I prefer to sleep on my back, and I have been sleeping on my back since high school at least. But I try not to sleep on my back anymore at all, ever.
Part of the reason is that I snore, loudly. And sleeping on your back makes you more prone to snoring. I have purchased a couple retainer like mouth devices that help. I have these plastic tubes that you insert into your nose (that don’t work at all). I try not to drink alcohol before bed, all in an effort to reduce my snoring for the sake of everyone in my household.
And, as a quick side note, sleeping on my side with my retainer when I haven’t consumed alcohol is usually a pretty good night sleep for all.
But there is another reason I avoid sleeping on my back, and it is sleep paralysis. For whatever reason, sleep paralysis almost exclusively happens to back sleepers. Yes, it is somewhat associated with my stress levels, and maybe 10 times more likely to occur when I’m not sleeping in my bed. But it almost never happens when I sleep on my side.
The issue, of course, is how to stay up on your side while you sleep, especially when you slept on your back for a decade straight? I have had to get creative. I often sleep with something behind my back; a balled up blanket, the body of my wife or a stuffed animal. When I do wake up from sleep paralysis I usually go out on the couch and prop myself up against the back of it so I can’t roll onto my back. And lately I have found it increasingly comfortable to just swing my top leg out in front of me and tilt forward, so I am laying somewhere between my side and my belly.
I started doing this about three months ago. I have never been a belly sleeper, but I am finding it to be better than my side, where I often wake up with a hip on fire or a leg asleep. But not long after I started sleeping like this, I would wake up fully on my belly, my retainer in my mouth, and choking with a vomit flavor in my mouth. I wouldn’t be able to breathe at all, not take in a single drop of oxygen, for maybe 10-15 seconds. The first few times it happened I assumed I vomited but the retainer kept it in my mouth and throat and I woke up aspirating.
And that was partially true.
But as this went along I realized that I never had any actual vomit in my mouth, just the taste. And I found that to be very odd. So last week, the most recent event of me waking up feeling like I’m drowning (this wakes you up by the way, you don’t quickly go back to sleep after this event), I decided to search for this online. Surely I wasn’t the only person that this happened to, and I was right. I quickly found several medical articles as well as personal blogs about the phenomenon.
As it turned out, it was acid reflux. I typically have a lot of heart burn on a lot of days of the week, so this isn’t a shock. But when you have acid reflux while you are lying on your stomach, the acid can enter your lungs and aspirate. I couldn’t take in any oxygen because my lungs were full of fluid. The taste of vomit was in my mouth because of the bile exiting my stomach. The retainer had nothing to do with it.
Of course, the obvious solution to my sleep problem is weight loss. I snore mostly because I’m overweight. I have heartburn mostly because I’m overweight. So if I just lost the weight I could probably sleep in any position I want and be okay. I fully understand that this does not solve my sleep paralysis problem, but two out of three ain’t bad, right?
But let’s be honest here, I’m more likely to just take some TUMs before bed, pop in my retainer and nose tubes and call it a night. Hopefully I can stay balanced on my side the whole time.