Breathing difficulty while lying down is an abnormal condition in which a person has a problem breathing normally when lying flat. The head must be raised by sitting or standing to be able to breathe deeply or comfortably.
A type of breathing difficulty while lying down is paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea. This condition causes a person to wake up suddenly during the night feeling short of breath.
This is a common complaint in people with some types of heart or lung problems. Sometimes the problem is subtle. People may only notice it when they realize that sleep is more comfortable with lots of pillows under their head, or their head in a propped-up position.
Causes may include:
Your health care provider may recommend self-care measures. For example, weight loss may be suggested if you are obese.
If you have any unexplained difficulty in breathing while lying down, call your provider.
The provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about the problem.
Questions may include:
The physical exam will include special attention to the heart and lungs (cardiovascular and respiratory systems).
Tests that may be performed include the following:
Treatment depends on the cause of the breathing problem.
You may need to use oxygen.
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.