Dangers of Sleeping in a Recliner Chair

While recliner chairs are a popular choice for sleeping given their convenience, sleeping on a recliner for long hours comes with potential dangers to health, particularly for older or disabled individuals. Sleeping long hours on a recliner can potentially lead to poor blood circulation, a blood clot, body sores and pains, and incomplete rest.

In this article, we discuss the potential dangers and health hazards of consistently sleeping on a recliner chair. We also discuss the uses and benefits of a recliner chair and how to find a comfortable recliner for your use case.

Why Might You Want to Sleep on a Recliner Chair?

There are a few reasons why one might prefer sleeping on a recliner rather than in bed. Sometimes, a mobility-challenged person might find it difficult to make their way to their bed and may choose to sleep on their recliner.

If you are suffering from a cold or have a blocked nose, it may be difficult for you to sleep in a supine position. This may also apply to individuals with gastroesophageal issues like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which lying in supine may promote acid reflux during sleep. In these cases, you may consider it more comfortable to sleep on a recliner where your head is at a higher position than the rest of your body.

Often pregnant women, especially in the third trimester, find it difficult to sleep on a flat bed and find it more comfortable to sleep on a recliner. Heart patients who have had recent surgery may find it difficult to sleep lying down and may also prefer recliner.

 

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What Are the Dangers of Sleeping in a Recliner?

While recliners are great for a short nap, they may not be fit for extended use for overnight sleeping for a few key reasons. You should remember that the sleeping process rests our brain, bones, and muscles, and above all it rests and decompresses our vertebral column, which is practically unrested throughout the day as we are often in a standing or sitting position.

When sleeping on a recliner that is at a tilt (say, 135 degrees) and not absolutely flat (most recliners will not go fully flat), you are not as completely resting your spine as you would if you lie on a flat bed with supportive cushioning. Therefore, continued long term recliner-only sleeping habits may cause you to develop back pain as you would be maintaining your spinal column in bent, fixed position.

Dangers of sleeping in a recliner chair include not having complete rest while sleeping
Dangers of sleeping in a recliner chair include not having complete rest while sleeping

Depending on your health condition and overall fitness, consistent use of a recliner for sleep can potentially cause some unwanted side effects.

Please read on to understand a few of these side effects; however, this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you are dealing with a physiological condition and have been sleeping for long periods on a recliner, be sure to mention this to your physician during your next visit.

  • Less space to move around: This is the one drawback of the recliner which can lead to a few other issues. A recliner allows for only a single position of sleeping, which is lying straight on your back. The body naturally shifts and turns during sleep to generate more comfortable positions and you will not be able to do so on a recliner. An average adult moves to different positions at least 15 to 20 times during a full night’s sleep. You will feel constricted on a recliner, and you could wake up with a sore neck or soreness in your limbs from extended sleep in a uniform sleeping position. Stomach sleepers in particular will feel more comfortable. In addition, since recliners have armrests, larger individuals will have more trouble sleeping comfortably on a recliner.
  • Poor blood circulation: Inability to move and adjust the body during sleep reduces blood flow to the extremities of your body. Over a long period of time, reduced blood flow can lead to narrowing of the blood capillary system and sub-optimal blood circulation. If this happens to you, not only could poorer blood circulation exacerbate potential health conditions you may have, you will also likely wake up from your sleep feeling stiff and unrested. 
  • Airplane syndrome and risk of blood clots: The experience of reclining on your chair may, to some extent, be compared to sitting on an airplane for a long time. Both these activities involve lying in a bent, immobile position, and can lead to blood clots or a condition called deep vein thrombosis. If you are over 60, research has shown that you are at greater risk of developing deep vein thrombosis. Warning signs of this condition include swelling in legs, leg cramps and redness and pain that cannot be explained by an injury.
  • Joint contractures: Lack of movement during sleep may result in tightening of the joints, especially at the hips, knees, ankles, and elbows, resulting in reduced mobility around these joints. This is known as joint contracture, and it is a result of changes in bone and cartilage structure or muscle and tendon structure. Joint contracture can lead to situations where there is significant difference between what your mind thinks your body can physically perform and what you actually can perform. This is a potential recipe for injury. Joint contractures are very frequent among older adults, with an almost 30 – 40% infliction rate in elderly people over 70 years of age.
  • Lack of non-REM sleep & unpredictable behavior: A reclining seat or recliner sofa may only permit shallow sleep. Non-REM sleep or non-rapid eye movement sleep is the deep sleep that refreshes us for the next day’s activities. During this phase of sleep, our heartrate and blood pressure reduces and muscles relax. Unfortunately, due to lack of space and mobility, the non-REM phase of sleep is elusive on a recliner seat. Consequently, you will end up with a lighter sleep, fewer hours of sleep, and a higher likelihood to wake up with a feeling of being not fully rested. Moreover, lack of non-REM sleep has the potential to cause unpredictable and irritable behavior during the day, affecting your daily routines.
  • Pressure sores: While sleeping on a flat bed tends to uniformly distribute your weight throughout your entire body, sleeping on a recliner puts more weight on your back, buttocks, and the shoulders. If your skin is sensitive at these points of pressure, or if you are overweight or obese, you may develop pressure sores and pain in these areas from continued long use of the recliner.

