Sleeping Sitting up with Sleep Apnea

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest


Osteopathic Consultant

Chris is a professional osteopath who qualified from the  European School of Osteopathy with an Integrated Masters of Osteopathy (D.O. M.Ost.), so what he doesn’t know about your body isn’t worth knowing. Learn more about our team.

Understandably, people with sleep apnea are keen to find the right sleeping position, given that symptoms worsen for many patients when they lie on their back.

People with sleep apnea often have severe symptoms if they sleep on their back, so they’d naturally be curious about the pros and cons of sleeping upright.


Elevating your head with a sit up pillow may help alleviate discomfort. Simple tactics to raise your head and innovative technologies to protect you from sleeping on your back are available depending on your sleep apnea type, severity, and more.

Table of Contents

Sleeping Sitting up with Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea: What Is It?

When your breathing stops and starts during sleep, the condition is called sleep apnea. Untreated snoring and daytime exhaustion may lead to more significant health issues, including heart disease or excessive blood pressure.

This kind of snoring is distinct from regular snoring. Nasal or throat problems, sleeping positions (particularly on one’s back), obesity, advanced age, or the use of alcohol or other depressants are all potential causes of primary snoring. It’s not uncommon for persons who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) to snore, but they are more likely to:

  • Snore far more loudly than people who snore on the regular.
  • Pause for a breather (for over 10 seconds).
  • Breathe shallowly, gasp, or choke if necessary.
  • Be agitated.

Is Sleeping Sitting Up Good For Sleep Apnea?

If you’re bothered about your sleep position, you’re not alone. There are 18 million sleep apnea patients in the US alone, many of whom wake up exhausted every day. It’s no wonder that sufferers are trying to find ways to sleep better. Read on for some good reasons to try sleeping in a sitting up position:

A young woman sleeping sitting on a couch

Sleep Apnea: Benefits of Sleeping Sitting Up

Is it possible to alleviate sleep apnea by sleeping in a chair?  There are benefits to sleeping upright in bed too. Elevating your head when sleeping may not be as well-studied as side sleeping, but it has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.

A modest clinical trial conducted in the 1980s involving 13 male patients with sleep apnea found that sleeping at a 60-degree angle alleviated symptoms in half of the individuals.

These were folks who had a higher BMI. With 52 middle-aged and obese individuals, Brazilian researchers recently conducted a larger clinical trial. For the first time, the researchers analyzed data from both male and female subjects.

Instead of sleeping on a 60-degree bed, they had them sleep on a 75-degree bed that was more pleasant for lengthy periods. People with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) responded best to this set-up, which reduced their symptoms by 30%.

So there is strong evidence that raising your head when sleeping may enhance your quality of sleep.

Can Sleeping Posture Impact Sleep Apnea?

Your sleep position highly affects the quality of sleep you get. The two primary forms of sleep apnea are obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is a mechanical issue. During sleep, throat muscles relax, causing the airway to compress and disrupt breathing.
  • Central sleep apnea is a communication issue. It occurs when the brain fails to provide the correct information to the breathing muscles.

Sleeping on your back may exacerbate sleep apnea, perhaps because the tongue relaxes back into the throat, causing the additional blockage. How many Obstructive Sleep Apnea patients are “position-dependent”? Back sleeping could exacerbate their problems.

Positional Therapy

One treatment is positional therapy. Positional therapy for obstructive sleep apnea encourages individuals to sleep on their sides to relieve throat irritation and improve sleep quality.

Using customized sleep-positioning pillows or vibration alarms on the neck or chest has been found to lessen symptoms. Patients sleep better, remain on their side more, and breathe better.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome

A Cpap machine is treating a senior patient wearing a Cpap mask

The most prevalent sleep-related respiratory problem is obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea causes you to stop and resume breathing repeatedly. The most frequent kind of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when the airway is blocked. Your throat muscles relax during sleep, causing your airway to become blocked.

Snoring is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. Snoring may not always signify a potentially significant problem, and not everyone who snores has obstructive sleep apnea. Obesity is the most frequent cause of obstructive sleep apnea in adults.

It is possible to treat obstructive sleep apnea with medications. A device that employs positive pressure to keep your airway open while you sleep is one option for therapy. You may also wear a mouthpiece that causes your lower jaw to move forward as you sleep. Surgery might be a possibility in certain circumstances.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms

It can be difficult to distinguish between obstructive and central sleep apnea because the signs and symptoms of both types are similar, making it difficult to determine which type you have. Sleep apneas are characterized by a variety of signs and symptoms, the most common of which are as follows:

  • Drowsiness or exhaustion throughout the day
  • Irritating sensations in the mouth and throat upon rising in the morning
  • Waking up with a headache.
  • Depression, forgetfulness, or irritability are all symptoms of inability to focus.
  • Hot and sweaty nights.
  • Sex issues, such as a lack of sex desire, may cause sleep disturbances.
  • Loud snoring
  • Being unable to get out of bed in the mornings because you feel like you’re gasping or choking
  • Being a night owl and waking up often to pee
  • Blood pressure that’s too high

Despite the symptoms, sleep apnea is a manageable condition and should not worry you.

