There are plenty of people out there who, after boasting about the early hour they woke up that morning, find themselves snoozing on the couch while the sun’s still out. There are also plenty of those who choose to sleep while sitting because they find it more comfortable. It can be more difficult to sleep while sitting up rather than lying in your bed, but it’s not uncommon. People sleep sitting up for a few reasons, from medical issues to just being downright too sleepy to stay awake in their chairs.

So, is it healthy to sleep upright? It depends on why you’re doing it and how much of it you’re doing. Recognizing the reasons why you’re falling asleep while sitting can help you decipher whether it’s a sign of a greater problem or you’re simply a master power napper.

Is It Healthy To Sleep Sitting Upright?

If you keep feeling asleep when you sit down or are in the habit of sleeping in a reclined position, you may want to think about the reasons why that’s happening and consider taking action to reverse it if possible. Many people find it easier and even more comfortable to sleep upright in recliners or adjustable beds. Those experiencing shoulder or hip pain may choose to sleep in upright positions because it keeps them from rolling over onto their problem areas.

However, some people might be falling asleep upright because they’re not getting enough quality sleep at night. Whether it’s because of a low-quality or old mattress, a condition that keeps them awake at night, or any other reason, habitually sleeping while sitting up might be the body’s attempts to catch up on the sleep it’s not getting. Everyone’s situation is unique, but everyone should become acquainted with the reasons they’re sleeping while they’re sitting up.

Pros

  • Sleeping upright can be more comfortable for some sleepers. Those experiencing body pains that disrupt sleep may benefit from the more “locked in place” position sleeping upright offers.

Cons

  • Sleeping upright can decrease blood flow. Blood flows easier through a body lying flat. Forcing your body to work harder to maintain blood flow can cause larger medical problems.
  • Habitually falling asleep upright is often a sign of a separate issue. It could be a sign you need a new mattress. It could also be a sign of a known or unknown condition that’s keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep.

What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Deep Vein Thrombosis, or DVT, is the result of blood clots that usually occur in your legs after a long period of inactivity or as the result of an existing medical condition. When DVT occurs, these blood clots can block blood flow to your legs, or they can break free and travel through your veins and get stuck elsewhere, such as the lungs. If they reach your lungs, they can cause a pulmonary embolism, a potentially life-threatening complication.

Common DVT Symptoms

Sometimes DVT does not show any noticeable symptoms. However, you should be on the lookout for any signs that you may be suffering from this condition. According to Mayo Clinic, some signs and symptoms of DVT include:

  • A warm feeling in the affected leg.
  • Discoloration of the affected leg.
  • Pain in the affected leg, often felt as soreness or cramping.
  • Swelling of the affected leg.

If you experience any of these symptoms, reach out to a doctor as soon as you can.

When Should You Sleep Upright?

Sleeping upright is not the natural sleeping position for humans. However, sleeping like this can be useful if you’re experiencing problems with sleeping lying down. If you’re choosing to sleep upright, it should be a temporary measure until you’re able to sleep comfortably lying down again. Here are a few circumstances in which sleeping upright might help you get the sleep you need:

  • Congestion. Those who experience uncomfortable allergy or cold symptoms might benefit from sleeping upright. Keeping your throat and nose upright can help relieve congestion.
  • Body pains. Consistent neck, hip, and shoulder pains can make it difficult to sleep in a flat position. Sleeping upright can keep you from moving around in your sleep and triggering those pains. However, those with neck pains should be careful not to let their heads fall to the side while they’re sleeping upright, as this can cause more discomfort.
  • Heavy snoring. If you (or your partner) find it difficult to sleep because of heavy snoring, an upright position can help open up nasal passages.
  • Sleep apnea. Propping up your body from the waist up can help those suffering from sleep apnea. This position may prevent your tongue and soft palate from blocking your airways during your sleep.

How To Safely Sleep While Sitting Upright

If you choose to sleep in an upright position, you should take precautions to make it as healthy as possible for your body. Sleeping in a sitting position isn’t always a habit — sometimes you might need to do it during a long flight or a place where you need to sleep but can’t lie down. Anything sleeping upright should utilize these tips:

  • Support your back. Arguably the most important part of sleeping in a sitting position is providing yourself with the proper support. You’ll need to support your lower back to maintain a healthy posture while you sleep. Provide yourself with an incline to let gravity push your back against your support, so you don’t wake up feeling fatigued as though you spent all day working at a desk.
  • Support your neck. One of the biggest problems of sleeping upright is your neck falling to either shoulder. This can cause discomfort that may make waking life more uncomfortable. Find a good neck pillow to provide your head with proper support.
  • Try to make it temporary. As we mentioned, sleeping sitting up should be a temporary measure. If possible, try to move back to a bed when the reason you’re choosing to sleep upright goes away. If you expect that reason to stay around for quite a while and find your upright sleeping position is working for you, consider upgrading to an adjustable bed.

Here are a few products you can use to help your sleep in a sitting position safely:

Neck Pillow

There are dozens of neck pillow styles to choose from, each with its specialty. You can purchase ones specifically designed for airplane travel, ones that attach to the back of your recliner, ones that keep your head upright — you get the idea. Think about what your situation calls for and plug it into an online search engine to find the best option for your needs.

Body Positioners

If you want to get out of the recliner and back into bed, you can purchase a body positioner pillow to help recreate the experience on your mattress. These supportive pillows create angled surfaces that keep you propped up in bed. As with neck pillows, there are many types of body positions to choose. Some are adjustable, some are cooling, and others go under the mattress.

Adjustable Bed Frames

Adjustable bed frames and mattresses are fantastic solutions for sleepers who find it more comfortable to sleep in an upright position but want the comfort of sleeping on a mattress. If you’re considering purchasing an adjustable bed frame, shop around and do a little research to find one that fits your needs and budget.

FAQ

Is it safe to sleep sitting up?Short answer: Yes, as long as you take precautions to provide your body with the support it needs and keep an eye out for signs of problems such as DVT. Try not to remain in a sitting position for too long and try to exercise to reduce any potential harmful effects of sleeping while sitting up.
Why do I keep falling asleep when I sit down?There are two main reasons you keep falling asleep when you sit down. You’re either not getting enough sleep at night, have a sleep disorder or both. If you think you’re getting enough sleep, you should consider visiting a somnologist to see why you keep falling asleep when you sit down.
Is it better to sleep flat or sitting up?Everyone’s needs are different. It’s better for your back and posture if you sleep flat. But if you have sleep disorders that cause problems in this position, such as sleep apnea, sleeping while sitting up may be the better option.

Final Thoughts

Sleeping while sitting up is a useful alternative to sleepers with a specific set of needs. In general, sleeping on your back or side is better for your body, but not everyone’s bodies are the same. If sleeping sitting up is a better option for you, be sure you’re providing yourself with a healthy and supportive sleeping setup. Anything that helps you achieve a better night’s sleep is worth pursuing, but try not to sleep sitting up unless your body’s needs call for it.