Sleep Apnea and Positional Therapy: Proper Position Can Make All the Difference

What is Positional Sleep Apnea?

Some patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea experience an increase in snoring and apneas when they sleep on their backs. When lying on the back, in supine position, gravity is pulling the muscles and tissue in the throat down. If the pull is great enough, the tissues will touch and cause vibrations that result in snoring. Snoring results in Sleep Apnea when the touching tissues create a blockade in the airway and respiration can not continue occurring. Patients who experience a greater number of apnea episodes while sleeping on their backs are considered to have Positional Sleep Apnea, apnea episodes that directly relate the position of sleep. As an obstructive form of apnea, Positional Sleep Apnea is a serious medical condition and can result in fatigue, weight gain, obesity, diabetes, heart attack, memory loss, and even stroke.

Patients who do not show a difference between the numbers of apneas they experience when sleeping on their backs and sleeping on their sides are referred to as Non-Positional Sleep Apnea.

How Does Positional Therapy Help Positional Sleep Apnea?

The goal of positional therapy is to keep the Positional Sleep Apnea patient off of their back and out of the supine position. Most people, however, sleep in the supine position naturally, so training the body to sleep in the lateral position can help reduce the occurrences of apneas during the night. Sleep Apnea patients feel sluggish and unfocused after a night of constant arousals caused by their disorder, and CPAP machines are extremely difficult to use for some people; wearing the device on their face keeps them awake. Simply training the body to sleep in a different position can be an inexpensive, relaxing way to find relief from your Positional Sleep Apnea symptoms.

What Can Treat Positional Sleep Apnea at Home?

While fancy, expensive products have been made to help Positional Sleep Apnea sufferers, you can make variations of them in your own home for a fraction of the cost. Keep in mind, however, that home-made remedies may not be as comfortable or durable as commercial products.

  • The Tennis Ball Technique: The “tennis ball technique” is easily one of the most harnessed and recognized home remedies for Positional Apnea patients. There are a few different ways to make the device, but the basic outcome is the same. Take two tube socks, or long socks, and fill the socks with numerous tennis balls; try to fit three or four tennis balls in the socks. Next, take the tennis ball stuffed socks and sew them to the back of a nightgown. The most important part of the tennis ball technique is to make sure that you find the addition to your nightgown uncomfortable; discomfort will keep you off of your back and breathing easy.
  • Extra Pillows: Elevating the head and neck at an angle between thirty and sixty degrees, Positional Sleep Apnea sufferers may experience a freer airway. While elevation almost always helps fight off airway obstruction in the throat, it can lead to severe pain in the neck and chin upon wakening.
  • Backpack: As an alternative to uncomfortable tennis balls, try using a backpack to prevent you from sleeping on your back. Take any old backpack, stuff it with something soft; try foam or clothing. Make sure that the pack is full of heavy items wrapped in cushiony material; for example, wrap a phone book in a sweatshirt. If you sleep with the pack on your back, then the added height of the pack will prevent you from continuing to sleep in that position.

Problems: The biggest problem with most Positional Sleep Apnea home remedies is their lack of comfort. The tennis balls, no doubt, have got to be annoying. Most positional therapy products made at home have a tendency to disrupt sleep. When you roll over onto the hard tennis balls, you don’t continue dreaming; you wake up and are able to turn over. While the tennis balls or backpack may keep you from sleeping in the supine position, it won’t eliminate frequent nightly arousals. Positional Therapy for Positional Sleep Apnea may, in fact, make apnea symptoms worse.

What are Some Commercial Products that are Available for Treating Positional Sleep Apnea?

  • Posture Alarm Trigger: Positional Sleep Apnea patients can purchase a posture alarm. The alarm is usually worn around the chest and can detect when the body enters the supine position. When the sleeper moves onto their back, an alarm sounds; the sleeper becomes aware of their positioning and can move back into a lateral position.
  • Positional Harness: Zzoma creates a positional sleeper than claims to nearly eliminate Positional Sleep Apnea in Obstructive Sleep Apnea patients. The sleeper is a large harness with a very specific design meant to keep sufferers out of the supine position. The harness slightly resembles a fanny back that has been turned around backwards. Studies performed by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine show that 91% of apnea victims who slept with Zzoma’s Positional Sleeper remained asleep on their sides for most of the night. The technology of the harness is basically the same as in the “tennis ball technique”, Zzoma’s product is just significantly more comfortable.
  • Body Wraps: There are specific body wraps that are available for wearing during sleep. Body wraps designed to treat Positional Sleep Apnea only allow a person to sleep on their side. The wraps prop the patient up to a position where they are sleeping on their sides. In addition, the wraps come equipped with pillows stationed at the base of the wrap. The pillows actually stop the person from rolling into the supine position, but they also make the product comfortable and useable.

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