Are Oxygen Levels 81% – 87% While Sleeping Normal?

Running out of breath when climbing stairs or hiking with friends is standard. The rate at which your body requires oxygen isn’t being met. As a result, you feel short of breath. But in most cases, your body revives when the strenuous activity ends. 

But what happens when you feel like you’re suffocating while lying in bed? Is it a symptom of covid, or is it something worse?

Low oxygen levels during sleep may not result in serious injuries right away but is often seen with obstructive sleep apnea. But there’s a much greater chance that you’ll end up with permanent damage if it continues. 


Oxygen levels between 81% and 87% are not normal while sleeping. Normal and healthy oxygen levels remain between 95% and 100% but can fall marginally during sleep. However, hypoxemia occurs if they fall below 90%.

In this article, we’ll also cover the following:

  • The symptoms you may experience.
  • How to increase your oxygen levels

Continue reading

More or less, the gas levels in the atmosphere remain constant. So, where does the disconnect happen? And who is most at risk? Most importantly, is there an easy fix? And how do you know if you lack oxygen?

man lying in bed

We’ll go in-depth about each of these questions and more. But before that, let’s try to understand the problem at hand.   

Table of Contents

What are normal oxygen levels during sleep?

sleeping man

After years of research with multiple test subjects, scientists conclude what is expected. And while all scientific values may differ from one person to another, the variation is never drastic enough to discard a scientific study. 

When it comes to understanding your body, there’s no person better than one with a degree in medical sciences to rely on. 

Building on that trust, a study by the National Institute of Health concluded that the blood oxygen level for an average healthy adult is about 94.7% under normal circumstances. In contrast, the average level for the same person during sleep is about 90.4%. Each of these figures may be subject to a variation of 1.5%.

If you’ve got a pulmonary disease, your oxyhemoglobin saturation will likely be far lower. Similarly, the levels tend to be lower if you’re obese or older.     

Oxygen levels of 81% – 87% while sleeping. Is it ok?

sleeping woman

If you’ve ever woken up in the night gasping for air, you may have already experienced low oxygen levels. However, it’s not a concerning issue if it was a one-time occurrence. The problem begins if your usual level falls drastically during sleep.

So what is considered a normal oxyhemoglobin saturation as you enter the world of dreams?

Generally, anything lower than 90% is a cause for concern. But if h levels drop lower than 88%, it’s time you alert the authorities. That said, a level of 81 to 87 falls under the ‘get a doctor’s appointment’ category.  

If you regularly observe a level below 88%, you may be suffering from a medical condition called hypoxia. Contacting a professional immediately is best because such a low level should alarm you. Make sure you’re doing something about your low blood oxygen levels and that you get an oxygen concentrator if you need it.

Does it drop when you sleep?

Slowly sliding into slumber is not only a treat for your body but also for your mind. During a night of restful sleep, your body aims at repairing itself from all the worries and stress of the waking world. It is why you find yourself breathing a lot more calmly. 

It’s routine for your body to drop the air intake by a few levels as you rest. The logic is pretty simple. Since your body isn’t involved in any activity that requires a constant supply, some of your alveoli retire to a slumber, as a result of your lungs not working as hard, your blood oxygen level drops. 

Typically, your oxygen will reduce to no lower than level 88 when you sleep if your usual intake is about 94 percent. We’ve got quite a severe problem with anything more than a few digits down.  

Using the Apple Watch pulse oximeter to measure

Apple Watch Series 7 Smart Watch

Apple Watch

With everyone investing in a smartwatch or a Fitbit, you don’t want to be the only person with a watch that does nothing more than tell time. But instead of spending your money to appease the crowd, we’d like it if we convinced you.  

Much like other smartwatches, it tracks your steps, your heart rate, and the calories you burn. But where it stands out is the built-in pulse oximeter. The feature allows a near-accurate measurement of your oxyhemoglobin levels. 

With the help of the oximeter, you can track your oxyhemoglobin levels while you sleep. Alternatively, you’d be asked by your doctor to spend overnight at the hospital for polysomnography.

But this way, you save the cost of a night’s stay at the hospital and a dozen medical tests. Once you’ve traced your oxyhemoglobin levels, you can easily access the data and even print out an ECG.   

NameApple Watch Series 7
Case Thickness10.7mm
Colors available13
Compatible DevicesSmartphone
Item Weight‎14.4 ounces
Screen Size45 Millimeters
Special FeatureActivity Tracker, Heart Rate Monitor, Sleep Monitor, Blood Oxygen, ECG


  • It’s a luxury product.
  • It’s water-resistant.
  • It can connect to your smartphone and track your fitness.
  • It’s great for tracking your steps.


