How many pillows do you sleep on at night? Two? Uh, oh. Okay I am kidding, but this actually does have a medical name. It is called orthopnea. If you sleep propped up on more than one pillow at night because you have difficulty breathing deeply while lying down, it could be a sign of something more serious.
There are 19 known causes of orthopnea, some more serious than others. The most common of these are sleep apnea, asthma, acid reflux, left-sided heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Sleeping on more than one pillow may not seem like a good reason to head to the doctor, but considering the possible causes, you probably should. Better safe than sorry, right?
The severity of orthopnea is often described by the number of pillows one must use at night. For example, it can be described as “two pillow orthopnea”, or “three pillow orthopnea”. The smallest form of orthopnea is one pillow orthopnea. This is when an individual doesn’t necessarily need more than one pillow to sleep, but has difficulty breathing and may have a lot of trouble if forced to lay flat without a pillow.
On the other hand, some people are forced to sleep in a completely upright position. This is obviously not the ideal way to sleep and can lead to serious insomnia.
Treatment of orthopnea will depend on the condition that is causing it. Often, if the patient is overweight, weight loss can help them breathe better while lying down. There are a few tests your doctor may decide to do to diagnose the problem. These are an ECG, pulmonary function tests, a chest x-ray and an echocardiogram.
If your shortness of breath is severe and dangerous, your doctor may provide supplemental oxygen. The exam itself will focus on your heart and lungs, considering these are the most likely problem areas.
It is best not to worry if you think you may have this condition. Stress is a major cause of insomnia, which you are probably already experiencing to some extent. Lack of sleep can lead to more health issues, and it is best not to collect those.
Luckily, most of the causes of orthopnea are easily treatable. A simple trip to the doctor can ease your mind and ensure that you will stay healthy. This way, you will no longer be taking a risk by sleeping with just one pillow.