Breathe easy after baby: study suggests elevating torso during sleep

Sleeping with your upper body in an elevated position after giving birth could increase the size of your airways, according to a new study in the US.

This could be important for women who undergo caesarean sections, and those who have experienced obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) during pregnancy.

"Women who sleep with their upper bodies propped up 45 degrees in the days following childbirth can significantly reduce their risk of postpartum airway obstruction, a meaningful symptom of obstructive sleep apnea early after delivery," says Dr. Matthias Eikermann, study author, Clinical Director in the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

In the study, the research team worked with 55 patients in two postpartum units at MGH, some of whom had given birth just 48 hours prior.

Twenty percent of them had been diagnosed with moderate to severe OSA, according to the study.

An experimental group slept with their upper body elevated at 45 degrees and a control group slept horizontally while the research team assessed the sounds of their breathing using a method called acoustic pharyngometry.

The research team assessed 30 of the patients while they slept in both body positions.

Elevation, they say, significantly reduced the severity of sleep apnea, enabling it to reach normal or just above normal levels on the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) that's used to determine the severity of a given case.

Of the 20 percent who had been diagnosed with OSA, the researchers say half were successfully treated by sleeping with the torso elevated.

What's more, it didn't interfere with the quality of their sleep, either, for they slept for as long and as soundly in the quasi-seated position as they did when they slept horizontally, according to the study.

Of OSA patients -- even men and those who aren't pregnant -- 50 percent experience a reduction in severity if they elevate their upper bodies, according to the study, which was published in the journal CHEST.

While rare, pregnant and post-childbearing women have an increased risk of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), say the researchers.