How to Sleep in a Recliner Chair

TL;DR - How to Sleep in a Recliner

If you must sleep on a recliner with leather upholstery, you’ll want to place a top sheet down, so your skin is touching the sheet, rather than the leather, or you’ll spend the whole night sweating.

Grab a blanket if needed and a pillow if the chair’s headrest isn’t enough padding for you. Place these within arm’s reach of the chair.

Turn out all the lights before you sit in the recliner, except for one lamp you can reach from the chair itself.

If you’re sleeping in a manual recliner, add a few extra pillows for your neck and behind your knees. You may not need them, but manual recliners typically only offer three recline positions. If you need to do any tweaking beyond that to get comfortable, you’ll have to do it via strategically placed pillows.

If you’re sleeping in a power recliner, have a seat and play with the controls and adjust the recline angle to taste.

Grab your pillow and blanket (mentioned above), turn out the light, and get comfy!

Why do I sleep better in a recliner than in a bed?

Unfortunately, there’s not a simple answer to that question. A lot of it depends on you, and the reasons you’re not able to get a decent night’s sleep in a bed.

Many of those reasons have to do with medical issues, which we’ll talk about at various points in this article, so right up front, let us make one thing clear:

This is the Chair Institute. We know chairs, not medicine. We’re not giving medical advice in this, or any other article you may read here. If you want medical advice about any topic, we strongly urge you to speak with your doctor.

With that out of the way, let’s outline a few of the more common scenarios where people might wind up spending more than a few nights sleeping in their recliners.

Why Some People Sleep in A Recliner?

  • New parents have a cranky baby and decide to take shifts sleeping in the rocking recliner in the nursery so one of them can be on “rapid response” while the other gets a full night’s sleep in the bed.
  • A person who has just had major surgery and comes home from the hospital only to discover that lying flat in their bed is either too painful or makes it so they can’t breathe, causing them to look to their trusty recliner as a temporary sleeping platform.
  • A person who suffers from sleep apnea and who simply cannot sleep lying flat on their back in bed starts spending more and more nights sleeping sitting up partially in their recliner.
  • A person with a serious mobility issue who needs help getting into and out of their chair and into and out of their bed may simply find it more convenient to sleep in a suitably comfortable recliner.
Doe fabric variant of the Catnapper Owens Recliner

Whatever your reasons for gravitating toward sleeping in your trusty recliner rather than your bed, this is the article for you. Not only will we outline the best way to get a decent night’s sleep in your recliner, but we’ll also answer a variety of other health-related questions surrounding sleeping in a chair rather than in a bed.

How to Sleep in a Recliner

We’re repeating the steps outlined in our summary here just so you don’t have to scroll back to the top! We’ll also be providing some additional notes and observations.

1.

If you must sleep on a recliner with leather upholstery, you’ll want to place a top sheet down, so your skin is touching the sheet, rather than the leather, or you’ll spend the whole night sweating. 


If you must take this step, be sure to tuck the sheet in as you’re able and make sure it doesn’t drape significantly onto the footrest. If it does, then when you’re manipulating the recline angle, the sheet could become snagged in the chair.

You may want a top sheet to sleep on, regardless of what the recliner in question is upholstered in. If you do add one, but fabric-clad recliners tend to be much more breathable than their leather-upholstered counterparts, and as such, a top sheet isn’t strictly necessary in those cases.

2.

Grab a blanket if needed and a pillow if the chair’s headrest isn’t enough padding for you. Place these within arm’s reach of the chair.

This is all about convenience and advance planning. Once you settle into your makeshift nest for the night, you don’t want to have to disrupt it by having to get up repeatedly for “stuff” you forgot.

3.

Turn out all the lights before you sit in the recliner, except for one lamp you can reach from the chair itself.

Same idea here. This is all about efficiency and not having to disrupt your nest once you’ve crawled into it.

4.

If you’re sleeping in a manual recliner, add a few extra pillows for your neck and behind your knees. You may not need them, but manual recliners typically only offer three recline positions. If you need to do any tweaking beyond that to get comfortable, you’ll have to do it via strategically placed pillows.

For this reason, power recliners generally make much better sleepers than manual recliners, but there are two catches. First, power recliners tend to be a good deal more expensive than their manual cousins, and if your budget doesn't support the idea of a power recliner, then you’ll have to get a little creative with those extra pillows and make it work.

Second, if the power goes out, most of the power recliners on the market today don’t offer a battery backup, so you’ll need to scramble over the side of the chair. Alternatively, you could invest in a lift chair, because most of those do come with battery backup systems. Again though, the tradeoff is cost. Lift chairs generally cost a bit more.

5.

If you’re sleeping in a power recliner, have a seat and play with the controls and adjust the recline angle to taste.

Lift chairs typically offer an infinite number of positions, which is what makes them the superior choice for sleeping.

6.

Grab your pillow and blanket (mentioned above), turn out the light, and get comfy!

And that’s how to sleep in a recliner!

Sleeping in a Recliner If You Have Sleep Apnea

Does sleeping in a recliner help sleep apnea? Before we can answer that question, we’ll need to take a step back and talk a little bit about what, exactly, sleep apnea is.

Defining Sleep Apnea

In a nutshell, sleep apnea is a condition where your breathing stops and starts repeatedly over the course of a given night.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three major “types” of Sleep Apnea. These are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea – This is the most common form of the condition and is triggered when the muscles of your throat relax while you’re sleeping.
  • Central sleep apnea – This is a somewhat rare condition that happens when your brain stops sending proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome – This is a combination of the two types of sleep apnea described above.

