The Best Sleeping Position for Asthma
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The Best Sleeping Position for Asthma

Published on Jun 10, 2022 and last reviewed on Feb 06, 2023   -  6 min read


Asthma is a condition in which it becomes difficult for a person to breathe, and it often manifests as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma or bronchial asthma is a respiratory condition characterized by reversible airway obstruction or narrowing of the person’s airway (trachea) due to hyperreactivity of the trachea, which might result in excessive production of mucus or may even cause it to swell effectively, leading to difficulty in breathing and shortness of breath. Characteristic features of asthma are wheezing (whistling sounds), difficulty in breathing, coughing, tightness of the chest, chest pain, heaviness or weight on the chest, excess production of mucus, and shortness of breath.

The severity of the disorder varies, as mild symptoms often settle by themselves and pass by with one or two episodes as such. However, as the severity of the disease increases, so does shortness of breath. Decreased saturation levels are a marked feature of severe asthmatic episodes and require emergency treatment, such as oxygen therapy (extra oxygen to breathe in), bronchodilators (medications that help in widening airways and relaxation of lung muscles), and corticosteroids (medications that help in reducing the inflammation). Severe asthmatic episodes cause difficulty in one’s life as it renders the sufferer unable to continue with their lives. Asthma is a complex respiratory syndrome that is treatable yet has proven to be fatal when left untreated and unattended.

What Is Nocturnal Asthma?

Nocturnal asthma, also known as nighttime asthma, is a condition that is characterized by coughing fits, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and wheezing, specifically at night during or before sleeping. Nocturnal asthma creates a difficult environment for an individual to sleep in, leading to certain sleeping disorders, eating disorders, and certain other mental health disorders. The symptoms of nocturnal asthma render an individual incapable of sleeping comfortably, leading to difficulty managing their daily life activities. While sleeping or lying down, the airway is obstructed, leading to increased resistance in airflow, which triggers an episode of nocturnal asthma. Increased sinus drainage also plays a role in triggering nocturnal asthma attacks.

Nocturnal asthma does not state that the episode gets triggered at night only; it means that it gets triggered before and during an individual is sleeping. In cases where an individual suffering from bronchial asthma works a night shift and sleeps during the day, the episode will get triggered while the person tries sleeping during the day.

The severity of bronchial asthma and nocturnal asthma is not quite the same; as often noticed and reported, a severe episode of nocturnal asthma can often lead to sleep dyspnea (difficulty in breathing while sleeping) which might result in being fatal and life-threatening.

What Triggers Asthma?

Common factors triggering an episode of asthma are:

  • Exposure: When an individual is exposed to an allergen or substances instigating an allergy attack such as dust, mites, animal hair, or other allergens.

  • Natural Phenomenon: While sitting or relaxing, the chances of an asthma attack increase. When an individual’s body is at rest and their muscle relaxes, their upper respiratory tract relaxes and narrows. This increases the possibility of an asthmatic attack.

  • Hormones: Many hypotheses have proven that a decrease in the cortisol level also affects the trachea leading it to constrict and hence an asthma attack.

  • Cold Air: Individual is at risk of being more susceptible to an attack when he or she is exposed to cold air or dry air with less to no moisture.

  • Not Following a Treatment Plan: Managing the symptoms of asthma and living with asthma is a critical part of everyday life. If the treatment plan is not followed, the symptoms worsen, and the illness tends to be severe.

Trigger factors that instigate an episode of nocturnal asthma are:

  • Hormonal fluctuations.

  • Swelling of the airway while sleeping.

  • Excessive secretion of mucus (due to pathology or hyperactive physiology).

  • Sleeping posture and positions also trigger an attack.

What Are the Best Sleeping Positions for Asthma?

Individuals suffering from asthma have difficulty breathing and managing the symptoms with their daily routine. However, researchers have suggested that laying down triggers episodes of asthma. It not only disrupts good sleep, but also leads to sleeping disorders that have severe health-related complications. The episode triggered while lying down or sleeping comes under nocturnal asthma. Taking medications such as bronchodilators, oxygen therapy, and corticosteroids have proven to reduce the severity of the episode and reduce the triggering capacity of allergens or pollutants.

Certain sleeping positions have been suggested to ease up the symptoms of asthma, making it easier for an individual to get a good sleep. Some of the positions are:

1. Lying On The Back:

Lying on one’s back with shoulders and neck elevated has proven to be effective in case of a nocturnal asthmatic attack. Elevating one’s neck and shoulders with two to three or more pillows helps open up the airways as we sleep. When sinuses drain more during the night, sleeping with pillows under the shoulders provides better drainage due to gravity, making breathing easier and shortening and avoiding asthmatic attacks.

2. Lying On The Left Side: The Best Sleeping Position For Asthma.

Most people find sleeping on the back uncomfortable and prefer side sleeping. Sleeping on the left side with a pillow wedged between legs is a proven effective way of reducing the chances of nocturnal asthmatic episodes. Not only does side sleeping prevent an episode, but it also helps with gastroesophageal reflux and is commonly known as heartburn which has proven to be a trigger factor in instigating an asthmatic attack.

The physiology behind laying on the left side is that gravity plays a crucial role; as the shape of the stomach and the angle between the stomach and the esophagus is pretty steep, gravity helps alleviate the digestive acid stressing the stomach. Lying on the left side with the head elevated enough to support an individual through an asthmatic attack. If not possible, adding a pillow between the legs often helps, too, as adding the pillow keeps the spine stable throughout the night and improves the posture which proves essential in the long run while supporting the back.

