Home / Blog December 26, 2022

Sleeping Sitting Up: Is It Bad?

Sleeping sitting up is unnatural for humans because our muscles are naturally paralyzed for part of the sleep cycle. That’s why your head drops when you sleep in a chair. Sleeping upright should also be avoided because it can cause blood clots and back pain from sitting in a slouched position

sleeping sitting up bearaby blanket

Bearassentials

Sleeping upright can help those who experience pain when side-sleeping. It may also reduce sleep apnea symptoms.

However, if done too often, it can increase the risk of blood clotting and back pain.

For better sleep while sitting up, shoot for a 60-degree angle and use a pillow for back support. 

Did you know?
The risk of blood clotting is greater if you have any of several risk factors. Just a few of those factors are age (over 40), obesity, recent surgery, pregnancy, and varicose veins.

How tempting is it to fall asleep in a recliner when you’ve got a comforting TV show going in a dim room? Add a soothing weighted blanket and it’s pretty tough to stay awake, right?

But you might want to think twice before you make sleeping sitting up a habit. Doing it occasionally isn’t likely to cause any harm, but you could be rolling the dice with your health by turning it into a routine.

The Facts Of Sitting Up During Sleep

Certain mammals sleep upright, so why shouldn’t you?

Well, the simple answer is that humans were designed to flop down on some kind of surface – dirt, hay, coiled springs – and transition from one fascinating stage of sleep to another.

And when talking about sleeping upright in a chair or bed, there’s one stage of sleep in particular that throws a wrench in the plans. That’s rapid eye movement, or REM sleep.

During this latter portion of the sleep cycle we lose muscle tone, possibly to avoid acting out our dreams and slapping our bed mate. In other words, we become paralyzed.

This is great when we’re lying down and gravity has already put us in our place. However, if you’re sitting upright, it can mean aggravating your neighbor by resting your head on their shoulders. Or maybe you’ll jolt awake with your noggin in free-fall.

This is one possible explanation for why studies have found sleeping sitting up to be bad for overall sleep quality compared to an inclined or flat position.

sleeping upright with heavy blanket

The Pros Of Sleeping Sitting Up

Sometimes you gotta fall asleep in a chair. Sometimes you do it just because it feels right.

Unfortunately, the benefits to sleeping upright are mostly short term and don’t necessarily outweigh the problems they come with.

Sleeping Sitting Up May Help With Sleep Apnea

A 1986 study published in The American Review of Respiratory Disease took 13 male patients with obstructive sleep apnea and monitored their sleep while lying down and sitting up in bed at a 60 degree angle.

According to the study, “In approximately half the patients studied, obstructive sleep apnea was essentially abolished by the postural intervention.”

Patients had fewer sleep interruptions and more oxygen in their blood as a result of sleeping upright. Unfortunately, not many studies have been done since then.

Shoulder Injury Recovery

If you’ve ever had shoulder surgery or simply injured that part of your body, you’ll know that sleeping can be challenging. Sitting upright can make sleep more comfortable and prevent you from rolling over. Doctors and physiotherapists often recommend the seated position for post-operative patients.

Only Way To Sleep While Travelling

Whether you’re on the road, in a train, or up in the air, an upright snooze might be your only chance at a little shut-eye. In those cases, there’s no reason to fight the urge. Get your sleep where you can get it.

The Cons Of Sleeping Sitting Up

Now for the bad news. While sleeping upright can be great for some specific cases, there are also a few red flags to raise.

Fortunately, you probably won’t need to worry about these unless you make sleeping sitting up a long-term habit.

Head Movement While Sleeping

If you’re sleeping while sitting up in a bed, this may not be such a big issue. However, when falling asleep in chairs, the vertical angle tends to end with our heads dropping over and over. Over time, it can cause problems for the muscles and vertebrae in your neck.

Puts Stress On The Back

Researchers are digging up more problems with prolonged sitting every day. It can overstretch the spine and put strain on the discs, for one. Another study also found that lower back pain increases with time while remaining in a slumped position.

If you decide to make sleeping upright a habit, putting our body pillow under your back for support could help relieve some of those pains. It’s made of body moulding Melofoam™ that can be shaped to meet your needs.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Anyone who’s been on a long flight has heard that it’s important to walk around once in a while. There are plenty of good reasons for that, one of the more serious ones being deep vein thrombosis. It’s a blood clot occurring in deep veins, usually in the legs, and often occurs because of pressure from too much time in a seated position.

How To Sleep Sitting Up

If you decide that you want to give sleeping upright a try, there are a few tips that can help:

  1. Adjust the angle of your seat. A completely upright position is bad for overall sleep quality, so aim for an angle of 45-60 degrees from level.
  2. Use a back pillow. Sliding our Cuddler under your lower back can prevent you from overstretching your spine and waking up with muscle stiffness from sleeping in a slouched position. You can try shaping it in different ways to meet your needs.
  3. Use the right head pillow for sleeping sitting up. If you’re traveling, a u-shaped neck pillow can keep your head stable. If you’re in a bed, you won’t have to worry as much. Just make sure that your neck is in a good sleeping position.

 

Conclusion

There are some benefits to sleeping upright, like good outcomes for sleep apnea patients and those with shoulder pain. However, it can also lead to blood clots and back problems. Lowering the bed or a chair’s angle and supporting yourself with body pillows like our Cuddler may help to avoid some of those issues.

While sleeping sitting up isn’t a natural position for humans and can have poor effects on your health, doing it every now and then can be fine if it helps you catch some much needed Z’s.