TL;DR – How to Sleep in a Recliner
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?
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:
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
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.
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?
The short answer is “it can be,” but that’s not very satisfying, so here’s a more detailed answer.
According to recent studies, Americans spend too much time sitting in chairs, which is unhealthy and leads to all sorts of health problems, including sore joints, aching backs, weaker hearts, and the like. That’s not the fault of the recliner though. There’s nothing magical about recliners that make those conditions worse; it’s more of a lifestyle thing, and recliners are a part of that equation.
It’s also true that not all recliners are created equally, and some are better for your back than others. There are a handful of recliners on the market today that incorporate ergonomic features like lumbar support into their designs and these are better for you than chairs without those features.
In addition to that, recliners that offer advanced seating positions like Zero-G and Trendelenburg position have well-documented positive health benefits.
Recent studies have shown that if you’ve recently recovered from surgery, you’ll recover more quickly if you spend your recovery in a highly adjustable recliner. In addition to that, sleeping in a recliner has been found to relieve the symptoms of a variety of conditions including, but not limited to:
– GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)
– Acid Reflux
– Sleep Apnea
– And Snoring
While sleeping in a recliner won’t, by itself, do anything to make you healthier, if you’ve recently had surgery or suffer from any of the above, you’ll almost always notice an improvement.
Is it safe to sleep in a recliner while pregnant?
According to WebMD, it’s perfectly acceptable to sleep in a recliner while pregnant, and in fact, a significant minority of women give up entirely on the idea of sleeping in their bed at night, preferring the convenience of sleeping in their recliner, often with a pillow between their legs or with a body-length pillow for added comfort.
Is sleeping in a recliner bad for you and your back?
Sleeping in a recliner isn’t especially good or bad for lower back pain, but recent studies have shown that too much time spent sitting can be detrimental to your health and can certainly make back pain of any kind worse.
For that reason, it’s well worth the time and extra money to buy good-quality furniture with ergonomic features built-in. There aren’t a huge number of recliners on the market today that offer ergonomic features, but there are some, and even better, they’re offered by well-respected American furniture brands.
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:
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
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.
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.
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:
If you do that, you’ll virtually guarantee yourself a great night’s sleep in your recliner.
References & Resources:
- Sleep Soundly During Pregnancy, WebMD.
- Is it Dangerous to Sleep Sitting Up?, Harvard Health.
- 5 Health Benefits of Sleeping in Your Recliner, Furniture Academy.
- Sitting in Reclined Position May Help Alleviate Back Pain, News Medical.
- Effects of Recliner-Chair Versus Traditional Hospital Bed on Postsurgical Diagnostic Laparoscopic Recovery Time, NCBI.