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Sleeping on the couch – What are the pros and cons?

Posted on September 19th, 2023

We’ve all been there – those nights spent on the couch when you fall asleep reading or watching TV. Or maybe you have a partner who snores, causing you to seek refuge away from the bedroom. 

But is sleeping on the couch a healthy and sustainable option? Can a couch give you the same high-quality rest that you can get from a comfortable bed? 

Couch sleeping isn’t a topic that’s been widely studied. However, there are potential pros and cons to sleeping on the couch, which I’ll talk about here. Plus, I’ll share sleep tips to help you get better rest no matter where you lay your head at night. 

What are the physical implications of sleeping on a couch?

Poor support and comfort and lower sleep quality

The question of support and comfort is one of the most immediate concerns when sleeping on a couch. Couches are typically not designed with neck and spinal support in mind. Prolonged or frequent couch sleeping can lead to neck, back, and joint pain, especially if the couch surface isn’t firm enough. 

Whether you fall asleep sitting up or with your neck on an armrest, neither position offers ideal support for your body. When you fall asleep sitting up, your head may drop forward, straining your neck. And if you sleep with your head on an armrest, you may also strain your neck from having it elevated too high. 

The lack of comfort and support from sleeping on a couch can lead to restless nights and frequent awakenings, which can negatively affect your sleep quality. Conversely, mattresses are designed to give your body comfort and support so you can sleep soundly. 

Issues with temperature and hygiene

Couches are often less breathable than mattresses, potentially causing you to overheat during the night. Additionally, couches are more likely to trap environmental dust and allergens, which may exacerbate allergies or asthma and cause sleep-disrupting symptoms like…

  • Sneezing 
  • Congestion 
  • Dry eyes
  • Itching 
  • Coughing 

Bacteria and viruses can also live on couch coverings for months, including coverings made from polyester, cotton, synthetic, and mixed fiber fabrics. 

Is there an upside to sleeping on a couch? 

Reduce acid reflux symptoms

While sleeping sitting up or with your head on an armrest can strain your neck, sleeping with your head elevated may help if you have acid reflux. 

Elevating your head allows gravity to prevent stomach acid from flowing back up into the esophagus, thus reducing symptoms such as heartburn, regurgitation, and coughing during sleep.

Reduce nasal congestion 

If you have a stuffy or runny nose, lying flat can make matters worse. But if you sleep with your head raised, you can lessen the effect of these symptoms. 

Potentially reduce sleep apnea symptoms

Symptoms of people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) sometimes worsen when they lie flat on their backs. Sleeping with their bodies elevated can help reduce their symptoms, although sleep apnea patients should talk to their healthcare providers about the best way to handle their OSA. 

Tips for getting a better night’s rest on a couch 

If you find yourself occasionally sleeping on a couch, here are some tips to increase your sleep quality: 

Make your couch more comfortable

Instead of sleeping with your head on an armrest or throw pillow, sleep on a pillow from your bed. A bed pillow is the right size and shape to support your neck and spine, thus reducing pain and discomfort while sleeping on a couch. 

Keep the room dark

When sleeping on a couch, you may be more exposed to more light from street lights, passing cars, or other areas of your house. This light exposure can cause you to wake up and shorten your sleep time. Try wearing a sleep mask or using curtains or shades to block incoming light when sleeping on a couch. 

Choose a recliner instead

Sleeping in a reclining chair as opposed to a flat couch may offer more comfort and support. Plus, it may help people with sleep disorders, like OSA, by reducing the number of times they wake up during the night. 

Sleeping on a couch may be an occasional necessity. However, it isn’t a recommended long-term habit. Rather, focus on addressing the root causes that lead to this practice and maintain good sleep habits. This will go a long way to ensure you get the restorative, high-quality sleep you need, even when sleeping on a couch. 

Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website:

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