  • It’s not the cheapest option if you want to monitor.
  • It might take some time to get used to having to charge it every 1½ days.
  • Its athletic look may not be for everyone.
Apple Watch Series 7
We love the Apple Watch.

Chart of oxygen saturation levels by age

The normal oxygen saturation levels do not change much with age, only as adults get quite a bit older.

Normal oxygen saturation levels by age
Older adults95%

How accurate is Apple Watch?

Smart technology has made leaps in the last few years. Such as a smartphone tracking your blood pressure and oxygen level would’ve sounded absurd just a few decades ago. But today, the reality is different.

Additionally, the same technology enhanced the use of a smartwatch to improve matters. Along with the feature that tells time, you can use your smartwatch to attend video calls and print ECGs.

Technology may have made our lives far more manageable, but just how trustworthy are these features? Professionals carried out multiple studies to reach a reliable answer. And to everyone’s surprise, the data collected by pulse oximetry technology and an apple watch was all the same. 

With graphs and professionals supporting the Apple smartwatch technology, there’s no room for any doubt left.   

What are the symptoms of low levels at night?

You will most likely feel it if you’re running out of breath. Unlike multiple other medical conditions, no hidden damage doesn’t make itself evident until months later. However, oxygen shortage goes beyond gasping for air.

Since gas is required by every cell to perform its tasks efficiently, there are a few other things that begin to malfunction. Such as headaches and dizziness.

With reduced oxygen supply to your brain, you’re also more likely to experience an increased heart rate, chest pain, and heart failure.

Your cognitive skills and decision-making ability are also significantly compromised. Confusion and lack of coordination run rampant on low blood oxygen levels

So if you’re ever in a low-oxygen situation, we’d recommend you refrain from making crucial decisions. Alternatively, research shows that a sudden drop in oxyhemoglobin saturation causes euphoria for a brief moment.      

Best pulse oximeters

oxygen sensor


You can only help yourself become better if you identify the problem and get to the root cause. Instead of dismissing shortness of breath or frequent headaches, it’s best to invest in a reliable oximeter to understand your respiratory system better. 

Wellue understands the seriousness that comes with low oxyhemoglobin saturation. Therefore, they designed a pulse oximeter to help you record your oxygen levels at different instances. You can use the collective data to build a pattern, which aids the doctors in recommending a more well-suited suggestion. 

Once you’ve placed your index finger into the oximeter, you must press the power button. The LED screen displays your oxyhemoglobin saturation and your heartbeat in numerical and pulse form. With its corresponding mobile application that you can download from the play store, you can gather unlimited data in one place. 

Not only does the oximeter guarantee accuracy but precision. Additionally, the device’s compact size allows you to carry it anywhere without a hassle. With this many qualities in one place, it’d be foolish to miss out. 

NameWellue Pulse Oximeter
Batteries2 AAA batteries
Special featuresApp
Weight2.4 ounces


  • It’s a great oximeter with an app.
  • It has a much nicer price tag than a smartwatch.
  • It’s easy to use.
  • It comes with a lanyard so you won’t lose it.


  • It doesn’t offer the same functionality as a smartwatch.
  • Some people complain about its reliability.
  • It won’t track your health as a smartwatch will.
Wellue Pulse Oximeter
It's great to be able to track it on your phone.


It’s pretty easy to tell when your body is facing an oxygen deficit. Not only is your regular breathing pattern disturbed. But you face additional turmoils, like headaches, dizziness, and confusion. However, tracking oxygen levels for more extended periods is where it starts getting tricky. 

Emay’s sleep oxygen monitor is the ideal solution to this problem. With over 40-hour battery life, you can wear it comfortably overnight. The built-in memory records the data, which you can later transfer to the corresponding mobile application. 

The brand has made quite a reputation in the last 20 years. Not only is it celebrated for its reliability, but its affordability. 

The oximeter takes both spot and continuous measurements. So whether you’re looking to target any particular instance or obtain data over a more extended period, Emay has you covered. 

NameEMAY Sleep Oxygen Monitor
Battery Life72 Hours
ColorBlack, Grey
Item Package Dimensions L x W x H‎9.8 x 5 x 1.34 inches
Special featuresSoftware & app


  • It’s an affordable way to watch the quality of your sleep.
  • It works as intended.
  • We love the ability to share the report easily.


  • The software could be better.
  • It’s more expensive than your typical oximeter.
  • It can slip off your finger at night.
EMAY has been trusted by thousands of people.

What are low levels while sleeping?

