Home General The Psychology of Sleeping: Can You Sleep in a Recliner?

The Psychology of Sleeping: Can You Sleep in a Recliner?

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Some people have to sleep while sitting. Some do it because there is simply nowhere to lie, others ‘crash out’ where they are. There even those that, as odd as it may sound, cannot fall asleep in a horizontal position (and that’s a problem). Other reasons take place.

Is it possible to get enough sleep while sitting up? Basically, it is. However, such resting will not be deep. All because of the uncomfortable posture and increased sensitivity (someone who sleeps in a chair, usually awakens from his own careless movement or outer sound). And yet, even this kind of sleep is enough to meet our natural physiological needs. True, the next day a person may be chased by fatigue, drowsiness and, most probably, a headache. Let’s consider what else may happen if you sleep sitting up, and how to get comfortable when you are drifting off at the table.


The most common reasons for sleeping while sitting up are mentioned above. But there are more serious ones as well, and they should be forwarded to a specialist.

  • Psychological problem. For example, a person has previously had something unpleasant that is related directly to falling asleep which results in a negative association. A great fright in the process of going to bed leads to the same result. When a person with such a problem tries to fall asleep in bed, taking a horizontal position triggers a stress response. Adrenaline rush occurs, and it becomes impossible to sleep.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux. For those who suffer from this disease, the contents of the stomach are released into the esophagus. This happens most often in the prone position. The resulting discomfort makes you wake up or even prevents you from falling asleep. This phenomenon does not last long. To eliminate it and restore normal night rest, it is necessary to treat the main ailment.
  • Apnea (mainly observed in overweight people). Short-term, breath-holding attacks occur when a person is sleeping on his back. With increased sensitivity and under the influence of stress, the fear of falling asleep in a horizontal position may occur. Solving this problem is recommended in a comprehensive manner.
  • Cardiovascular diseases. People that have problems with heart or blood vessels often sleep half-sitting, with a few pillows under the lower back, since this is the only position they can sleep in.

Since the body is harmoniously developed and extremely smart system, it suggests the position that will ease the discomfort and allow you to fall asleep. However, a person should still strive to restore full sleep in the prone position. To do this, it is essential to fix the problems listed above in a timely manner.

Health effects

As already mentioned, a person can literally fall asleep while sitting up, at a table or in public transport. Of course, this posture is far from correct. Such an unnatural position inevitably leads to stretching of the intervertebral discs. This means that the discomfort after waking up is guaranteed, and, in some cases, complemented by swelling on the neck.

If this happens infrequently, the body has time to fully recover. But when a person, due to any diseases, has to regularly fall asleep in a posture that is not intended for good rest, this is unhealthy.

Sleeping in a sitting position can lead to the development of the following complications:

  • Oxygen starvation of the brain (occurs as a result of the vertebral arteries compression). Decreased performance, weakness, and lethargy.
  • Vertebrae compression fracture. The reason is an increased load due to incorrect posture, resulting in various joint disorders. An inconvenient turn of the head threatens the development of cervical osteochondrosis.

If you do not take action and give up sleeping upright, these complications may well trigger a stroke. The main thing is to realise in time that you have started to fall asleep only when in a chair and turn to a specialist.

A diagnosed and successfully resolved problem will provide you a good quality sleep and save from more serious consequences for your health.

How to sleep at a recliner

If you try to create a comfortable environment and prevent the development of addiction to sleep while sitting up, it is even useful to spare 1 to 2 hours for such a rest. Do not forget to warn everyone to keep silence do not disturb your sleeping. Stick to the ‘when I sleep, let the whole world wait’ rule and a few more tips.

According to information from this source, here are several recommendations, how to sleep right in a sitting position: 

  • Push back. Before falling asleep at a chair or recliner, it is advisable to recline your backrest at approximately 40 degrees.
  • Create maximum comfort. Put something soft behind your back. This can be pre-prepared for such a case lining. A pillow or blanket is also a good idea. Regardless of what you choose, the task is to have reliable support for your back. You can put a small pad behind your neck, thus, the head will tilt back a little and you are supposed to fall asleep faster.
  • Use a blanket. When your sleeping place is fully prepared, you can lie back and cover with a blanket. Try to tuck it, as in childhood, so that it does not fall down and wake you up. Comfort and warmth are factors that contribute to falling asleep, even in non-standard posture. If necessary, replace the blanket with a sweater or shawl.
  • Toss and turn as much as you want. If you repeatedly change your body position in the resting process, this will reduce muscle leakage and, accordingly, improve the quality of sleep.


Sleeping in a sitting position is permissible to practice only for a short rest or as a last resort. The fact is that in this position it is very difficult to ‘catch’ the stage of REM sleep which is extremely needed for your body. Therefore, at the earliest opportunity, you should spare time for a good sleep in the appropriate place for this – on the couch, in bed or hammock. If you suddenly discover that you can only sleep in a sitting position, this may be a signal that you have certain ailments (that’s how obstructive sleep apnea and heart diseases occur).

In fairness, it is worth noting that there are cases when the doctor recommends sleeping exactly sitting up. But if you want to do this without a good reason, you should consult a specialist.

Jason Smith did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being. 

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