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Shortness of Breath When Lying Down: 8 Causes Explained

Fact Checked
Up to date
Update: May 26, 2023
5 min read

Written by

Arun Das
Content Writer
Shortness Of Breath When Lying Down

Are you finding it difficult to breathe when you lie down? Have you had times when you’re lying on your back, and your chest feels congested, an uncomfortable feeling of shortness of breath when lying down that gets worse every time you breathe?

If that sounds familiar, you might be experiencing shortness of breath. However, it can be a common side effect of multiple conditions.

Sleep Guides India has identified the 8 major causes of this condition. So let’s dive in and understand this issue!

What is Orthopnea and Its Types

Orthopnea is a condition where you have difficulty breathing when lying down. This can be due to several factors, such as heart failure, lung disease, or obesity. Orthopnea can be a symptom of other underlying conditions, and it is essential to see a doctor if you experience it. Moreover, the treatment for orthopnea depends on the underlying cause.

There are two main types of orthopnea: primary and secondary. Heart or lung conditions, such as congestive heart failure or emphysema, typically cause primary orthopnea. Secondary orthopnea happens when obesity or lung disease makes it difficult for the person to breathe when lying down. Other conditions, including GERD, and sleep apnea, can also cause it.

What Causes Shortness of Breath When Lying Down

If you have had similar experiences, you must have wondered – Why can’t I breathe when I lay down?

This can be a frightening symptom, especially if you don’t know what is causing it. Many different things can cause this problem, and it is essential to know the causes to get the treatment you need. Let’s take a look at some of these causes –

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is when your breathing stops or becomes shallow while sleeping. This can cause shortness of breath when you lie down. Loud snoring is one of the main symptoms of sleep apnea. This can happen to anyone, but it is more common in people who feel a tight chest when lying down, are overweight, have large tonsils, or have a family history of sleep apnea.

Heart Failure

One possible reason for what causes shortness of breath when lying down can be heart failure. Heart failure usually occurs when the heart fails to pump sufficient blood to meet the body’s needs. This can increase fluid levels in the lungs, making breathing difficult. Treatments for heart failure include lifestyle changes, such as exercising and eating a healthy diet, and medication.


There are many potential causes why one might face trouble breathing when lying down, but one common cause is obesity. When someone is obese, they have excess body fat that can interfere with normal breathing. This can cause the feeling of being short of breath, even when lying down. 

Treatment for obesity-related shortness of breath typically involves lifestyle changes and weight loss. In some cases, medications or surgery may be necessary.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is another possible cause of shortness of breath when lying down. People with panic disorder often experience episodes of intense anxiety and fear episodes, leading to hyperventilation and shallow breathing. This can cause the body to take in less oxygen, leading to shortness of breath. 

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

It is a potential condition that makes it hard to breathe when lying down. The main symptom of COPD is shortness of breath, and several things can cause it. However, the most common cause is blockage of the airways due to mucus or inflammation.

If you have COPD, it’s essential to sleep with your head elevated so that gravity doesn’t pull the mucus down into your lungs. 


You can’t breathe at night when lying down during pregnancy. One is that the baby’s position puts pressure on the mother’s diaphragm, making breathing difficult. Another possibility is that the increased blood volume and heart rate associated with pregnancy can lead to lung congestion and fluid build-up. 

Most women experience shortness of breath during pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester. However, you should contact your healthcare provider if you are experiencing persistent shortness of breath.

Respiratory Infections

There are many possible causes why it can be hard to breathe when lying down on back, but one of the most common is a respiratory infection. Infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis, can cause shortness of breath that worsens when you lie down. This is because lying down flat allows gravity to pull the infected mucus downward, making it harder to breathe. 

If you have a respiratory infection, you may experience other symptoms like coughing, chest pain, fever, and chills. Treatment for a respiratory infection typically includes antibiotics and rest. If you think you may have a respiratory infection, see your doctor as soon as possible to prevent frequent shortness of breath while lying down.

Iron deficiency Anaemia

Iron deficiency anaemia can also cause shortness of breath. This condition occurs when there is not enough iron in the blood. Iron is necessary to produce haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. Without enough iron, the body cannot produce enough haemoglobin, leading to shortness of breath.

How to Sleep to Avoid Shortness of Breath?

If you’re struggling with shortness of breath when lying down, getting a good night’s sleep can be much more difficult. Here are a few tips to help you sleep better and avoid shortness of breath:

  • Try sleeping on your left side. This position allows gravity to help drain fluid from your lungs. Conversely, gravity can pull the fluid back into your lungs if you sleep on your right side.
  • Prop yourself up with pillows. This will help keep your airways open and prevent fluid pooling in your lungs.
  • Stay active during the day. This will reduce the chances of any scenario where your lungs hurt when lying down by keeping them clear and preventing the fluid from building up.

When To See A Doctor

If you frequently experience difficulty breathing when lying down, you must see a doctor as soon as possible. Shortness of breath can be a symptom of various severe medical conditions, including heart disease, lung disease, and infection. While some causes of shortness of breath are not severe, it is always best to avoid caution and seek medical attention.


There are many potential causes why you might feel trouble breathing lying down. If you experience this symptom, it’s essential to see a doctor so they can determine the underlying cause and provide treatment accordingly.


Can dehydration cause trouble breathing?

Yes, dehydration can cause trouble breathing. When your body is dehydrated, it doesn’t have enough fluid to function properly. This can lead to several respiratory problems, including difficulty breathing. Dehydration can also cause your airways to constrict, making it difficult to breathe. 

How should I sleep to avoid shortness of breath?

You should sleep on your side instead of your stomach. This will help keep your airway clear and prevent shortness of breath. Also, avoid using extra pillows. They can increase the risk of snoring or sleep apnea, leading to shortness of breath.

Does lack of oxygen make you sleepy?

Yes, lack of oxygen can make you sleepy because it starts to shut down when your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. However, a lack of oxygen can cause dizziness, confusion, and headaches. So, if you’re feeling sleepy, it’s probably because you’re not getting enough oxygen.

How do I relieve my shortness of breath?

First, make sure that you’re taking deep breaths and exhaling slowly. You can also try sitting up straight to improve your breathing. If you’re still having trouble, try putting a warm compress on your chest or drinking warm liquids. However, if your shortness of breath is severe, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.


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Written by

Arun Das
Content Writer
With a Master's Degree in Mass Communication and nearly two decades of professional expertise in crafting healthcare articles, he possesses a wealth of experience and knowledge in the field.

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