Dangers of sleeping in a recliner chair include poor blood circulation, blood clots in the legs and not having complete rest while sleeping. In this article, along with the dangers, we also discuss the uses and benefits of a recliner chair and how to use them well.
Why would you want to sleep on a recliner?
There are a few reasons why one would prefer sleeping on a recliner rather than your bed. Sometimes, a mobility challenged person might find it difficult to get transferred to a bed and may choose to sleep on a recliner chair.
If you are suffering from a cold or have a blocked nose, it may be difficult for you to sleep in a supine position. You will find it easier 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 surgeries may find it difficult to sleep on the side and may also prefer recliner.
What are the dangers of sleeping in a recliner chair?
While recliners are great for a short nap, they may not be fit for continuous use for overnight sleeping because of a few reasons. You must 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 always in a standing or sitting position.
Sleeping on a recliner which 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 have done had you slept on a flat bed with firm cushioning. Therefore, continued long term recliner-only sleeping habits may cause you to develop back pain.
Depending on your health condition and overall fitness levels, consistent use of a recliner can have a few unwanted side effects. Please read on to understand a few of them, however, this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you are suffering from any physiological condition and have been sleeping for long periods on a recliner, make 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 leads to a few other issues. The recliner is meant for just a single position of sleeping, which is lying straight on your back. You will not be able to move around much. And therefore, it is not suitable for long duration sleeping. 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 if that is your sleeping style as well. You could often wake up with a sore neck or soreness in your limbs from continued sleeping in the same position. Since recliners will have arm rests, it is not possible for larger people to sleep comfortably on their side on a recliner.
- Poor blood circulation: Lack of enough bodily movements during sleeping reduces your blood flow to the extremities of your body. Over a long period of time, this leads to narrowing of the blood capillary system and sub-optimal blood circulation. If this has happened to you, you will most likely wake up from your sleep feeling stiff and unrested. After a tiring day’s of physical work, you may find it very comfortable to sit on your recliner with your legs up. If, however, you continue to sleep in that position for long, chances are that your heart will need more energy to pump blood into your legs and to your feet, which may not be ideal depending on your health condition.
- Joint contractures: Lack of enough movement during sleep may result in tightening of the joints, especially at the hips or the knees (and often at the elbows and ankles), resulting in reduced agility around these joints. This is called joint contracture that is a result of changes in bone and cartilage structure or of muscle and tendon structures. This may lead to situations where there is significant difference between what your mind thinks you can physically achieve and what you actually can. This is the perfect recipe for potential injury. Joint contractures are very frequent among older adults, with almost 30 – 40% infliction rate in elderly people over 70 years of age.
- 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 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 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.
- Lack of non-REM sleep & unpredictable behavior: Non-REM or non-rapid-eye-movement sleep is the deep sleep that refreshes us for the next day’s activities. During this phase of sleep the heart beat and blood pressure reduces and muscles relax. Unfortunately, due to lack of space, the non-REM phase of sleep is elusive on a recliner. Consequently, you will end up with a lighter sleep, less number of hours of sleep and possibly wake up with a feeling of being not fully rested. Moreover, the lack of non-REM sleep can cause unpredictable irritable behavior during the day, affecting your daily chores.
- 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 the point of incidence of more weight or in case you are overweight or obese, you may develop pressure sores in these areas from continued long use of the recliner.
What are the benefits of sleeping on a recliner chair?
There are some benefits, though of sleeping on a recliner chair. They include better breathing, better digestion, and temporary back relaxation.
- Better Breathing during Sleeping: Sleeping in a reclined position makes it easier for your diaphragm to continue with your breathing movements. If you suffer from dangerous conditions like acid reflux, or you are prone to snoring, it is advisable to sleep on a recliner to facilitate better breathing during sleep.
- Better digestion: Better breathing and gravity, together, act in tandem to result in better digestion of food. The body will spend less energy in digesting your last meal and you will wake up feeling more refreshed than usual
- Back Pain Therapy: If you have lower back pain, resting on a recliner may be a great way to temporarily feel relaxed and reduce your pain. However, if this pain is recurring, you must consult your physician and must not consider your recliner to be a solution for lower back pain. Please remember, generally for the long term, it is best to sleep on a flat bed.
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.
What are the considerations while buying a recliner chair?
On a Sunday, while we are relaxing – reading a book or watching that favorite television series – we often tend to use a recliner chair. They are extremely comfortable and give us the option of fully resting our backs, rather than sitting straight on a chair or sofa. Recliner chairs are especially popular with the elderly, providing a great relaxation experience. If you are on the fence regarding buying a recliner chair, I would say go ahead by all means and invest in a good quality recliner chair.
You would do well to consider the ergonomics, cushioning, seat quality and functions and the recliner chair’s sturdiness, before buying one.
You would want to buy into an ergonomically designed recliner, that is, one which supports your head, neck, back and legs in the most naturally comfortable position as possible.
Proper cushioning on the back
Back cushioning has to be firm enough to support your reclined body weight. Soft cushioning can be dangerous for your back over long term use. It is absolutely essential that your recliner has good lumber support.
It is important that your recliner has a firm seat cushion so that you do not sink a long way into the recliner when sitting. If you sink in a long way, your body posture will not be optimal, and you will develop body pains from long use of the recliner.
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 going below a few notches may lead to lower back injury for the elderly.
Finally, 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. Unfortunately, and understandably, consistently sleeping on the recliner for long is mostly detrimental for the elderly and people with disabilities, whose lifestyles are marked by less physical activity. Therefore, I would suggest that you enjoy your recliner responsibly. A light afternoon nap, while reading the latest bestseller, maybe the perfect use for that recliner chair that you have been eyeing for some time now.
Recliner chairs are great for relaxation. But if you are seated for long periods of time, you may need a coccyx cushion for your spine. You can read our reviews of the best coccyx cushions to determine which is a good choice in your case.
Finally, if you spend a lot of time lying down (sleeping or otherwise) or have a bed ridden patient at home, you might want to read our reviews of best mattresses for bed ridden patients.