How To Sleep Sitting Up Properly and Protect Your Health

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Depending on who you ask, sleeping while sitting upright is easier said than done. Unless you’re in a swanky first-class cabin equipped with beds, this is typically how you must rest while traveling.

Then there are the folks who easily fall asleep in this position while watching television at home.

Even if you are able to sleep upright, does that mean you should? In this article, we’ll examine whether sleeping while sitting up affects your health. This informational guide will include the potential problems that could arise, as well as the best quality products for upright sleepers and how to safely rest sitting up.

Is It Possible to Sleep Standing Up?

Throughout the night, we go through multiple cycles of non-REM and REM sleep. During REM sleep, most of your muscles are in a state of paralysis, which means your legs would not be able to hold you upright.

Sleepwalking, which is a known disorder that can cause people to sleep standing up, most often occurs during the non-REM cycle. Sleeping while standing, however, is not a common practice.

Some animals, though, are equipped to do this. Horses, for example, have a unique system of ligaments and tendons known as a Stay Apparatus, which allows them to rest standing up and have a quick getaway from predators when necessary.

Sleeping Standing Up

How Sleeping in a Sitting Position Can Affect Your Health

Upright sleeping is not inherently harmful to your overall health. That being said, there are some possible side effects to be aware of, which we will go into more detail on further below.

People with certain medical conditions or who’ve recently had surgery may be required to sleep in this position, while others, like those traveling, may not have another option at the moment. Some folks may even prefer to snooze while sitting, especially with the right reclining chair. In these cases, sleeping upright is going to be better for you than getting no rest at all.

Allergy Impact

Typical allergy symptoms like shortness of breath or nasal congestion can keep you up all hours of the night, causing you to lose precious sleep. Resting sitting up, though, could have a positive impact on those frustrating nighttime allergies. This is because sitting upright should help drain your nasal passages, making breathing – and sleeping – much easier.

Additionally, this could prove useful if you’re dealing with congestion from a common cold.

Neck Pain Problems

Sleeping vertically is fine for temporary instances, but it shouldn’t be done long-term. As mentioned earlier, REM sleep causes the muscles to weaken, including the neck. As you fall asleep, your head will inevitably drop to the side.

According to health experts, muscle strains are a primary cause of neck pain, but they go on to say that a good sleep position should help prevent this from happening.

illustration of a person trying to ease neck pain

How to Sleep Upright Comfortably

Whether it’s of your own accord or current circumstances, there are ways to comfortably snooze upright and minimize your risk of developing pain.

Find a Good Chair

The right chair should help you avoid discomfort as you sleep sitting up. There are several key features to look for, though.

First, make sure the seat has adequate lumbar support to keep your lower back in alignment. Secondly, choose an ergonomic chair, which is specially designed to provide optimum comfort.

Illustration of a Lady Sleeping on a Chair

Find a Good Position

Not only should you practice good posture while awake, but you should also adhere to it while sleeping – especially if you’re resting in a seated position.

To achieve the best posture, put your feet flat on the floor, square with your knees. Next, roll your shoulders back and position yourself so that your feet, hips, and knees are all facing forward. The goal here is to keep your body in proper alignment.

Avoid Leaning On Objects

Although you are leaning on a chair while seated, it’s the other nearby objects that you should avoid leaning onto.

Some travelers will request a window seat in order to lean on the window when they sleep, or drivers who need a nap break at a rest stop use their steering wheel as a substitute pillow.

Leaning on objects while seated might seem comfortable in the moment, but this throws your spine out of alignment, which could lead to muscle strain and pain later on.

Use a Good Neck Pillow

When traveling, you’re likely to run into people carrying those U-shaped neck pillows. These are very beneficial since they should help you avoid neck pain by providing enough support to keep your head upright as you sleep.

View Our Guide: Best Pillows for Traveling

You don’t have to wait for your next trip to the airport, though, to invest in a good neck pillow. There are many high-quality neck pillows available for purchase online.

Illustration of a Lady Sitting on a Plane with a Travel Pillow around Her Neck

Frequently Asked Questions

What is deep vein thrombosis?

Another vital fact to consider when sleeping sitting up is that it can increase your risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis, which is when a blood clot forms in one of your limbs. This condition can occur when you are seated for long periods at a time, like on airplanes.

There are things you can do to reduce your chances of Deep Vein Thrombosis. Passengers traveling on long flights should stand up intermittently, drink plenty of fluids, and wear loose-fitting clothing. Experts also suggest wearing special compression stockings, but you should check with your doctor first, as people with certain medical conditions are not recommended to use them.

Illustration of a woman showing her legs with deep vein thrombosis
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Jill Zwarensteyn is a content writer for Sleep Advisor and is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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