The Influences Of Head Position In Sleep Apnea

By Janet Green


Sleep apnea is a condition in which there is transient cessation if breathing while sleeping. There are three subtypes that have been identified. They include obstructive, central and complex types. The obstructive subtype is the commonest and is associated with excessive relation of throat muscles. The central type is caused by failure of the brain to send the signals necessary for the respiratory muscles to contract and relax. Several studies on head position in sleep apnea have been carried out.

Dynamics of air flow in the respiratory tract differ significantly when one moves from the vertical or lateral to the supine orientation. In the latter body orientation, one has to breath against gravity. The muscles fall back into the airway and result in obstruction. During sleep, the muscles are even more relaxed which makes the situation even worse.

Snoring is a common symptom of apnea. It has been identified as resulting from the vibration of relaxed tissues in the respiratory tract. If the restriction to air is too much, there complete cessation of breathing and one has to wake up to restore their breathing pattern. It is worth noting that snoring is not always present and so a diagnosis of the condition will be based on other signs and symptoms. Such include difficulties in paying attention when one is awake, morning headaches and increased sleepiness.

A study carried out in 2017 yielded findings that strongly suggested that the head position during sleep has an effect on the severity of symptoms. It was demonstrated that there is a significant reduction in number of episodes of apnea when the subjects in this study changed their sleeping position from supine to lateral. The changes were, however, not seen among obese subjects.

It is not easy to choose a position in which you will spend the entire sleeping time. This is because, adjustments tend to take place in the the night which alters the option selected initially. For one to have a fixed body orientation, a deliberate effort needs to be undertaken. We will look at examples of options that one may consider.

Contoured pillows are among some of the most effective devices in maintaining position. This is in contrast to ordinary pillows which change shape as the body is adjusted. The contoured pillow is also beneficial in maintaining neck and spine alignment. Different designs of the pillow exist but the effect is largely the same.

Another solution that may be considered is what is termed the tennis ball T-shirt. This is a simple solution in which an ordinary T-shirt is has a tennis ball sewn at the back into a patch. The T-shirt is worn at night such that it causes discomfort in the wearer when they lie on their back. This makes them to readjust to the lateral orientation making it easier for them to breath and thus reduce the likelihood of apneic attacks.

The adoption of an appropriate sleeping position has been suggested as one of the strategies that can be used in controlling the symptoms of sleep apnea. It may be used as a standalone intervention or alongside other forms of managing the condition. One must bear in mind that this option only works for the obstructive and not the central and mixed types. If you have features suggestive of the condition, you need to see a doctor so that the right classification and appropriate management can be done.




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