Some people find it easy to doze off on the couch while reading or watching television in the evening and end up sleeping there for the night. Others retreat to the couch to escape a noisy sleep partner. We explore potential drawbacks and benefits of couch sleeping and provide tips for better sleep.
Is Sleeping on the Couch Bad?
Although sleeping on the couch hasn’t been widely investigated, one study found that sofa sleeping is linked to later bedtimes and a greater chance of falling short on sleep. However, more research will be needed to understand the reason for these connections, as additional factors could be involved.
That said, using the sofa as a regular sleeping spot can be bad in certain circumstances.
Risk to Infants
Parents and caregivers might sit or lie on the couch to feed or soothe a crying baby, but experts warn that falling asleep on a couch while holding an infant can be dangerous.
The couch is not a safe spot for babies to sleep, as they could become trapped or wedged in the cushions. They also risk suffocation from the soft couch surface or contact with the caregiver. The safest place for babies to sleep is on a firm and level surface, alone, without toys or soft bedding.
Poor Back and Neck Support
Sleeping on a surface that isn’t firm enough can contribute to back pain, and the soft surface of a couch might not offer enough support for your back. Also, falling asleep while sitting up on a couch could result in your head dropping forward, which puts stress on the neck. Sleeping with your head on the arm rest may also strain the neck by lifting it too high.
Conversely, a mattress is specifically designed to support the body and provide comfort during sleep. Experts believe that identifying the best mattress for your body and sleep position can also reduce pain. Medium-firm mattresses have been found to reduce pain and provide comfort, although this might not be the best choice for everyone.
Potential Source of Germs
While infections from fabrics are rare, both bacteria and viruses can survive on couch coverings. Polyester, cotton, synthetic, and mixed fiber fabrics may all harbor germs for months. Couch fabrics may also trap dust and other common household allergens that can cause symptoms like sneezing, congestion, dry eyes, itching, and coughing. These symptoms may disrupt sleep and make it more difficult to get quality rest.
If you frequently sleep on the couch, consider regularly cleaning the cushions or covering them with a clean sheet to offer protection from germs.
Are There Benefits to Sleeping on the Couch?
Research studies haven’t identified health benefits specifically related to couch sleeping. Some people might find it easier to elevate the head and upper body while sleeping on a couch, however. This elevated position could be helpful for several conditions.
- Acid Reflux: Sleeping with the upper body elevated can be helpful if you’re dealing with acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when the stomach acid or other contents travel back up the esophagus. Sleeping with the upper body elevated allows gravity to help keep stomach contents down.
- Nasal Congestion: Lying flat may make a stuffy or runny nose worse. But sleeping with the head elevated may help when you have these symptoms.
- Sleep Apnea Symptoms: Some people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have worse symptoms when lying flat on their backs. Research suggests that sleeping with the upper body elevated improves OSA symptoms, though people with OSA should consult their doctors about this position.
- Orthostatic Hypotension: Orthostatic hypotension, or postural hypotension, is a drop in blood pressure upon standing or sitting up after lying flat. Keeping the head raised by 10 to 20 degrees while lying down or sleeping may help some people who experience this condition.
How to Sleep on the Couch
If you must sleep on the couch, certain preparations may help make the room and sofa better for sleep.
- Darken the Room: When sleeping on the couch, light can stream in from street lights, passing cars, or even from other areas in the house. Light exposure can disrupt sleep and has been linked to less sleep time. When possible, use curtains or shades to block light. If this isn’t possible, consider using a sleep mask.
- Stop Using Electronics Before Bed: 90% of U.S. adults report using electronics before bed, and 60% of these devices were TVs. Blue light from electronics, including smartphones, tablets, televisions, or computer screens, can interfere with sleep, especially when used within two hours of bedtime.
- Use a Bed Pillow for Sleeping: It may be tempting to curl up on a throw pillow from the couch and call it a night, but it may not offer enough neck support. A bed pillow of the proper size and shape helps support the spine and neck, reducing neck pain and improving sleep quality.
- Wear the Right Pajamas for the Room Temperature: Since the couch is often in a separate room from the bedroom, the room temperature could be hotter or colder. Choose pajamas for comfort, opting for a warmer set if the room is very cold or a lighter set if the room is hot.
- Opt for a Recliner: Sleeping on a reclining chair rather than a flat sofa may be helpful for those with sleep-related breathing disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea. A recliner supports the body in an upright position during sleep, and can help decrease instances of nighttime wakening in those with OSA.
Tips to Improve Your Sleep Environment
If you sleep on the couch because you find your bedroom uncomfortable, ask yourself what the differences are between sleeping there and sleeping in your bedroom. Consider these sleep tips for making your bedroom environment a better place for sleep.
- Replace Your Mattress: If the couch is more comfortable than your bed, it may be time for a new mattress. The right mattress is important for supporting the body and getting high-quality sleep.
- Change the Room Temperature: The temperature in your living room might be different from your bedroom. Choosing the right bedroom temperature can improve your sleep, so experiment with raising or lowering the temperature to find what works best for you.
- Block Out Noise: Loud traffic, noisy neighbors, or the sound of a partner’s snoring can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. A white noise generator may drown out background sounds and improve sleep. Comfortable ear plugs that fit properly can help block noise as well.
- Relax Before Bed: Take time to practice a calming routine before going to sleep. This could involve listening to music, reading, or taking a bath before getting into bed. Calming activities promote relaxation and can help you get in the right mindset for sleep.
- Turn Off Notifications: If you have your computer, tablet, or phone in your bedroom with pinging notifications, the noise can distract you from sleep. Checking notifications for email and other messages can also provoke the need to respond, making it difficult to settle your mind to rest peacefully at night.
Your brain and body are hard at work to keep you healthy while you sleep, which is why getting enough sleep is so important. If you choose the couch over your bedroom regularly, it might be time to examine what is different about that space that makes you prefer it. Then you can take steps to improve your bedroom environment for the best possible sleep each night.
Ask the Sleep Doctor
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