If you’re struggling with an ear infection right now, learning the best position to sleep in to drain the Eustachian tube may be one of the most effective things you can do to not only stop that infection from waking you up all night but actually enjoying the kind of restorative, quality sleep that will help your body to heal that infection in the first place.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll talk you through everything you need to know about the best way to sleep with an ear infection, including the optimum sleeping positions and more recommended suggestions to help you recover.
What is The Eustachian Tube?
Your body’s Eustachian tubes are narrow passageways that connect the back of your throat to your middle ears. Their role is to help equalize air pressure on the sides of your ear drum, drain out excess fluid, and keep your middle ear protected from disease-causing pathogens.
However, if you have a cold or an ear infection, those tubes can become blocked up, leading to what experts call Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD).
The most common forms of ETDs are:
1. Patulous Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
Usually, the eustachian tubes remain closed and only open when we do certain activities such as yawing.
With Patulous Eustachian tube dysfunction, however, the tubes remain closed. This allows sound to travel from your nasal cavity up to your ears, which explains why you may hear your own voice sounding really loud or may even be able to hear your blood pumping through your body.
This is often caused by things like allergies or chronic acid reflux but is generally easily treated with nasal drops and a commitment to staying hydrated.
2. Obstructive Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
Caused by anything from allergies, infections, and acid reflux to sinusitis and even more serious conditions such as ear tumors, Obstructive Eustachian Tube Dysfunction affects more than 11 million adults in the US alone.
The condition prevents your tubes from opening properly, which causes fluid to build up in your ears, resulting in the kind of pressure and pain that you typically associate with an ear infection.
It’s this particular ETD that we’ll be mostly focusing on today as we show you the best way to sleep to drain that excess fluid from your Eustachian tube and thus relieve all that pain and pressure.
3. Baro-Challenge-Induced Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
Baro-Challenge-Induced Eustachian Tube Dysfunction has very similar symptoms to the obstructive ETD we just looked at. However, it only occurs in certain situations which involve pressure changes in the atmosphere, such as scuba diving, traveling by plane, or heading into high-altitude mountains.
Though there may be some cases where this condition requires more serious treatment, such as balloon dilation, many of the recommendations in this guide will work for Baro-Challenge-Induced ETDs too.
The Top 3 Best Positions to Sleep in to Drain The Eustachian Tube
Whether it’s back pain, an ear infection, or just about any other condition you can think of, the absolute best all-around sleeping position is always going to be whichever position helps you feel most comfortable to enjoy enough hours of quality sleep.
After all, countless studies have shown that sleep helps our body to heal, with the quality of that sleep making a much bigger positive difference to our health than the actual number of hours we spend in bed.
In other words, if we want to get rid of our ear pain once and for all, a solid night’s rest is essential.
Yet while we certainly recommend finding whatever position works for you, the following three positions are the ones you’ll find most effective in helping to drain the Eustachian tube so that you can be done with obstructive ETD for good.
1. Sleeping Upright
Sitting upright is the number one best position to sleep in to drain the Eustachian tube.
Sleeping with your head and upper body elevated not only prevents pressure on the middle ear from causing you pain, but it’s also highly conducive to enabling all of that blocked-up fluid to drain out of your ear.
How to Sleep Sitting Up to Reduce Ear Infection?
If you’re comfortable sleeping in a chair or on a reclining sofa, this will prove to be the most effective way to ensure you maintain that drain-inducing upright position throughout the night.
If that’s not an option for you, you can simply stack a group of pillows behind your back, neck, and head and sleep that way to achieve the same result.
2. Sleeping on Your Stomach
If you’re a regular reader of Sweet Island Dreams, you may recall that we often tell you that sleeping on your stomach is not a good sleep position as it can wreak havoc on your back, neck, and shoulders.
However, as long as it’s done properly and comfortably, stomach sleeping can actually be one of the best ways to sleep with an ear infection.
Although not quite as effective as an elevated sleeping position, this does prevent pressure on the ears and promotes tube drainage.
How to Sleep on Your Stomach With an Ear Infection?
To avoid the kind of nasty neck and shoulder pain that can come from sleeping on your stomach, use as thin a pillow as possible, or perhaps even do away with using a pillow altogether so that you don’t have to strain your neck.
You’ll also put a pillow beneath your pelvis. This will help keep your body in a neutral position, minimizing pressure on the spine so that you don’t wake up with back pain.
3. Sleeping on Your Side
If neither sleeping upright nor sleeping on your stomach is comfortable for you, then you can always opt for sleeping on your side as a last resort.
If your pain is only in one ear, it’s best to sleep on the opposite side, as sleeping on your bad ear is only likely to worsen.
What’s more, keeping that blocked-up ear elevated will help the Eustachian tube to drain more easily.