You may not know right away that you have sleep apnea because although you’ll come at least partially awake gasping for breath at various points in the night, you may not fully regain consciousness.

 You’ll simply wake up the next morning feeling like you didn’t get much sleep but be unable to recall why. In that case, a sleep study is the best way to figure out what’s going on, but there are a variety of symptoms that point to sleep apnea. 

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

  • Irritability
  • A decrease in your attention span
  • Daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  • Difficulty going to sleep at night (insomnia)
  • A headache, first thing in the morning
  • Dry mouth, first thing in the morning
  • Waking yourself up by gasping for air
  • If you sleep with someone, and they report that during the night, you seem to stop breathing at periodic intervals
  •  If you sleep with someone, and they report that during the night, you’ve begun to snore loudly

The more of the symptoms above that apply to you, the more likely it is that you have sleep apnea.

In addition to looking at symptoms, it’s also important to talk about risk factors, since there are several things that can increase the likelihood that you’ll develop sleep apnea.

Risk Factors

  • If you’re overweight
  • If you’re male (men are almost three times more likely to develop sleep apnea than women – not that women are immune to it, of course, but men tend to develop it more often)
  • If you drink heavily or use tranquilizers or sedatives
  • Finally, smokers are three times more likely to develop sleep apnea than non-smokers

So back to the question: Can sleeping in a recliner help if you have sleep apnea?

The answer is, probably. It will help if you have obstructive sleep apnea, and it will help some if you have complex sleep apnea, because at least part of the problem is being caused by the narrowing of your airway when your muscles relax.

By sleeping in a recliner and not laying perfectly flat, the simple force of gravity will work in your favor. When you fall asleep, and your muscles relax, instead of closing off your airway, it will remain open sufficiently that you don’t choke or gasp in your sleep.

Unfortunately, if you suffer from central sleep apnea, where the problem is the signals your brain is sending to your muscles, then no. In that case, changing where you sleep isn’t going to help fix the problem.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it healthy to sleep in a recliner?

Is it safe to sleep in a recliner while pregnant?

Is sleeping in a recliner bad for you and your back?

The Anatomy of a Good Sleeper Recliner

We mentioned earlier that not all recliners are created equal. Some are optimized for lounging, while others are geared much more toward sleeping. The specific features on offer make all the difference here, and if you’re looking for a recliner to sleep in, here are the features that will make the biggest impact:

Upholstery

This is something we mentioned earlier. There’s a reason you don’t have leather sheets on your bed. Leather is a horrible material to sleep on. It’s not at all breathable, and you’ll wake up the next morning covered in sweat, assuming you can make it through the night in the chair.

If you already own a leather recliner, your only real option is to lay a top sheet down over the leather, which gives you a layer of fabric against your skin, but if you haven’t bought one yet, save yourself the extra step and just buy a fabric-clad recliner to start with. It will be much more breathable, which will translate into a better and more comfortable night’s sleep.

An Advanced Comfort System

Upholstery and comfort coils of the UltraComfort UC546

Different companies handle comfort in different ways, but at a minimum, you should be looking for a recliner that utilizes block foam and poly fiberfill, paired with comfort coils or some type of spring supported system that closely mimics the feeling of resting on a mattress.

Some companies go far beyond this, however, offering memory foam, gel-infused comfort coils, and the like. Personal tastes and preferences will vary, of course, so if possible, visit a furniture showroom near you and try as many models out as you can to get a sense for what type of comfort system you prefer.

Illustration on the 4 different types of recline positions

The More Recline Positions, the Better

Power recliners generally make better sleepers than manual ones, simply because they offer an infinite number of possible recline angles, allowing you to find your comfort sweet spot.

Manual recliners typically only offer three recline positions, and if those don’t work for you, you’re left having to tweak your angle with the creative use of pillows. It can work, but it’s far from optimal.

Nutmeg fabric variant of the Windermere Burton Power Lift Chair

Advanced Features & “Extras”

This is a mixed bag, and not every company offers extras, but you should keep an eye out for them. Here, we’re talking about recliners that offer lumbar or whole back ergonomic support, power recliners with battery backup systems (which are disappointingly rare, by the way), and the like. We’ve even found a handful of recliners with an independently adjusting headrest, which is amazing!

Advanced features also include advanced seating positions like Zero-G and Trendelenburg. We’ve never seen a chair that offers both. 

It’s usually one or the other. That’s fine though because they offer comparable benefits, so having both in the same model would, in our view, be over-engineering the chair in question.

One thing you’ll notice that’s conspicuously absent from our list is the ability to lay completely flat. Some people may want that, while others won’t. If you have sleep apnea or are recovering from recent surgery, the odds are that you don’t want to lay flat anyway, so this ultimately comes down to what your needs are. It’s just not a universal requirement.

Final Thoughts - How to Sleep In A Recliner

So, is it ok to sleep in a recliner? Ultimately, the answer is yes, but the question itself is mostly self-selecting.

Most people, if given a choice, would probably rather sleep in their bed. Under certain conditions, though, that simply becomes impractical, if not outright impossible. In those instances, the right sleeper recliner is an excellent alternative.

If you find yourself in need of one, take the time to make sure the one you purchase fits you well, and at a minimum:

  • Is upholstered in comfortable, breathable fabric 
  • Offers an unlimited number of possible recline angles 
  • Has an advanced comfort system that is to your liking
  • And offers extras that are of high value to you

If you do that, you'll virtually guarantee yourself a great night's sleep in your recliner.


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  • Chair Institute
  • November 23, 2019
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