Are we missing a simple treatment for most adult sleep apnea patients? The avoidance of the supine sleep position

J Sleep Res. 2014 Apr;23(2):204-10. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12097. Epub 2013 Oct 10.


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder which has been gradually accepted as an important cause of increased morbidity and mortality. The treatment of moderate-severe OSA has improved dramatically since the introduction of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices; however, the adherence of patients to CPAP treatment is relatively low. Adherence appears to be even worse in patients with mild or asymptomatic OSA. The failure to identify and treat mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic OSA patients may be costly, as such patients comprise about 20% of the general adult population. OSA patients could be divided into positional and non-positional patients. Positional patients show most of their breathing abnormalities while sleeping in the supine position. Simply, by sleeping in the lateral postures, they eliminate or reduce significantly the number of apneas and hypopneas. On the contrary, non-positional patients suffer from breathing abnormalities in the supine and lateral postures, and as a consequence those are the most severe OSA patients for whom CPAP is the treatment of choice. In this paper we intend to argue that positional therapy, i.e., avoidance of the supine posture during sleep, could represent a valuable therapy mainly for mild-moderate OSA. Considering the fact that the vast majority of mild-moderate OSA patients are positional patients (between 65 and 87%), positional therapy may be a simple, cheap and effective solution for them. High-quality research regarding this issue is needed to evaluate the real effectiveness of this mode of therapy.

Keywords: behavioral therapy; body posture during sleep; positional therapy; sleep apnea; sleep disorder; supine sleep.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Compliance
  • Posture*
  • Prevalence
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / etiology
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / therapy
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / etiology*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / therapy*
  • Supine Position