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Ultimate Guide: How to Sleep Sitting in a Chair

Ultimate Guide: How to Sleep Sitting in a Chair

Have you ever been tried sleeping without a bed, or you are in a situation where laying your head down would be inappropriate for you? Well, sleeping while sitting in an upright position would get some time before you used to; however, there is an option to make things as comfortable as you can, so that you can still have a good night's sleep while sitting up in a chair.

To sleep sitting in a chair comfortable, you must make your sleeping site more comfortable by putting a blanket and pillows. You must also consider giving your head extra support by wrapping a scarf around it and at the back of your chair. Put an additional pillow for neck support if necessary.

In my personal experience, I remembered the time when I got a minor oral surgery for my impacted wisdom tooth; as a side sleeper, I know it would be painful if the pressure will weigh on one side of my face.

That is why I decided that night to sleep upright. However, it is not as easy as you will imagine, especially if you are not used to sleeping in that kind of position. Therefore, here are the reasons why it is difficult to sleep while sitting.

Why Is It Difficult To Sleep While Sitting

Most of us have traveled to different places and encountered the need to sleep on the bus, airplane, train, or even in the car while sitting up. Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to get a good sleep in the upright position compared to lying in bed?

best sleeping position
Image credit: Pixabay

For you to understand it better, here is a quick recap of your sleep cycle. Our body, specifically our brain, goes through five phases when our head hits the pillow, the last phase is the so-called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

The REM sleep happens approximately 70 to 90 minutes after we fall asleep, and this makes up around 25 percent of our sleep cycle. What happens during the REM stage is that the brain commands to send signals down to the spinal cord to create a temporary muscle paralysis, which results from losing muscle tone.

This is the primary reason why it is difficult to get a good sleep while sitting because of the partial and temporary paralysis, and the loss of muscle tones makes maintaining the upright position of our back and neck difficult.

That is the reason why you often notice your sleeping seatmate on a bus or in the plane tilts their head on your personal space and why sleeping in an upright position is just so hard to do comfortably.

However, as we move along, later on, I will share with you some tips that are based on my personal experience when I slept in an upright position because of my wisdom tooth extraction. All you need is a right and proper preparation and padding so that you still catch some good night's sleep.

Preparation To Sleep Sitting Up

If you still have time to prepare before you sleep in an upright posture, make sure you gather the appropriate bedding materials such as a blanket, pillow, towel, or even mat for your neck and back support. This can help you sleep more comfortably and can reduce soreness from sleeping upright.

Aside from the bedding, I would suggest that you just wear loose and comfortable clothes and wearing socks can make it easier to sleep while sitting up.

Furthermore, you might try to consider wearing earplugs or headphones so that it can block distractive noise and an eye mask to block out the light.

One more reminder, just make your sleeping routine as normal as possible. For example, before you go to sleep, you are reading a book or sipping a cup of tea; therefore, try to have them with you.

Otherwise, here is the step-by-step procedure on how to sleep sitting in a chair.

Step One: Find The Perfect Place To Sleep

If you are sleeping, sitting on a chair, make sure you find the best spot to sleep. Look for a vertical surface such as a wall, so that you can lean against it or if you have a flat board, you can also lean and rest against it.

Here are some friendly reminders you need to consider.

  • A surface that is slightly sloped backward is the best
  • If you are trying to sleep sitting up, the cushioning of a chair or couch is more comfortable than a hard wall surface. However, you can make this one comfortable too by padding it with pillows and blankets.

Step Two: Setting Up Your Sleep Site

Once you found the perfect spot to move your chair, it is now time to set up the place. This step is the most crucial one, as this will depend on whether the place where you will be sleeping is comfortable to sleep or not. Make sure you prepare all the things you need here.

Recline yourself

When trying to sleep upright, leaning about forty degrees is the recommended sleeping position; therefore, it would be best if you look for a reclining chair. Otherwise, you can just lean against a surface at a slight angle.

