A man reducing sleep apnea symptoms by elevating his head at night.

Reduce Sleep Apnea Symptoms by Elevating Your Head at Night

If you or your partner suffers from loud, disruptive snoring or sleep apnea, you know how much these conditions can interfere with getting truly restful sleep. Sleep apnea, where breathing repeatedly stops and starts, prevents you from reaching the deep REM sleep your body and brain need. There’s a simple positional therapy that can help reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea – elevating your head and torso while sleeping.

Sleeping on an incline keeps airways open, eases breathing, and encourages better sleep all night long. In this post we’ll explore the research behind inclined sleep therapy and how raising the head of your bed can significantly reduce sleep apnea and snoring.

Key Takeaways
  • Sleeping on an incline keeps airways open and improves breathing, which can significantly decrease sleep apnea and snoring.
  • Research studies demonstrate that mild elevation of the head of the bed reduces instances of slowed or stopped breathing associated with sleep apnea.
  • Inclined sleep provides additional benefits like acid reflux relief, improved back support, and increased comfort.
  • Adjustable beds or wedge pillows under the mattress can help achieve an ideal incline of around 5-7 degrees to open up airways at night.

The History Behind Inclined Sleep

An Egyptian room with an adjustable bed for reducing sleep apnea symptoms.

Inclined sleeping, also known as elevated sleeping, has a long history that dates back centuries.

The concept of sleeping at an incline can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where elevated beds or mats were used for various reasons. Ancient Egyptians used angled headrests as early as 1000 BC. Multiple factors drove this – it kept heads elevated above insects on the ground and was thought to connect the individual to the divine energies believed to flow from the head downwards.

Moreover, inclined sleeping gained popularity during the Renaissance era when it was believed to have health benefits. Physicians and scholars of that time theorized that sleeping at an incline could aid digestion, reduce the risk of heartburn and acid reflux, and even improve circulation. As a result, beds with adjustable headboards or pillows were designed to accommodate this sleeping position.

Inclined sleeping in the 19th and 20th centuries

The 19th and 20th centuries saw further advancements in inclined sleeping. In the 1800s, adjustable beds with inclining mechanisms were invented, allowing individuals to easily adjust their sleeping position. These beds were primarily used in hospitals to aid patients with respiratory issues and promote better breathing. However, as the benefits of inclined sleeping became more widely recognized, adjustable beds started to make their way into private homes as well.

In recent years, inclined sleeping has gained renewed interest and popularity. Numerous studies suggest that sleeping at an incline can alleviate symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring, and acid reflux. It is believed that the inclined position helps keep the airways open, reducing the likelihood of obstructions during sleep. Additionally, elevated sleeping is often recommended to pregnant women to ease discomfort and improve blood circulation.

Hospital beds are also often inclined for patients recovering from surgery or illness. This helps breathing, digestion, swelling, and other symptoms.
Surviving Sleep Apnea

Today, various products are available in the market to facilitate inclined sleeping, ranging from adjustable beds and wedge pillows to specialized sleeping systems designed to provide optimal inclination. These innovations continue to evolve and improve, catering to the diverse needs and preferences of individuals seeking a more comfortable and restful night’s sleep.

Gravity’s Role in Inclined Bed Therapy

A bed with an inclined sleeping surface and a purple cover in a room.

Contemporary proponents of inclined sleeping point to gravity as a key reason raising the head helps treat health conditions. Inclined Bed Therapy (IBT) is centered on gravity’s effects on circulation and breathing.

Lying completely flat puts pressure on our lungs and organs. But when the upper body is slightly raised with pillows or an adjustable bed, gravity pulls fluids and tissues away from airways. This eases breathing and aids circulation.

Sleeping with your upper body in an elevated position:

  • Promotes proper alignment of the airways, reducing the risk of obstructions. When lying flat, the muscles in the throat may relax, leading to the collapse of the airway and interrupted breathing.
  • Elevating the upper body at an angle of around 30 to 45 degrees helps prevent this collapse, allowing air to flow freely.
  • Sleeping in an elevated position helps reduce fluid retention, particularly in the legs, which can contribute to swelling and worsen sleep apnea symptoms. By keeping the upper body elevated, the fluid is encouraged to move downward, preventing it from accumulating in the airways and causing breathing difficulties.

Research Shows How Inclined Sleep Reduces Sleep Apnea

A man reclining on a bed.

