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Is it bad to sleep in a riser recliner chair?

HealthPublished on Mon 2nd Aug 2021

Many of us find sleeping in a chair easier and more comfortable than sleeping in a bed. This is particularly true as we get older, when sleep becomes lighter, and we wake more frequently during the night. So why don’t more of us sleep in chairs?

Riser recliners

Riser recliner buying guide

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What are the benefits of sleeping in a riser recliner chair?

Good quality, restful sleep is vital for our health. This means that if you can sleep comfortably in a riser recliner, but not in a bed, then sleeping in the chair might be best for you overall. There are a few other reasons why sleeping in a riser recliner can be beneficial, including:

Helping with acid reflux and heart burn

Acid reflux affects many of us at some point – up to 25% of adults in the UK. Acid reflux is when stomach acid moves up from your stomach and into your throat, which can create the burning sensation known as heartburn. 

Acid reflux can be caused by caffeine, which relaxes the muscles that control the opening to the top of your stomach. It can also be caused by spicy food, smoking, stress, certain medication and even lying down too soon after eating. Sometimes a hiatus hernia (when part of the stomach moves up into your chest) can be the cause, but often there is no obvious cause of acid reflux. 

Gravity gives us a helping hand at keeping stomach acid down when we’re in an upright position, which means that people with acid reflux may find it easier to sleep soundly in an upright position. 

Sleeping in a riser recliner makes it easier to remain upright than in a normal bed. The back of the chair can be tilted to a reclined, but still relatively upright, angle. Lifting your torso above your waist by 20cm is enough to ease acid reflux symptoms. This improves your comfort, while allowing gravity to help keep acid reflux in check. 

A man suffering with acid reflux in bed
Up to 25% of adults in the UK suffer with acid reflux

Helping with sleep apnoea 

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder, where the walls of the throat relax while you sleep. This causes your throat to narrow and your breathing to stop for short periods while you sleep. 

Your brain wakes you each time, to restart your breathing. These episodes can happen many times each night, causing poor quality, broken sleep. The cause of OSA varies from person to person. Gravity plays a role in causing OSA, alongside a person’s anatomy. Often, the soft tissues in the throat and mouth relax too much, and gravity pulls these tissues downwards – narrowing the airway. 

Elevating your head while you sleep may help to reduce the symptoms of sleep apnoea. So sleeping in a more upright position, such as in a riser recliner chair or an adjustable bed, can improve the quality of your sleep if you have OSA. This is particularly useful for those with mild to moderate OSA. However, OSA can have serious health consequences if left untreated, so see your doctor for advice if you think you may have sleep apnoea. 

Relieving shoulder pain

If you have shoulder pain, then sleeping in a riser recliner may be a good option. Sleeping on your side can make pain and tightness in your shoulders worse. But it can be difficult to stop yourself from rolling onto your side while asleep in a normal bed. Sleeping in a riser recliner has the advantage of making it difficult for you to roll onto your side while you’re asleep.

Senior lady with back pain
Sleeping in a riser recliner makes it difficult for you to roll onto your side while you’re asleep.

What are the drawbacks of sleeping in a riser recliner chair?

Sleeping in a riser recliner chair can be beneficial for some people, but it can also increase your risk of certain health and sleep problems, such as:

Poor quality sleep

Because our muscles relax during deep REM sleep, if you are not correctly supported while sleeping in a riser recliner, the relaxation of body parts while asleep can jerk you awake. Anyone who has tried to nap during a flight will be familiar with the sensation of being woken by your head falling forwards, just as you slip into deeper sleep. 

When sleeping upright, this cycle of brief periods of light sleep followed by interruptions can leave you with poor quality, unrefreshing sleep. To tackle this, ensure you are reclined at least a 40-degree angle, and that your arms and legs are supported too. 

Leg and back pain

Lower back pain is a very common type of back pain. The best sleeping position for lower back pain is on your side, with a pillow between the knees. Because it is very difficult to sleep on your side in a riser recliner chair, they are not the best option for those with lower back pain. 

Shifting position at night is completely normal and healthy. But because your movement is more restricted when sleeping in a riser recliner chair compared to a bed, your muscles can become stiff and painful over time. 

Poor blood circulation

The ability to easily raise your legs in a riser recliner chair can be helpful for poor circulation, but there are some drawbacks too. 

Sleeping upright in a chair can increase your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), where a blood clot forms in the veins of your thigh or lower leg during long periods of uninterrupted sitting. If the clot travels to the lungs, this can lead to a pulmonary embolism which is a serious and potentially fatal condition. Sleeping in a chair restricts your movement compared to a bed and keeps your limbs bent, which increases the risk of DVT. 

To lower your risk of DVT when sleeping in a riser recliner, stretch out as much as possible. Reclining the backrest and raising the footrest will help you to do this. If you also sit in your riser recliner during the day, moving and stretching regularly also reduces your risk of DVT. 

How sleeping in an adjustable bed is much better for your health

Riser recliner chairs can be a useful addition to your sleep routine if you struggle to sleep in a bed. However, they are not designed to be slept in every night, and there are better options available for those who need to sleep in a certain position. 

Adjustable beds offer many of the same benefits as a recliner chair, allowing you to sleep in a more upright position, but without the limitations. Adjustable beds also help you to get in and out of bed more easily, and give you the space to move during the night – preventing muscle tightness from building up over time.  

Sleeping in an adjustable bed rather than a riser recliner chair brings with it lifestyle benefits too. Good sleep hygiene includes creating a space that is dedicated to sleep, and that is free of noise, bright lights and anything that could tempt you to stay awake (like a TV). Riser recliner chairs are often situated in the living room, which gives you easy access to the TV at night. If you are struggling to sleep, it’s tempting to switch on your phone or the TV, but this mental stimulation and bright light will keep you awake and alert.

Riser recliner buying guide

Learn about everything you’ll need to consider before you buy and make the very most from your recliner chair.