How to Sleep on Your Side With an Ear Infection?
As with any sleeping position, side-sleeping is only effective if it’s done in such a way that it doesn’t cause your spine to move away from its natural alignment in your body.
To achieve that, sleep on your good side with a pillow tucked between bent knees. The pillow will help to maintain that all-important natural alignment so that you can get the rest you need to recover from your infection.
The Best Way to Sleep with an Ear Infection: Do’s and Don’ts
Sitting upright is the best way to sleep with an ear infection as it allows the Eustachian tubes to drain more easily than in any other position.
That said, this is far from the only thing you can do to help relieve the painful symptoms of an ear infection and enjoy a healing night of quality rest.
You’ll find more helpful suggestions below.
Do: Practice Exercises to Open The Eustachian Tube
To help drain the Eustachian Tube faster, you can practice certain exercises throughout the day.
As we mentioned earlier, your tubes typically remain closed but open up when you do things like yawning, swallowing, or chewing gum. So taking some time out to do even just a little bit of this can go a long way in opening your tubes enough to drain properly.
Another handy exercise involves taking a deep breath, closing your mouth and pinching your nose, then breathing out with your mouth still closed, similar to what you might do if you wanted to relieve air pressure in your ears when traveling on a plane.
Don’t: Neglect Your Bedding
If there’s one key message that we hope you take away from this guide, getting enough restorative sleep is one of the best things you can do to help your ear infection heal.
Sleeping on a poor-quality mattress or with pillows that don’t correctly support you is counterproductive in this regard.
While a better mattress or more supportive pillow may not directly help to drain the Eustachian tube, they will help you sleep well enough so that your body can heal and repair the root cause of that blockage in the first place.
If you’d like our recommendations, check out this guide to our top-rated mattresses, as well as this one on the best pillows to help you sleep well.
Do: Sip Water Before Bed
Sipping water has a similar effect to chewing gum or yawning in that it exercises the jaw muscles and opens up the Eustachian tubes.
It also has the added benefit that staying hydrated can help to thin the mucus in your ear so that it drains out more easily.
Don’t: Go to Bed Feeling Stressed Out
Stress has a negative impact on our immune system as it suppresses the cells needed to fight infection.
If you’re already struggling with an ear infection, then the last thing you need is an immune system that isn’t able to heal it effectively.
What’s more, stress has been linked to a high number of respiratory problems, such as triggering asthma attacks or making it difficult to get enough oxygen into the lungs, which, in turn, can prevent us from getting quality sleep.
With that in mind, take some time before bed to properly relax and unwind.
You may want to learn how to meditate in bed or simply switch off with a relaxing book before you close your eyes.
During the day, take some time to consider what may be causing high levels of stress in your life and what you can do about it.
You may also find our guide on how to sleep when stressed particularly helpful.
Frequently Asked Questions About Draining The Eustachian Tube
Here are the frequently asked questions to help enlighten you more about draining the eustachian tube.
What side should I lay on to drain my ears?
If only one ear is in pain, sleep on the opposite side of the body to reduce pain and elevate the bad ear higher than the rest of your body so that it can begin to drain.
If both ears hurt, switch to sleeping in an upright position or on your stomach.
How do you drain the Eustachian tube naturally?
Sleeping in an elevated position, yawning, chewing gum, and sipping water are some of the best ways to naturally drain the Eustachian tube, as is blowing out while keeping your mouth closed and nose pinched.
Why does an ear infection hurt more at night?
An ear infection may be more painful at night because you’re lying in a position that puts pressure on the affected ear.
It’s also worth considering that, when we sleep, our levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that improves the availability of the substances we need to repair damaged tissues.
Choosing The Best Position to Sleep in to Drain the Eustachian Tube: A Final Piece of Advice
If you’ve read through this entire guide, you’ll notice that we’ve been really hammering home the point that, as far as sleep is concerned, the best thing you can possibly do for an ear infection is to get enough comfortable, quality sleep so that your body has the best fighting chance of healing that infection.
Even still, sleeping in an elevated position (sitting up) will prove to be the best position to sleep in to drain the Eustachian tube so that the infection heals even quicker.
Sleep aside; however, the absolute best thing you can do for your ear pain is to treat the root cause of it in the first place, which may mean consulting a medical professional.
Though most ear infections are relatively mild and tend to go away on their own within a few days, others can be so unbearable for so long that they significantly affect your quality of life, and that’s before we mention that ear pain may be the symptom of a much bigger, and much more severe problem.
A doctor will help to identify what the problem may be and recommend the best cause of treatment, even if that’s only using an effective nasal spray or decongestant.
Finally, for more top tips on how to improve the quality of your sleep so that you heal as quickly as possible, see our guide on how and why to set a sleep schedule, plus this piece on the most important things to avoid before bed.