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6 Sleep Tips for AFib: Sleep Positions and More

Medically reviewed by Angelica Balingit, M.D.
Written by Suzanne Mooney
Posted on August 23, 2023

Wondering how to get a good night’s sleep with atrial fibrillation (AFib) can be enough to keep you tossing and turning. AFib is a type of arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm) that causes shortness of breath, heart palpitations, fatigue, and other symptoms that may interfere with your sleep.

Keep reading if you’re ready to get a good night’s sleep. In this article, we share six sleep tips for AFib, including an overview of sleeping positions, good sleep hygiene, and more.

1. Experiment With Sleeping Positions

Depending on your health conditions and who you ask, you’ll likely receive different responses regarding the best sleeping position for AFib.

Sleeping on your left side can promote healthy blood flow and reduce pressure on your internal organs. However, it can also change the position of your heart, causing discomfort and breathing difficulties for people with heart conditions and changes in electrocardiogram (ECG) readings for anyone.

Based on that information, you might conclude that sleeping on your right side is better if you have AFib. However, this body position can make gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms worse, which can trigger AFib symptoms. Multiple studies have also identified a link between GERD and sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder in people with AFib.

Sleeping on your back can worsen sleep apnea symptoms, like snoring, and sleeping on your stomach can cause neck and back pain. So what’s the best option?

The ideal sleeping position for individuals with AFib is a topic of conflicting evidence. Although doctors generally recommend side sleeping as the best position, this heart-related matter needs more research.

Sleeping on the left side might be worse for people with AFib in some cases, but those who have acid reflux that’s more uncomfortable than their irregular heart rhythm may prefer sleeping on their left side. Some reports suggest sleeping on the left side is better for AFib management. People with heart failure, on the other hand, might find sleeping on their right side more comfortable.

Discuss your overall health and any diagnoses with your doctor. And then, using their recommendations to guide you, experiment with sleep positions until you find the one that feels best to you.

2. Take Medications as Prescribed

Your health care provider may prescribe beta-blockers to slow your irregular heart rate and reduce AFib symptoms. But beta-blockers can also affect your sleep. Research shows that beta-blockers, which reduce the production of melatonin (a hormone that regulates the internal sleep-wake cycle), can cause insomnia and other sleep disorders when used as a standard treatment for AFib.

If you experience sleeplessness after taking beta-blockers or any other AFib medication, ask your doctor if you can adjust the schedule or change dosages. Modifying these factors on your own can be dangerous, so always ask first.

Also, talk to your health care provider before trying to cure your sleep issues. Some over-the-counter sleep medications, vitamins, supplements, and even foods can interfere with how your body responds to prescription medications. Open and honest communication with your provider can help you protect your heart health and get better sleep.

3. Limit Caffeine and Alcohol

An iced coffee might sound delicious on a hot afternoon, but caffeine can continue to affect your body for more than six hours after you consume it. And if you think a nightcap is the answer to your sleep woes, think again.

Avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed are general guidelines for anyone hoping to get a good night’s sleep. For people with AFib and other heart conditions, this advice is critical because caffeine and alcohol can trigger AFib symptoms. Heart palpitations and shortness of breath at bedtime will ensure you don’t get enough sleep, so stay away from caffeine and alcohol before bed.

4. Get Checked for Sleep Apnea

If your breathing consistently becomes shallow or starts and stops while you sleep, or if your partner complains about your snoring, you may have sleep apnea. The American Medical Association has found that this common sleep condition can lead to poor sleep and affects approximately 30 million people in the United States.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most prevalent version of sleep apnea. It occurs when the throat muscles relax and block the airway for more than 10 seconds during sleep. Research has shown a strong link between OSA and AFib. According to some data, approximately 50 percent of people with AFib also have OSA.

