you roll onto your back while asleep, you will become uncomfortable and naturally shift back to your sides. In general, this discomfort won’t be enough to wake you. If you are significantly overweight or obese, you may need a firmer ball, like a golf ball or baseball, to cause enough discomfort for you to shift off your back.

Finally, it might be helpful to raise the head of the bed at night to reduce snoring. This can be accomplished with an adjustable bed, sleeping wedge pillow, or other interventions. Ideally, the head should be raised to at least 20 to 30 degrees.

A Word From Verywell

If your snoring is due to body positioning, simple interventions to get you to turn onto your side may be just the thing to leave you sleeping better. If your snoring persists, or if you have other symptoms suggestive of sleep apnea, speak with your doctor about the need for further testing and treatment.

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Article Sources

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  • Nakano H et al. "Effects of body position on snoring in apneic and nonapneic snorers." Sleep 2003;26:169.
  • Ravesloot MJ et al. “The undervalued potential of positional therapy in position-dependent snoring and obstructive sleep apnea – a review of the literature.” Sleep Breath. 2013 Mar;17(1):39-49.
  • Zoutsourelakis I et al. “Clinical and polysomnographic determinants of snoring.” J Sleep Res. 2012 Dec;21(6):693-9.