Make your sleeping site comfortable

If you are not sleeping on a cushioned chair, you want to make your chair more comfortable by using the bedding you gathered a while ago, such as putting pillows and blankets.

Here are some tips to guide you.

  1. Place a blanket, pillow, or mat on the ground
  2. To support your back, put a blanket, pillow, or another padding behind you
  3. To provide more support specifically on your lower back, roll up a blanket or towel and place it on the lower portion. You can also use a small pillow as an alternative. In this way, it can minimize lower back soreness
  4. For your neck, place a thin pillow so that it can allow your head to fall slightly backward, which helps you to fall asleep easily. You can also use some specialty neck pillows as an optional; however, you can use whatever you have that is readily available.
  5. Use your blanket to provide more comfort. This can also help you fall asleep faster. If there is no blanket available, you use your coat, sweater, or anything similar to cover yourself.

Step Three: How To Fall Asleep Fast

Do the normal routine before you sleep

If you love to read a book or listen to classical music before going to sleep, do it – since doing this routine can also set the mood for sleep and can help you fall asleep easily.

Other people's routine does the following at bedtime to fall asleep faster, which you can also do the same thing.

Drinking warm drinks such as tea and milk can help them sleepy and more comfortable.

TIP: Try to drink chamomile tea, as this has a calming effect and has no caffeine content.

  • Breathing exercises are considered as a calming technique; therefore, a simple breathing exercise such as inhaling for a count of 3 seconds, then exhaling for a count of 5 seconds will help you calm down and trying to sleep sitting up.
  • Thirty minutes before you go to sleep, avoid watching television, using your computer, scrolling through your smartphone, and other similar devices. The blue light coming from your gadget's screens can alter and disrupt the body's mood to sleep.
  • If you are having a hard time falling asleep right away, do not be discouraged. Try to relax, calm down, and have the best rest you can.

Step four: Stay Asleep

Shift your body position periodically

Altering your position as you sleep will help you reduce soreness and encourage your body for a night of better sleep. Do not forget to stretch your legs and to turn your head or your body side to side. This is because keeping your head comfortable is important for staying asleep.

 Here is a helpful tip on how to keep your head comfortable:

  • Wrap your head with a scarf and tie it at the back of your chair, as this can help to hold your head in place while you are asleep.

Step Five: Get Better Rest And Sleep As Soon As You Can

As soon as you are able to lay your body, get a deeper sleep in a more comfortable place such as in your bed, in a couch, or in a hammock. This will help you get the active REM sleep your body needs compared while you sleep sitting up.

Dangers of Sleeping While Sitting

Sleeping sitting up has many benefits for our body, especially for those who have sleep apnea and snoring issues; however, not all good for many are also good for others. Some potential drawbacks are very important to take note of. Listed below are the dangers of sleeping while sitting up.

sleeping in a chair dangers
Image credit: Pixabay

It can lead to the development of deep vein thrombosis

Sitting motionless with bent limbs for more than a couple of hours can be fatal. It can lead to a more serious disorder called deep vein thrombosis, wherein there is a blood clot in your large vein, which can be fatal if it travels to your lungs.


  • Stretch your legs and alter your body positions periodically
  • Recline at an angle of 40 degrees

It can cause you some neck and back soreness

This is a common issue, especially for people who are not used to sleep while sitting up. That is why you really need to prepare all the bedding materials and some tips, I discussed with you a while ago to avoid muscle pain and soreness.

In addition to this, here is a table that lists the pros and cons of sleeping sitting up.


  1. Helps to stop snoring
  2. Beneficial for pregnant women
  3. Helps with midnight digestion
  4. Keeps stomach acid from coming up (heartburn)
  5. Makes it easier to read a book while getting ready for sleep

  1. Requires proper bedding to lean on
  2. Difficult to get an active REM sleep
  3. Uncomfortable and difficult to fall asleep
Pros and Cons of Sleeping Sitting Up

Therefore, to avoid or to lessen the dangers brought about by sleeping while sitting up; here are some of the safety and helpful tips you can find below:

Safety Tips When Sleeping On a Chair

Aside from the steps I mentioned a while ago, you must follow these safety tips to make sure you will have a healthy and secure sleep.