 

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What Are the Benefits of Sleeping on a Recliner?

While there is a range of warnings for sleeping on a recliner and we still recommend sleeping on a flat bed, there can be some benefits for shorter-term use as well. They include better breathing, improved digestion, and temporary back relaxation.

  • Better breathing: Sleeping in a reclined position makes it easier for your diaphragm to promote breathing. If you are prone to snoring or another breathing-related condition or sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea, it may be beneficial to sleep in a slightly angled position to facilitate better breathing during sleep.
  • Improved digestion: Gravity helps to promote proper digestion of food. If lying down with the head and upper torso slightly tilted upright position, the body will spend less energy digesting your last meal. If you must rest soon after eating, it would better the rest in a tilted position than totally flat. Similarly, if you suffer from GERD or acid reflux, sleeping in an angled position may help to keep you stomach contents in your stomach. 
  • Back pain alleviation: If you have lower back pain, resting on a recliner with lumbar support may be a good way to temporarily feel relaxed and reduce your pain. However, if your back pain (or neck pain) is recurring, consult your physician and physical therapist to see if there are more treatment methods to consider. A good pain management solution can also be to invest in a good massage chair. Massage chairs are a great complement to physiotherapy or chiropractic care. Please remember that it is still best to sleep on a flat bed in the long term. 

The video below shows how to properly operate a recliner with a handle:

How to Operate a Handle Recliner

 

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What Should I Consider When Buying a Recliner?

While we are at home relaxing, reading a book or watching our favorite television series, it’s nice to have a good recliner chair to rely on for comfort and relaxation. As recliner chairs can recline, they can be incredibly comfortable and allow us to fully rest our backs, whereas a conventional office chair or sofa requires us to sit up right, keeping our spine compressed. Thanks to their great comfort and ability to recline backwards, recliner chairs are especially popular with the elderly. When looking for a good quality recliner chair, consider key factors like the chair’s ergonomics, cushioning, sturdiness, and functionality.

An electric lift chair recliner
An electric lift chair recliner. Click to check price on Amazon.

Ergonomic design

Look for a reclining chair that is ergonomically designed well; that is, one that supports your head, neck, back, and legs in the most naturally comfortable positions for your body.

Supportive cushioning

Back cushioning should be soft enough for comfort but firm enough to support your reclined body weight. This also applies to the seat cushioning for the seated position. Good firm cushioning includes adequate lumbar support so that your lower spine supported well. Cushioning that is too soft can be cause back issues over long term use. 

Sturdiness

It is important that your recliner is sturdy and durable and locks firmly in each of the reclining angles. Sudden loosening of recliner lock and dropping a few notches may lead to lower back injury for an elderly person.

Functional features

Consider other features offered by the recliner that can make your resting experience for comfortable to you, including a supportive headrest and armrests, a comfortable leather or fabric lining material, and cupholders or tray.

 

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Parting Words – Enjoy Your Recliner for the Right Reasons

If you are sleeping on the recliner for long periods of time, the way it will affect you depends a lot on how active you are in your lifestyle and any existing conditions or diseases you may have. Consistently sleeping on the recliner for long periods is mostly detrimental for the elderly and people with disabilities, who tend to be dealing with more health conditions and whose lifestyles are marked by less physical activity.

We suggest that you enjoy your recliner responsibly and for the right reasons. A light afternoon nap while reading the latest bestseller or watching television may be the perfect use for your recliner, but using it for sleep every night is generally not advisable.

While recliner chairs are great for relaxation. But if you are seated for long periods of time, you may want to look into a coccyx cushion for your spine. You can read our reviews of the best coccyx cushions to help you determine if they’re a good fit for you.

Finally, if you spend a lot of time lying down (sleeping or otherwise) or have a bedridden individual at home, you might like to read our reviews of best mattresses for bed ridden patients.