An interesting clinical study published in the Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology entitled ‘The influence of head-of-bed elevation in patients with obstructive sleep apnea’ demonstrated clear benefits of inclined sleep for sleep apnea patients. The study examined the effects of mild head-of-bed elevation (HOBE) on 52 patients with obstructive sleep apnea.

Participants used adjustable beds to achieve HOBE angles of 7.5 or 15 degrees. Researchers then measured their sleep quality and breathing with at-home polysomnography studies.

Significant Improvements in Sleep Quality

The results showed elevated head positions provided significant relief for sleep apnea symptoms:

  • Apnea-hypopnea index decreased from a baseline of 22 events/hour to 16 with 7.5 degree HOBE and 12 with 15 degree HOBE. This apnea index gauges the severity of sleep apnea based on instances of slowed or stopped breathing.
  • Minimum oxygen saturation levels improved by 6% compared to flat sleeping positions. This is crucial, as lower oxygen levels strain the heart and disrupt sleep cycles.
  • Sleep efficiency, a measure of time asleep versus awake, slightly increased with HOBE versus baseline readings.
  • When participants returned to flat sleeping, apnea events returned to baseline severity levels. This clearly demonstrates the benefit comes from the inclined position rather than other factors.

Overall, the study concluded a mild head incline significantly improved obstructive sleep apnea severity without interfering with sleep quality.

Additional Benefits of Elevated Sleeping Positions

Beyond decreasing sleep apnea and snoring, inclined sleeping positions provide other bonuses:

  • Acid reflux relief – Keeping the head elevated prevents stomach acid from bubbling up into the esophagus and causing heartburn.
  • Improved back support – Proper spinal alignment with the head and neck supported can minimize back pain.
  • Decreased stroke risk – Elevating the head helps drainage and oxygenation which reduces stroke risk.
  • Increased comfort – Opening airways and easing breathing can simply help you feel more comfortable as you sleep.

Tips for Achieving an Incline While Sleeping

A white pillow on a white background for inclined sleeping.

Want to try inclined sleeping to help combat sleep apnea? Here are some tips:

  • Adjustable beds allow you to raise the head up to 70 degrees. This makes it easy to find your ideal incline angle.
  • Wedge pillows under or in place of regular pillows can create an inclined head position. But pillows press shoulders forward, which can close airways.
  • Raising the entire top half of the bed 4-6 inches can work. Place risers, blocks, or wood under the bed’s top legs.
  • Adding a foam wedge under the mattress elevates your upper body comfortably.
  • Don’t raise just your head – lift your chest as well to get the full benefit of opening your airways.
  • Start with a 5-7 degree incline and adjust as needed. Don’t cause new neck pain or discomfort.
  • Inclines are great for back and side sleeping. Avoid stomach sleeping as the angle strains the back.

Tips To Choosing a Wedge Pillow

If you want to try using a wedge pillow to elevate your head and combat sleep apnea, it’s important to choose the right one.

Look for a wedge that is made of firm, supportive foam that won’t compress too much under your weight.

The incline should be gradual – around 7 to 10 inches high at the top edge. A steep wedge can strain your neck.

The top platform should cradle your head, neck and shoulders comfortably. Wedges that are too narrow put pressure on the shoulders and compromise breathing.

Measure the width of your shoulders to find a wedge wide enough to avoid this. A soft, breathable cover will keep you cool.
Surviving Sleep Apnea

Talk to Your Doctor First

Check with your physician before trying inclined sleep, especially if you have health concerns like spinal injuries, circulation issues, etc. They can help determine safe elevation angles and positions.

For those plagued by the nightly disruptions of sleep apnea and snoring, bedtime can feel like something to dread rather than eagerly anticipate. But simple incline adjustments while sleeping can help reclaim that feeling of looking forward to a good night’s rest.

Research shows that subtly elevating the head and torso opens up airways for easier breathing all night long. Doing so reduces instances of snoring and sleep apnea events so you stay immersed in deep REM sleep.

Picture this: You get into a perfectly made bed, settle into your supportive pillow set at just the right angle, and drift off knowing the night holds uninterrupted rest. No struggle for breath. No straining to overcome gravity’s effect on your airways. Just you, comfortably aligned, sleeping deeply.

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As a long term Sleep Apnea sufferer, Sean has researched the topic extensively and tried several different therapies and lifestyle changes with varying degrees of success. His efforts now are focused on helping people get diagnosed early and begin treating their Sleep Apnea to avoid long-term health impacts.

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