Is it Bad to Fall Asleep on the Couch?

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The sleep surface you choose at night can impact you in ways you may not even realize. Getting a good night of sleep in the right place can positively affect you physically, mentally, and emotionally.

There are many reasons people might sleep on the couch. It can be tempting to drift off while watching television, and getting up from the sofa can feel exhausting when you're sick. The change of environment from the bedroom to the couch may also help people with insomnia. However, for the average sleeper, it may be time to reconsider this habit.

Are There Benefits to Sleeping on a Couch?

While sleep experts rarely recommend habitual couch sleeping, it may be beneficial in a few circumstances. That said, it is best to avoid sleeping on the couch long-term.

Old Mattress or No Mattress

Even older mattresses were made with horizontal sleeping positions in mind, while couches are designed for sitting. If your couch is the only option, it may help to try the following:

  • Add clean sheets and a pillow
  • Use an eye mask to darken the room
  • Wear earplugs to reduce distracting noises

Acid Reflux and Pneumonia

Studies have shown that sleeping in a semirecumbent position (on your back with the head of the bed elevated to about 30 to 45 degrees) can help with the prevention of aspiration pneumonia (1) (a type of lung infection) and nocturnal GERD (2) (nighttime acid reflux).

This position can sometimes be more comfortable on a couch with the right amount of cushions and pillows than on a bed. However, you can sleep in this position on your mattress as well, and your bedroom environment is generally more suitable for sleeping with less light, noises, and distractions.

Insomnia

People with insomnia (3) may find comfort in the change of scenery that sleeping on a couch provides. If you are getting better sleep on the couch you can stick to it temporarily, but plan to work your mattress into your bedtime routine soon. Resorting to the couch on a regular basis can be hard on your body.

What Are The Drawbacks to Sleeping on the Couch?

Back Pain

The biggest drawback to sleeping on the couch is back pain. Mattress technology often focuses on your body’s pressure points (4) when laying in a horizontal position — a factor couches do not consider. Studies have shown that a sleep surface that eases your body’s pressure points (5) may allow for better sleep comfort and quality.  Compared to sleeping on a couch, the right mattress (6) and sleep position (7) can help reduce back pain and discomfort.

Sleep Hygiene

Sleeping on the couch often means you are in a room that is not suitable for good sleep hygiene. There are a few important environmental factors, such as light and sound, that may affect your sleep quality.

Natural light may throw off your circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Additional sound distractions in the room with the couch — such as sounds of a city, television, children, or clock strikes — can cause you to wake more frequently. It is generally easier to create a sleeping environment that blocks out these light and sound distractions in a bedroom.

Not Safe for Infants

It is not safe to sleep on a couch with an infant, so this situation should always be avoided (8). Sleeping this way creates a particularly high risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (9).

Allergies and Cleanliness

Your couch may be subject to varied use throughout the day by family members and pets. This can cause bacteria and allergens to build up in the fabric, which may not be as easy to clean as bedding. If you or your child has allergies or asthma (10), experts recommend not sleeping on a couch.

What Can I Do To Break the Habit of Sleeping on the Couch?

You can make changes to your environment and your lifestyle to ease back into bed for sleep. The changes you need to make will depend on the reasons you are habitually falling asleep on the couch. For those who have the option of moving to a mattress, here are some suggestions:

  • Follow a Regular Sleep Schedule: Try to get to bed around the same time each night. Develop a bedtime routine to prepare your body and mind for winding down.
  • Turn Off the Television: Turn off the television and put down your phone at least 30 minutes before bedtime (11). The light from our screens can interfere with our circadian rhythm and tell our bodies it is not time to sleep. Having the television on while you drift off on the couch may provide a welcome distraction, but the light and sound will interrupt the quality of your sleep. Instead, try reading a book in bed or listening to audio meditations or sleep stories.
  • Adjust Naps: If you take naps during the day or into the evening, you may have trouble falling asleep at night and resort to the couch. Avoid naps later in the day to make sure you are sleepy when bedtime rolls around. If naps are essential for you, keep it brief — about 10 minutes (12) — and make sure it is well before bedtime.
  • Avoid Stimulants: Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can disrupt your sleep patterns and should be avoided before bedtime. It is important to feel sleepy at bedtime so as not to get caught in the couch routine.

Is it Bad to Fall Asleep on the Couch?

Choosing the right sleep surface, pillow, and sleep posture for your body can have positive lasting effects on your back (13), as well as other aspects of your physical and mental wellbeing. Generally, it is a good idea to try to break the habit of sleeping on the couch, if possible. Don’t stress if you doze off on the couch from time to time, just be mindful of whether it is becoming habitual and try to take steps to get yourself back into bed.

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