In addition, sleeping on the side prevents the tongue from falling back and moving down into the throat, hindering breathing, proving to be an effective position to sleep on.

3. Lying On Back With Head Elevated:

Often people with shoulder or arm pain have difficulties sleeping on the side (possibly one or even both), and this makes it harder and even cumbersome while sleeping on the side and so lying on the back with an elevated head and keeping the knees bent with a pillow under the knees have proven to be effective in both the cases. The additional pillow under the knees improves circulation and keeps the body stable and comfortable throughout the night.

4. Sitting Position:

As bronchial or nocturnal asthma worsens, the occurrence of episodes increases, and so do complications related to health. Hence, individuals suffering from severe asthmatic attack refrains from lying down and occluding to sitting and sleeping. Some of the different ways an individual can sleep while sitting are:

  • Resting feet flat on the floor.

  • Slightly leaning chest forwardly.

  • Resting our elbows on the knees

  • Resting the chin on the hand is a way to support the head while relaxing or sleeping.

  • Relaxing muscles, including both neck and shoulder muscles.

5. Prone Position:

With different positions tried and tested, the prone position has proven to be effective in calming the chest muscles and relaxing the trachea while sleeping in certain cases. The prone position is the patient lying on the stomach. It has proven to be effective as it improves the oxygen saturation of an individual and enhances the functional residual capacity of the lungs. However, sleeping on the stomach can cause some difficulties, too, such as strain in the back and neck, and in worst-case scenarios, the pillow can block the airway and disturb sleep.


Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that is fatal yet treatable. Treatment for asthma consists of the three basic components: oxygen therapy, bronchodilators, and corticosteroids. Treatment has proven to be effective; however, treatment helps with the severity of the disease, not the onset of an episode. The trigger factors setting up an episode of nocturnal asthma often worsen when an individual is sleeping or trying to sleep, and this is where sleeping positions come in handy. A sleeping position has proven to reduce the severity of an episode.

The best sleeping position for an asthmatic patient has effectively been proven to be sleeping on the left side. Sleeping on the left side increases the airway space and reduces excessive mucus production, and reduces sinus drainage. Opting to sleep in a better position is a proven and effective way to manage an episode of bronchial and nocturnal asthma.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Position Should I Sleep in for Asthma?

Lying on the back with shoulders and neck elevated is the best position for asthma patients. Additionally, lying on the left side with a pillow wedged between the legs has also proven to be a beneficial position for asthma patients.


What Position Relieves Asthma?

Supine sleep position or sleeping on the left side with a pillow wedged in between the legs helps in relieving asthma. In some patients when sleeping position does not help, sitting with feet flat on the floor or leaning the chest forward may help.


What Makes Asthma Worse at Night?

Asthma may worsen at night due to the following factors:
 - Hormonal fluctuations.
 - Swelling of the airways due to sleeping.
 - Sleeping posture or position may also elevate the attack.


What Is Contraindicated in Asthma?

Common triggering factors that should be avoided by asthma patients are:
 - Sulfites trigger asthma in some patients. These are present in wine, dry fruits, pickles, etc.
 - Tobacco smoke
 - Dust bites.
 - Outdoor air pollution.


What Is the Fastest Relief for Asthma?

The fastest relief for asthma can be done by inhalers such as :
 - Albuterol.
 - Levalbuterol.
Other types of long-term drugs include:
 - Corticosteroids such as fluticasone and dudesonide.
 - Bronchodilators such as salbutamol.


What Sleeping Position Is Best for the Lungs?

Sleeping on the side with a pillow wedged between the legs is the best position for opening the airways. It is proven to be effective as it improves the oxygen saturation of the individual and improves lung capacity.


What Drink Is Good for Asthma?

The drinks which are good for asthma include ginger tea.  Having tea with ginger improves the airway and other asthma-related issues. Green tea, black tea, Caffeinated tea, etc also may prove to be helpful.


How Can I Fight Asthma at Home?

In case of an asthma attack, it requires immediate medical care and inhibition of the triggering  factors. In mild cases, some of the home remedies can be taken such as:
 - Ginger tea.
 - Caffeinated tea.
 - High-fat fish such as salmon fish.
 - Eucalyptus oil.
 - Deep breathing exercises.


Why Is Vicks Bad for Asthma?

Vicks contain molecules that can prove to be irritants. This causes the body to produce more mucus which can cause the airways to swell and block the air from getting in. It does not provide relief to asthma patients.


How Can I Improve My Asthma Lungs?

Asthma lungs can be improved by:
 - Walking - Low-intensity activities such as walking can improve lung functioning.
 - Swimming - Swimming can be effective for people with asthma.
 - Breathing exercises can be done.


How Can I Get Permanent Relief From Asthma?

Asthma is a treatable disease but it does not have a permanent cure. But its symptoms can be reduced by taking measures such as breathing exercises, inhalers, improving sleeping position, and taking caffeinated teas.


How Can I Open My Lungs Without an Inhaler?

Lungs can be opened without an inhaler by:
 - Staying calm.
 - Getting away from triggering factors.
 - Drinking warm, caffeinated drinks.
 - Doing deep breathing exercises.


Does Sleeping Reduce Asthma?

It is noticed that people who get less sleep are more likely to develop asthma attacks and have poorer quality of life than those who get enough sleep (recommended sleep is 7 to 9 hours).

Last reviewed at:
06 Feb 2023  -  6 min read




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