Risk factors for sleep apnea include:

  • Obesity
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Narrowed airway
  • Male gender
  • Age over 40
  • Alcohol use and smoking
  • Asthma
  • Family history

If you have sleep apnea, your doctor might recommend a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which keeps a person’s airway open while they sleep. Because sleep apnea and AFib are linked, getting an accurate diagnosis and exploring treatment options is essential.

5. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Good sleep hygiene, or sleep habits, may help you enjoy better sleep. Making lifestyle changes unrelated to AFib can improve your sleep quality.

Here are some tips:

  • Go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Wake up at the same time each morning.
  • Put away all screens at least one hour before bed.
  • Avoid heavy meals in the evening.
  • Consider room-darkening shades and earplugs.
  • Avoid napping late in the day, if possible.
  • Meditate or take a warm bath at bedtime.

Exercising during the day helps some people sleep better at night, but talk to your doctor or a cardiologist before starting a new exercise program. Underlying heart problems can increase your risk of a heart attack or other cardiac episodes during moderate or intense exercise.

6. Ask for Help

Sleep is essential to survival. It plays a vital role in fighting diseases, maintaining a healthy immune system, keeping your nervous system functioning well, supporting mental health, and more.

While an occasional sleepless night or two might not lead to negative long-term impacts, seek medical assistance if you regularly struggle to get a good night’s sleep with AFib. Your health care provider or a sleep specialist can recommend treatment options, including sleep medicine, if necessary.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyHeartDiseaseTeam is the social network for people with heart disease and their loved ones. On MyHeartDiseaseTeam, more than 57,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with heart disease.

Do you have tips for sleeping with atrial fibrillation? Share your experience in the comments below. If you have questions for others living with AFib, post them on your Activities page.

References
  1. What Is Atrial Fibrillation? — American Heart Association
  2. Mayo Clinic Minute: What Is the Best Sleeping Position? — Mayo Clinic
  3. Lying Position Classification Based on ECG Waveform and Random Forest During Sleep in Healthy People — BioMedical Engineering OnLine
  4. What’s the Best Sleeping Position for Your Health? — AARP
  5. Association of Atrial Fibrillation and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Natural and Therapeutic Linkage of the Two Common Diseases — Journal of Arrhythmia
  6. The Relationship Between Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in Inpatient Settings: A Nationwide Study — Cureus
  7. Sleep Apnea and Atrial Fibrillation: How They’re Connected — Michigan Medicine
  8. Self-Reported Onset of Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation Is Related to Sleeping Body Position — Frontiers in Physiology
  9. Is Left or Right Side Sleeping Best for Your Heart? — Dr. John Day
  10. Atrial Fibrillation Sleep Position Tips — Atrial Fibrillation Centers of America
  11. Side Sleeping: Which Side Is Best and How To Do It — Sleep Foundation
  12. What Are Beta Blockers and What Do They Do in Your Body?— British Heart Foundation
  13. Five Ways To Sleep Well and Protect Your Heart — Johns Hopkins Medicine
  14. Beta Blockers — StatPearls
  15. Melatonin: What You Need To Know — National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
  16. Sleep 101: Why Sleep Is So Important to Your Health — University of Michigan School of Public Health
  17. Managing High Blood Pressure Medications — American Heart Association
  18. Atrial Fibrillation Medications — American Heart Association
  19. Sleep Tips: 6 Steps to Better Sleep — Mayo Clinic
  20. Irregular Heartbeat? Six Tips for Living Life to the Fullest— Mercy Hospital
  21. What Is Sleep Apnea? — National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
  22. What Doctors Wish Patients Knew About Sleep Apnea — American Medical Association
  23. Obstructive Sleep Apnea — Mayo Clinic
  24. Tips for Better Sleep — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  25. Do You Need a Heart Check-Up Before Starting An Exercise Program? — Penn Medicine
  26. Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep — National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Posted on August 23, 2023
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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Angelica Balingit, M.D. is a specialist in internal medicine, board certified since 1996. Learn more about her here
Suzanne Mooney writes about people, pets, health and wellness, and travel. Learn more about her here

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