Women, especially younger women, have a lower risk of sleep apnea in general. But pregnant women are more likely to have sleep apnea, and this can come with serious consequences. One important risk pregnant women face is anesthesia complications related to sleep apnea in the postpartum period (time after giving birth). If a woman undergoes a surgical procedure related to the birth of her child, sleep apnea can lead to significant dangers, including death.

But a new study shows that an elevated sleep position can reduce risks.

Helping Women Sleep Safer

Side view of a pregnant woman's bellyIn this study, researchers identified 55 women who had postpartum sleep apnea. Polysomnograms were performed within 48 hours of giving birth, and for 30 women they were performed in both the flat and the elevated position. In the elevated position, sleep apnea severity decreased from an apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) of 7.7 to 4.5.

Researchers also measured women’s airways in both the flat and elevated positions and found that the changes in AHI were correlated with the relative size of the airway in the two positions.

Importantly, the polysomnograms showed that women were able to sleep comfortably in both positions. As a result, researchers say that this simple nonsurgical intervention is a good way to reduce women’s risk of postpartum anesthesia complications.

Can Others Benefit?

Although this study focuses on postpartum women, positional sleep apnea is common. Estimates vary widely about just how many people with sleep apnea would benefit from sleeping elevated, but they range as high as 50%. Sleeping with your head elevated is something you can try to help reduce the severity of your sleep apnea.

A consultation with a sleep physician can help you understand the level of your sleep apnea risk and whether simple interventions like this can help you or whether you will benefit more from treatments like CPAP or sleep appliances.

If you are looking for easy, comfortable sleep apnea treatment options, we can refer you to a sleep doctor for a diagnosis or give you alternate treatments for your diagnosed sleep apnea. Please call  for an appointment with an Omaha at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.