Sleeping Upright

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Have you ever considered the potential benefits and drawbacks of sleeping upright? In this in-depth exploration, we will delve into various aspects of this unconventional sleep position. From improvements in sleep apnea symptoms to the increased risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), it's essential to weigh the pros and cons before adopting a new way to catch some Zs.

We'll also provide practical tips for those who choose to try sleeping sitting upright, such as using body pillows for additional support or adjusting seat angles for optimal spinal alignment. Furthermore, we'll discuss strategies for staying hydrated during long periods of immobility, which can help minimize DVT risk.

Lastly, we will examine temporary use of reclined posture as an alternative to fully sleeping upright and offer recommendations on transitioning back to lying flat when possible. Join us as we uncover the intricacies behind this fascinating topic!


Benefits of Sleeping Upright

While sleeping upright may not be inherently healthy or unhealthy for the general population, there are specific benefits to consider.

Some individuals might choose this position due to obstructive sleep apnea, snoring reduction, allergy symptom relief, and post-surgery comfort.

Improvements in Sleep Apnea Symptoms from a 1986 Study

A 1986 study found that patients with obstructive sleep apnea experienced significant improvements in their symptoms when they slept at an incline, thanks to gravity keeping the airway open.

Reduction in Snoring by Preventing Airway Obstruction

Sleeping upright can also help reduce snoring by keeping your airways clear, preventing obstruction of airflow caused by tissues falling towards the back of your throat.

  • Allergies often cause nasal congestion, making breathing difficult during sleep.
  • Sleeping upright allows gravity to assist mucus drainage from nasal passages more effectively than lying down does.
  • This improved drainage reduces congestion and eases breathing for allergy sufferers throughout the night.

Alleviating Pressure on Injured or Surgically Repaired Shoulders

If you've recently had shoulder surgery or sustained an injury that makes lying down uncomfortable or painful, sleeping upright can provide relief by reducing pressure on your shoulder joint and surrounding muscles.

Drawbacks and Risks of Sleeping Upright

Sleeping in an upright position may have its perks, yet it can also cause neck soreness and tension on the spine as well as a heightened possibility of forming Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) during long times of immobility.

Neck Pain from Improper Spinal Alignment

Improper spinal alignment caused by inadequate head support can lead to neck pain and discomfort over time. To avoid this, use a proper pillow or headrest that supports your cervical spine while keeping your back in a neutral position.

Risk of DVT During Prolonged Immobility

Prolonged periods of inactivity, like during long flights or car rides, can increase the risk of developing DVT - a dangerous condition where blood clots form inside deep veins. To reduce this risk, stay hydrated, stretch your legs regularly, perform seated exercises, and consider wearing compression stockings.

Tips for Reducing DVT Risk While Traveling:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking water frequently.
  • Stretch your legs at least once every hour.
  • Perform seated exercises like ankle circles or foot pumps.
  • Wear compression stockings for added support and circulation improvement.

Individuals with personal risk factors for DVT, such as pregnant women, smokers, and those taking medications known to heighten DVT risks, should exercise extra caution during prolonged periods of immobility. If you must sleep upright for medical reasons, consult with a healthcare professional to mitigate potential risks.

Tips for Comfortable Upright Sleep

If you need to sleep sitting up due to medical reasons or recovery from procedures, take necessary precautions such as adjusting your seat angle between 45-60 degrees along with employing suitable head pillows that provide better alignment for your spine while you rest.

Using Body Pillows for Additional Support

Body pillows can be a great addition when trying to achieve comfort during upright sleep.

  • Leg Pillow: Placing a body pillow between your legs can help maintain proper spinal alignment and reduce strain on the lower back.
  • Back Pillow: Using a body pillow behind your back may offer extra lumbar support while sitting up.

Adjusting Seat Angle for Optimal Spinal Alignment

Find the right seat angle for proper spinal alignment during upright sleep.

  • 45-60 Degrees: Adjust your chair or recliner to an angle between 45-60 degrees from horizontal for optimal weight distribution across the hips and thighs while minimizing stress on the neck and spine.
  • Neck-Supportive Pillows: Add neck-supportive pillows to enhance comfort levels and cradle the head in an ergonomically correct position when seated.

Selecting Appropriate Head Pillows

  • Cervical Pillow: A cervical pillow supports the natural curve of your neck and head, helping to maintain proper alignment while sleeping upright.
  • Travel Pillow: A U-shaped travel pillow wraps around the back of your neck, providing support for both your head and neck when sitting up.

Pay attention to your body and make changes as needed during the night. By experimenting with various seating angles, pillow types, and positioning techniques, you'll likely find a combination that allows you to sleep comfortably in an upright position.

Stay Hydrated to Reduce DVT Risk During Long Periods of Sitting

Sitting for extended periods increases the risk of developing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), but staying hydrated can help reduce this risk.

Consume a minimum of eight glasses of liquid daily to help thin the blood and impede clotting.

During long flights or other situations where mobility is limited, take short walks, do ankle pumps, and calf raises to promote circulation.

Pregnant women, smokers, and those taking medications known to increase DVT risks should consult with their healthcare provider before traveling.

Temporary Use of Reclined Posture

If you're in need of a break from lying down yet can't manage an upright position, then briefly using a reclined posture may be your saving grace.

Benefits of using a reclined posture as an alternative to sleeping fully upright

Reclining can help you breathe easier, relieve GERD symptoms, and make pregnancy more comfortable.

  • Better breathing: A slightly inclined angle prevents airway obstruction and makes breathing easier.
  • GERD relief: Elevating your upper body can reduce acid reflux symptoms.
  • Pregnancy comfort: Sleeping at an incline reduces pressure on your diaphragm and abdominal area.

Recommendations for transitioning back to lying flat when possible

When it's time to go back to lying flat, take it slow and use pillows for support.

  1. Gradual adjustment: Lower the angle of your reclined position gradually over several days or weeks.
  2. Pillow support: Use pillows under your head, neck, and knees for proper spinal alignment.
  3. Maintain good sleep hygiene: Stick to a consistent bedtime routine and create a comfortable sleep environment.

Remember, a reclined posture is only a temporary solution, so don't get too attached.

FAQs in Relation to Sleeping Upright

Is it OK to sleep in an upright position?

Sleeping upright is generally safe for short periods, especially when addressing specific health issues or recovery needs, but it may lead to neck pain and increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Are there any benefits to sleeping upright?

Yes, sleeping upright can improve sleep apnea symptoms, reduce snoring, relieve allergy-related congestion, and alleviate pressure on injured or surgically repaired shoulders.

Source: PubMed

What is the healthiest sleeping position?

The healthiest sleeping position varies depending on individual needs, but lying flat on your back with proper support under your head and knees promotes optimal spinal alignment, while side-sleeping with a pillow between the knees can reduce pressure points.

Why did royals sleep sitting up?

Royals believed sleeping sitting up prevented being mistaken for dead and provided better protection against potential assassins during vulnerable times like sleep, but this practice has no proven health benefits today.


Did you know that sleeping upright can actually have some surprising benefits? It can help with sleep apnea, snoring, allergies, and even shoulder pain, but it's not without its downsides, like neck pain and an increased risk of DVT.

But don't worry, there are ways to make sleeping upright more comfortable, like using body pillows and adjusting seat angles for better spinal alignment. And don't forget to stay hydrated to reduce the risk of DVT. If sleeping fully upright is too uncomfortable, try a reclined posture instead.

So next time you're struggling to get a good night's sleep, consider giving sleeping upright a try!

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