As we’ve mentioned, your oxyhemoglobin levels are naturally lower during sleep. Your body goes into a state of inactivity. It no longer remains alert to changes or prepares for a high oxygen requirement. However, it doesn’t mean that we can blame any level of drop in the saturation on our body’s natural response. 

Oxygen levels are typically considered low if the saturation is below 88%. At less than 90%, most people are diagnosed with hypoxemia. But your average level is likely lower if you already suffer from diseases like asthma or are overweight. Therefore, you may require a percentage even lower than 90 to be diagnosed with the condition. 

Essentially, any saturation lower than 90% calls for an explanation. 

Why does my level drop when I lie down?

As your body enters a state of rest, your metabolism and all other activities slow down. The rate at which electrical impulses are also carried drastically falls. It is why it becomes difficult to comprehend information when you’re sleepy. 

Additionally, lung function slows down. Many alveoli retire from breathing in air. As a result, your overall oxyhemoglobin concentration drops.

What happens when it drops to 70%?

For a healthy person, any saturation below 88 is a sign that you must seek help. You don’t need to carry a pulse oximeter to detect the drop in oxygen levels. Instead, your body reacts to it with an increased heart rate. Additionally, the body’s struggle to take in more air becomes evident. As you gasp for air, the sudden change in saturation is made clear. 

If the level drops to 70, you’re more likely to experience even worse symptoms. It no longer just feels like you’re short of breath. You experience severe symptoms like:

  • lightheadedness
  • headaches
  • bluish skin
  • confusion
  • and trouble comprehending information.

At this point, the doctors will likely put you on supplemental oxygen to raise your levels artificially. 

Failure to make a prompt decision puts additional strain on your organs. Your heart and lungs work overtime, but it’s seldom enough. 

How to increase levels immediately

woman who is sleeping

Now that you understand your oxyhemoglobin level reduces by a certain percentage as you prepare for sleep, it’s easier to put things into perspective. You can’t alter the body’s mechanisms from slowing down in a state of rest.

But you can ensure it doesn’t drop below the expected level. It’s doubtful that with a level of 88 or below, you don’t experience any severe symptoms. It’s pretty easy to tell when you’re running out of air. However, pulling yourself together gets slightly trickier when you wake up. 

Therefore, we’ve gathered a few ways you can make sure you’re exposed to a decent supply of air as you rest. Here’s how you can ensure your oxygen level doesn’t drop too far low:

Ensure a fresh supply of air at all times

Before you go to bed, it’s a good practice to open windows and ensure a decent air passage in the room. If your room is closed without proper ventilation, you’re more likely to feel suffocated. 

Quit smoking

The damage caused by smoking may be harsh, but it’s not irreversible. Even if you’ve been an avid smoker for the past few years, giving up right now would drastically improve your lung activity. Within 2 weeks of quitting, your lung function will likely increase by 30%. 

Improve your diet

You might have heard of the phrase you’re what you eat. To improve your body’s oxygen saturation levels, you need to increase the intake of foods that produce oxygen. These include foods rich in iron and antioxidants. A few common examples of such foods include:

  • beetroots
  • leafy vegetables
  • sprouts
  • meat
  • nuts
  • and seeds. 

Practice breathing exercises

Adopting a few breathing exercises to be practiced daily allows your respiratory system to remain active. It trains your body to take in more oxygen. As you learn to lift more weight with repeated actions, your lungs improve their air intake as you consistently practice breathing. 

My oxygen level is 98, but I’m short of breath.

With low oxygen levels, it’s natural to feel out of breath. However, shortness of breath isn’t always caused by low saturation. You could stand in a field of daisies with fresh air surrounding you, and you may still feel like you’re gasping for air. There’s a direct correlation between the two factors. However, evidence suggests correlation doesn’t equal causation. 

Under high oxygen saturation, shortness of breath could indicate medical disorders like anxiety, asthma, or even allergies. If your environment triggers a mental or physical response, your body will likely react with increased adrenaline levels.

As a result, you feel suffocated even with high oxygen saturation. In addition to the function of adrenaline, specific allergens attack your respiratory system. It significantly reduces its ability to either take up air or deliver dissolved oxygen to the relevant cells. 

Be sure you address your oxygen saturation level before it leads to pulmonary hypertension or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Your blood vessels will thank you!

Oxygen desaturation is a real concern, especially if you’re experiencing oxygen levels of 81 to 87 or lower while sleeping. Make sure the red blood cells bind properly with oxygen to give your body what it needs. Follow the advice of places like the American Lung Association to avoid consequences like pulmonary fibrosis.

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