Using a Tennis Ball to Improve Breathing in Sleep

Can a tennis ball actually prevent you from snoring? Learn how a properly utilized tennis ball may keep you off your back and prevent snoring and even positional sleep apnea.

Tennis ball placed on white line of outside tennis court
Ivan Ramirez / Moment / Getty Images

The Role of Position in Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Inevitably, breathing becomes more disturbed when we sleep on our backs. This position allows gravity to shift the tongue and tissues of the soft palate into our airway. This will obstruct the airflow from our nose or mouth to our lungs. Snoring results when turbulent airflow causes vibration of the soft tissues, typically within the throat. Just like water flowing over a shallow and rocky streambed, more noise results with this turbulent flow. If the tissues completely block the airway, obstructive sleep apnea occurs.

In order to prevent you from sleeping on your back, your bed partner may throw a sharp elbow into your ribs. However, there are other solutions that exist as well, but are they right for you?

Reviewing the Sleep Study

It can be helpful to undergo a formal sleep study called a polysomnogram to assess how your breathing changes when you sleep on your back. Studies that occur in a sleep center will include positional data. Most importantly, you want to compare how your sleep changes when you lie supine (on your back) versus prone (on your stomach) or laterally (on your sides).

In some people, sleep apnea may be significantly worsened when lying supine. Rarely, the disorder may only occur on the back. If your study demonstrates that sleep apnea solely occurs to a significant degree on your back, you will benefit from positional therapy, including potentially the use of a tennis ball.

Options for Positional Therapy

There are a handful of devices that can be purchased to prevent sleeping on your back. If you are creative, you can also devise a few solutions from common items around your house. These options include:

Zzoma Positional Device

This “bumper” is worn around your waist with a foam block positioned at your back to prevent turning onto it in the night. It is fastened in place with fabric and Velcro straps. It may affect your ability to turn at night, and some users complain of resulting back pain. It requires a prescription from your doctor.

Night Shift Device

This simple device vibrates when it detects that you have shifted onto your back. It is worn around the neck, held in place with a strap with a magnetic clasp. If you fail to move to your sides, the vibration becomes more intense, and this may be disruptive to a nearby bed partner. It requires a prescription and is a more expensive option.


A lightweight backpack can be an effective option to prevent supine sleeping if you place a firm baseball or softball into it. If you move to your back, the discomfort from the ball will cause you to wake and shift over to your sides. It is inexpensive and can make a difference for some people.

Tennis Ball T-Shirt

Finally, a tennis ball may be another option to consider. By sewing a tennis ball into a patch on the back of a t-shirt, you can likewise prevent yourself from sleeping on your back. If you move to your back the ball will cause pressure that will wake you and encourage you to move to your sides. If you lack sewing skills, you might look for a loose article of clothing with a pocket on the back (like pajama pants) or one that you can simply wear backward.

If you suffer from snoring or sleep apnea that occurs predominately on your back, consider some of these treatment options to help you breathe and sleep better. If your problem persists, you should talk with a sleep specialist about additional options, including the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or an oral appliance.

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  1. American Academy of Sleep Technologists. What is Polysomnography?