  • If you are sleeping alone, you must ensure first that you are in a safe and comfortable sleeping environment, as this can help your mind to put at ease
  • If you are traveling at work through commuting, especially long travel hours, make sure you set the alarm to avoid oversleeping and miss the station where you will be heading
  • If you are sleeping upright for a longer period of time, make sure you stretch your legs and alter your body position. This is to avoid fatal condition such as deep vein thrombosis
  • For those who have heart problems and are planning to sleep while sitting up, make sure you ask your doctor first if you are allowed to sleep in an upright position for long-term
  • If you are planning to sleep during flights or when you ride buses and trains, just make sure you get the window seat so that you can have lean support from the walls or windows. This can help you sleep more comfortable

How to Sleep Comfortably in a Hospital Chair

A hospital stay can be stressful, especially if you will be staying there overnight, which means you got to sleep in just a small and space-limited hospital chair. However, you can make your stay comfortable in a chair by doing following tips.

1. Bring things to make chair comfortable

Before you set up your sleeping site, which is the hospital chair. Make sure you bring the following things to help you get cozy and have a comfortable sleep, even if you are just sleeping in a hospital chair.


Pack very comfortable clothing such as long sleeves, pajamas, and sweaters. This is because the temperature at the hospital fluctuates.

Tip: You can also bring a pair of socks and quiet-soled footwear to avoid waking up with cold feet.


Don't forget to bring your neck pillow, blanket, and pillows to cushion your back. This is to give you extra comfort, especially if the chair does not have foam. You don't want to wake up with back pain, right? Therefore, don't forget to pack these bedding essentials on your way to the hospital.             

Once you have prepared all the things you need, it is now time to set up your sleeping site. The steps are almost similar above. These are just some additional points.

Make the room dark and quiet

Once you are ready to sleep, turn off the lights. This includes televisions, computers, smartphones, or tablets. By doing this, you will be able to create a night-time atmosphere, which will set your body the feel to sleep.

  1. Shut down your phone completely to avoid receiving notifications that can create noise.
    Tip: If you turn off your phone immediately, make sure you have a backup alarm.
  2. Use earplugs to block disturbing sounds together with an eye mask to improve the room's darkness
  3. Roll down the window, blinds to lessen the light coming from outside. This will ready your body and mind to sleep

Drink a cup of chamomile tea or warm milk

Drinking a warm drink before going to sleep will help you feel relaxed and calm. This will also help you prevent dehydration at night.

  1. Have a glass of water near your chair will keep you hydrated throughout the night
  2. Take an ample amount of dairy products that contain tryptophan, as this can induce production of melatonin and serotonin, which are known as pro-sleep chemicals
  3. Aside from chamomile tea, you can also have passionflower tea and valerian tea as an alternative since they are also known to have sedative effects.

Follow your usual night-time routine

If your last thing routine before you go to sleep is brushing your teeth, then make it your last activity. In addition to this, soaking in a warm bath will help you relax, which is a good night-time routine.

Do the 4-7-8 breathing exercise

Controlled breathing exercises will help you focus and clear your mind. Thus, these breathing exercises will help you fall asleep faster. Here are the steps on how to do it:

  1. Exhale fully through your mouth while producing a  "whoosh" sound
  2. Close your mouth, and then you inhale through your nose until you make four counts
  3. Hold your breath until you make a count of seven
  4. For eight seconds, exhale fully again through your mouth
  5. Breathe in again and repeat the whole cycle three times

Keep reading: How To Sleep With A Kidney Stent? [FIND OUT HERE]

Other helpful tips

  • Plan in advance if you know you will be sleeping in a chair for a period of time
  • Avoid CNS stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, and nicotine, as this can interfere with your body's mood for sleep.
  • If you are really uncomfortable with the hospital chair, consider sleeping sitting on the floor. You can use a pillow or a rolled-up jacket as an alternative to cushion your head.