How Do You Prevent Clear Airway Apneas

How to Prevent Clear Airway Apneas

For Central Sleep Apnea, the following are recommended:

  • Try to lose some body weight. Every pound of weight lost can have a significant effect.
  • Not consuming alcoholic beverages, avoiding sedatives, or using sleep medicine. Sedatives and alcohol may relax upper airway muscles, increasing the risk of collapse. Avoiding these substances an hour before night may help with sleep apnea and snoring. You should use prescription drugs, including sleeping pills and narcotic pain meds, with caution.
  • Sleeping on your side is a good idea. It may be beneficial if you have minor sleep apnea that only occurs while you sleep on your back.
  • Sprays for the nose. These might be useful if you have sinus difficulties or nasal congestion that makes it difficult to breathe while sleeping.
  • Using a humidifier. Humidifiers add moisture to the air. Dry air can affect the body and lungs. Unclog your nasal passages using a humidifier. Make your humidifier more beneficial by adding essential oils such as lavender. Known anti-inflammatory and calming properties.
  • Using a CPAP machine. This gadget has a mask for your nose, mouth, or both. Inhale a steady stream of air. There is just enough pressure to prevent excessive relaxation of upper airway tissues. The BPAP is a similar device with two degrees of airflow that vary with each breath.
  • Use of Oral aids. A dental appliance or “mandibular advancement” device keeps your tongue from restricting your throat or moves your lower jaw forward to keep your airway open when sleeping. A dentist can determine which device is best for you.
  • Surgery. It is for excessive or uneven tissue blocking the nose or throat. Surgery may assist with a deviated septum, enlarged tonsils, adenoids, or a tiny lower jaw promoting a narrow throat, such as the upper airway surgery. However, it’s best to start with alternatives like positional therapy.

Alternatives to Improve Sleep Apnea

Sleeping on your back may cause snoring or sleep apnea. If this is the scenario, sleeping on your side may be the answer. Stacks of pillows may help you do this. Sew a tennis ball into the back of a T-shirt. Wearing this to bed will prevent you from sleeping on your back. Slumber Bump, Zzoma, and Night Shift are costlier positioners.

How about elevating the bed? A slight elevation of the bed’s head helps some people’s apnea. Use a sleep wedge pillow, a foam ramp that is tallest at the head of the bed. An adjustable bed may help reduce snoring and apnea by raising the head. Newer beds even have automated positions for sleep apnea sufferers.

Ways To Stay Upright for Sleep Apnea

Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the pros and cons of this approach before implementing it. It’s essential to bear in mind that head elevation is most beneficial when:

There is a slight elevation of your head since you are overweight, and the intensity of your OSA symptoms is minor to moderate. It may also be effective in cases when you are unable to sleep on your side, which is the usual treatment for position-dependent sleep apnea (PPSA).

In any case, here are a few ways to elevate your head:


It’s possible to double up on pillows, but you may prefer a sit up pillow since it’s intended to raise the head while maintaining proper body alignment. If you’re looking for a cheap way to get started, this is a viable alternative a chair for those with sleep apnea who need to sleep upright


Even if you don’t suffer from sleep apnea, it’s worth a try if you have a recliner. When purchasing a recliner, seek one that provides appropriate support for any health concerns you may have, such as back or neck discomfort.

In addition, you should make sure that the chair reclines far enough so that your head is just slightly over the ground. A recliner will reduce symptoms of those suffering from sleep apnea.

Adjustable Bed

A bed that you can adjust to suit your needs. Even if they’re costlier, you may find adjustable beds online in a broad price range. Remember to seek a mattress that provides appropriate support for the whole body, as well as the ability to raise your head gently.

When sleeping on an adjustable bed, you not only increase the quality of your sleep, but you may also reduce the symptoms of some medical illnesses, such as sleep apnea and acid reflux. In addition to decreasing pressure points, opening airways, and boosting circulation, elevating the upper and lower bodies may help you sleep better by lowering stress.

Is it OK To Sleep Propped Up?

If you love sleeping on your back, there are certain drawbacks. In contrast to certain animals, the human body seems most suited for sleeping on its back.

Sleeping upright has certain possible drawbacks, such as: 

  • There is a chance that you will not feel as comfortable as you would in a bed. You may not be able to get a good night’s rest if you’re sitting up.
  • Pains and aches in the body. Your could experience both back and neck pain when sleeping propped up.
  • A high chance of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) when your arms or legs are bent for an extended period and you remain stationary. As a result, it is advisable to employ sleeping upright as a short-term solution.

In Conclusion

Sleep apnea symptoms might be lessened if you sleep sitting up straight. When you sleep in this posture, you’re less likely to have a blocked airway. Some folks may also find that sleeping on a chair is more comfortable.

Sleeping in an upright position is neither fundamentally healthful nor harmful. When it comes to sleeping in an upright posture, as long as you can relax comfortably and receive enough sleep, it may be the best alternative. Some people have medical issues that make it more comfortable to sleep while sitting up than lying down, for example during pregnancy

If you’re having difficulty improving your breathing while sleeping, seek help from a board-certified sleep medicine specialist who will give you more tailored recommendations.