June 14, 2024

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Is Sleeping on Your Left Side Bad for Your Heart?

4 min read

It is widely known that good sleep is essential to your health, especially your heart health. In fact, studies have shown that poor sleep can raise your risk of heart disease and other heart conditions. But how does your sleep position affect your heart health? Is sleeping on your left side bad for your heart?

Meet the Experts: Leonard Ganz, M.D., cardiologist and chief medical officer of Abbott’s cardiac rhythm management business; Puja Mehta, M.D., director of Women’s Translational Cardiovascular Research at the Emory Women’s Heart Center and member of the Women’s Heart Alliance Scientific Advisory Board.

No matter how you get comfortable in bed, your sleep position could have an impact on your heart, as well as your overall well-being. Ahead, experts explain how you should be sleeping to optimize your heart health.

Is sleeping on your left side bad for your heart?

Some people feel uncomfortable sleeping on the left side (if they have heart failure or recent procedures/pacemakers), and may prefer sleeping on the right side, says Puja Mehta, M.D., director of Women’s Translational Cardiovascular Research at the Emory Women’s Heart Center and member of the Women’s Heart Alliance Scientific Advisory Board.

Because of the heart’s orientation and “suspension” in the chest, sleeping on the left side can cause subtle changes in the heart’s position, says Leonard Ganz, M.D., cardiologist and chief medical officer of Abbott’s cardiac rhythm management business. “This may lead to subtle changes in the electrocardiogram (ECG), [a test that is used to evaluate heart function].” It is not at all clear, however, that minor ECG variations like this are of any clinical significance, he notes.

Sleep position can also impact certain symptoms, says Dr. Ganz. “Palpitations, an awareness of a rapid and/or abnormal heartbeat, may be more noticeable in some people when they lie or sleep on the left side.” This may in some cases be leveraged to achieve a quicker diagnosis, he notes. What is much less clear, though, is whether lying on the left side increases the burden of arrhythmias, and if so, whether this impacts disease progression or anything other than the patient’s symptoms, Dr. Ganz explains.

At present, the best advice to people may be that if symptoms are more prominent when lying on the left side (or in any other position, for that matter), then to choose a different position, Dr. Ganz suggests.

Keep in mind, also, that those who may experience acid reflux or heartburn problems at night may benefit from sleeping on their left side, says Dr. Mehta.

What’s the best sleep position for your heart?

At this time, there isn’t enough research to prove what the best sleeping position is for your heart health if you don’t already have an underlying heart condition. The most important thing about sleep and heart health is to actually get a good night’s rest, says Dr. Mehta. “The American Heart Association added sleep as a very important factor of Life’s Essential 8.” And, good sleep habits are very important for not only heart health, but overall health, she notes.

Sleep positions to avoid if you have heart failure

There are some important considerations for people with heart failure, says Dr. Ganz. Lying on your back may exacerbate lung congestion (pulmonary edema) in people with congestive heart failure, he notes. “This may manifest the need to sleep with the head propped up on pillows, and/or when people wake up at night short of breath.” In fact, the number of pillows required for comfortable breathing and other simple metrics (weight, ankle swelling, etc.) can be useful in marking heart disease progression, he says.

Some people with heart failure say that breathing is more difficult when they lie or sleep on their left side, Dr. Ganz adds. Still, “while data on outcomes and disease progression are lacking, people should be advised to sleep in the position they prefer.”

When to see a doctor about sleep positions for heart health

Getting enough good quality sleep is extremely important for those with heart disease, and everyone else, for that matter, says Dr. Ganz. “It is well established that sleep apnea may be associated with high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, and other forms of heart disease.” Diagnosing and effectively treating sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, like insomnia, is therefore very important with respect to heart and overall health, says Dr. Ganz.

If you experience symptoms such as snoring or daytime sleepiness, you should be screened for obstructive sleep apnea—which is important to identify and treat, because untreated sleep apnea can cause problems such as heart rhythm and blood pressure issues, says Dr. Mehta. If you struggle with difficulty sleeping or poor sleep, it’s always a good idea to talk about it with your doctor to get proper treatment.

Headshot of Madeleine Haase

Madeleine, Prevention’s assistant editor, has a history with health writing from her experience as an editorial assistant at WebMD, and from her personal research at university. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience—and she helps strategize for success across Prevention’s social media platforms. 

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