So you’ve decided to take a break from horizontality and try sleeping in your chair? It may seem outlandish, but people have done it before (and still do, from time to time).
Whatever your reasons may be, if getting some Z’s while sitting is your goal, this article will help you attain it!
Why You May Want to Sleep in Your Chair
Given that humans are pretty much built to sleep while lying down (more on that later), there are but two common reasons for one to consider a vertical snooze. Those are:
- A temporary or long-lasting lack of a bed, paired with a dislike for the floor.
- A medical issue, which may also be temporary or long-lasting.
Nobody will judge you if you don’t own a bed, but you owe it to yourself to get one. Trust me, neither the floor nor a chair can compare.
Jokes aside, few would find themselves in this situation by choice. Perhaps you’ve recently moved and are waiting for your bed to arrive? Or the old one has broken down, temporarily leaving you at the delivery company’s mercy? Not wanting to sleep on the floor is fine, and a comfortable chair will do — for a while.
If your reasons are of a medical nature, however, then the issue becomes much more serious. Perhaps allergy or cold symptoms are giving you trouble, and congestion won’t let you breathe while you’re lying down.
If you sleep sitting up, gravity will drain a good bit of the muck from your nose and throat. As a consequence, you will find respiration significantly easier, though it may come at a cost.
Some medical procedures (like facial and cataract surgeries) may make horizontal sleep difficult, or even dangerous. If you’re in such a position, there’s nothing to do but weather the storm until it passes. If you make proper preparations, it may not even be unpleasant.
Sadly, sometimes chronic respiratory troubles may make it necessary for a person to regularly sleep sitting up. That is most common with the elderly. Over time, it may lead to a slew of complications, but sometimes these things can’t be helped.
Why Sleeping in Your Chair Is so Difficult
There’s no other way to put it, and no need to sugarcoat it — sleeping while sitting upright is hard. Well, beyond the initial drowsy phase anyway. Drifting into slumber is the easiest part, but as soon as you start to go deep, you immediately just snap right back into consciousness, right?
That is due to the peculiarities of your REM (rapid eye movement) sleep phase, which takes about 25% of your total sleep time. When you enter the REM phase, your brain tells your spinal cord to temporarily shut down your muscles.
This removes the muscle tone holding you upright, and the sudden change in bodily position rocks you awake. When this happens, your body feels attacked, and the shock makes it end your sleep immediately.
So what all of this means is that in order for you to fall — and remain asleep, you will need to find a way to keep yourself in place. Prevent your neck from moving freely, place your hands comfortably on your chair’s armrests, etc. A chair with a slight backward bend would be good, while a recliner chair would change the game completely. But that would be cheating.
Tips on How to Sleep in Your Chair Comfortably
As you’ve probably realized by now, there’s more to getting a decent sleep in a chair than just sitting in one and turning your brain off.
For instance, if your chair doesn’t slant backward, you’re likely going to need pillows. You should place them behind where your posterior would be, so your back can bend backward a bit. That way you’ll find it way easier to stay asleep once REM starts.
Of course, you will want a blanket to cover yourself with, doubly so if your reasons for sleeping upright are medical. Even if you aren’t cold to begin with, you likely will be once you start drifting away. Or if you really don’t want a traditional blanket, you can compromise.
You’ll always want to elevate your feet somewhat, especially if the pillows have reduced the surface of your seat. Besides making you more comfortable, this will make it much less likely for you to start sliding off the chair in your sleep. If that happens, you’ll be all but certain to wake.
Getting a decent travel pillow is highly recommended for a great number of reasons. The most common point of awakening after falling asleep in a chair is when your neck relaxes. A travel pillow will not only help prevent that from happening but will also minimize the strain on your neck. It wasn’t made to take this abuse.
A travel pillow, while very useful, just isn’t enough for some people. If you find that it doesn’t give your neck enough stability, you should consider wrapping a scarf around your forehead and the pillow section of your chair like this person does. It may look goofy, but it works.
Potential Downsides of Sleeping in a Chair
Here’s the thing: in the short term, you can set everything up, get used to it, and even start to enjoy it. Longterm, serious health complications could arise from you completely replacing horizontal with vertical rest.
First of all, people with chronic neck pain are going to have a bad time with this whole ordeal. Taking precautions and getting a travel pillow will help, but don’t be surprised if your symptoms keep getting worse.
Additionally, if you have never suffered from neck pain before, chances are that you might start now. And your neck is certainly not something you want to mess with.
Second, even if you do raise your legs, you will be at risk of reducing your blood circulation. Having fluids accumulate in your legs is no one’s idea of a good time, ever. To combat this possible complication, you should be as active as possible during the day.
Third, even if you’re not waking up abruptly anymore, there’s a chance that most of the time you’re only sleeping shallowly. If you’re irritable during the day and your muscles are constantly sore, then this might be the cause. Your body wants to stretch and relax while you rest. You don’t want to deprive it of that need for extended amounts of time.
Finally, there is a chance that your neck pain might graduate into full-on back pain. This is only natural, given that you’ll essentially be depriving your back of its daily off time.
Other Considerations for Sleeping in Your Chair
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the little things that would help you sleep in general will help you sleep better in a chair. Think of the following as a list of tips and tricks.
Darkness matters. Cover up your windows, turn off your lights, and eliminate anything that detracts from pitch blackness. You may think that you can sleep fine in a well-lit room, and maybe you can. But for a resting, deep sleep, nothing beats a place so dark, Dracula would envy you on it.
Earlier in the article, I mentioned breathing problems. Know what else helps with those, as well as with general health and getting a decent sleep? Air dehumidifiers. After trying one out, you will wonder how you ever managed without it.
Breathing exercises are underrated, yet their effectiveness shouldn’t be overlooked. It may sound silly, but your heart rate is linked to your breathing. Steady your breathing, and you steady your heart rate. And being able to relax practically at will is always a useful skill to have.
Consider supplements like melatonin. No, I’m not saying that you should knock yourself out with pills. Melatonin is a hormone that already exists within your body to tell your brain that it’s time to relax. Supplements containing it are incredibly popular, effective, and safe.
Finally, there is a free service called Sleepytime. It determines the optimal time for you to wake by calculating when you’ll be between sleep cycles. Let your REM phase do its thing without interruption, and you’ll feel much better during the day.
All of these tricks are tried-and-true. If you have doubts, try them out, and there’s no chance that you won’t feel a difference. You may even want to consider them once you’ve stopped sleeping in a chair.
To summarize, sleeping in a sitting position is perfectly doable — and may even help depending on your circumstances. However, unless you absolutely must visit la-la land vertically, a good bed will always be better. Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should. But if you should, then by all means go ahead and do it.
If however, you have no choice in the matter, then the pieces of advice I’ve compiled should, at the very least, make things easier for you.