WRITTEN BY: KATE BAYLESS – 5 Min read
If you ever wake up with a stiff neck or back problems after spending the night on a sofa, then you’re probably already well aware that couches don’t exactly make the best sleep surfaces.
But just how bad is sleeping on the couch, really? While the rare night on the couch won’t kill you, regularly catching Zs on your sofa can harm both your body and your sleep. Here’s why you may want to avoid the couch and fall asleep in your bedroom to get better sleep.
Drawbacks to sleeping on the couch
If you’re looking to improve your sleep quality or suffer from chronic back pain, sleeping on the couch is definitely a bad idea. The major drawbacks of sleeping on the couch include:
- Lack of support
- Little to no spinal alignment
- It’s unhygienic—when was the last time you cleaned your sheets compared to your couch?
- You’ll be more likely to sleep hot
Couches lack support
The biggest issue with couch-sleeping? Support. Most people have couches that are built for short-term comfort, meaning they’re soft and plushy but don’t offer enough back and spine support.
While a mattress is designed to provide head-to-toe support while you’re sleeping, most couches have multiple back and seat cushions, seams, and gaps and are built more for comfort than support. That lack of support can lead to serious soreness and stiffness in the A.M. Lack of support can also lead to unnecessary strain on the pressure points in your lower back and neck muscles. (Here are some of our tips on how to protect your back while you sleep.)
Couches won’t keep your spine in alignment
Head perched on the armrest. Hips sinking between two cushions. Arm caught between your body and a blanket. Sound familiar? In addition to a lack of support while you sleep, couches also interfere with proper spinal alignment. Couches tend to be soft and comfy in the middle so your body sinks down, but lots of people put their head on the armrest, so your head is cocked up in one direction which can lead to a stiff neck. Sleep posture is extremely important, especially if you’re trying to avoid neck and back pain.
Regularly sleeping in the wrong sleeping position for a long period can lead to pain, soreness, stiffness, and cramping in the neck, back and buttocks.
Couches are unhygienic
While you may wash your bedding every week (at least we hope so), when is the last time you washed your couch? From pet dander to spilled snacks, kid germs to whatever was on your subway seat, your couch may be twelve times dirtier than your toilet, according to a study by Unicef and Domestos, reports the U.K. Express.
By sleeping on your couch instead of your bed, you’re exposing yourself to a range of bacteria, viruses and allergens that can impact your health as well as your sleep hygiene.
Couches won’t keep you cool
While mattresses are designed with materials to keep you cool, comfortable, and supported, couches are designed for style. This can mean rough fabrics that may be durable for longevity but tough on your skin. Many couch fabrics also lack breathability, leading to a sweaty night of sleep.
A 2012 Sleep in America Poll found that 86% of respondents said comfortable sheets, pillowcases and bedding were key to a healthy sleep schedule—something a night on the couch won’t provide.
Are there any benefits to sleeping on the couch?
While sleeping on the couch may not be the best sleep environment for a good night’s sleep, there are some potential benefits to doing it temporarily. These include:
- Helping with insomnia symptoms
- Staying comfortable while you’re sick
- Additional neck support
Helping with insomnia symptoms
If you suffer from a condition like insomnia, dozing off may be a little easier on the couch. It can help to give your body a change of scenery and may help to recalibrate your brain as you fall asleep.
Helping you stay comfortable while you’re sick
If you have any cold and flu symptoms, sleeping on the couch can help keep you comfortable throughout the night.
The soft surface and plushy feel can add a layer of comfort some beds don’t have, plus elevating your head can help alleviate congestion. So when you’re sick, you may find it’s easier to fall asleep on the couch.
Additional neck support
Sleeping on the couch can also help give you additional neck support by elevating your head and neck higher throughout the night. If you suffer from chronic neck pain, it may be worth it to sleep on the couch for a night or two to see if that helps.
Tips for getting better sleep on the couch
If you do end up needing to sleep on the couch, there are things you can do to make the best of it. Some of our top sleeping tips for getting a good night’s sleep on the couch include:
- Elevate your head and neck for more overall support and to help with spinal alignment.
- Create a firm sleep surface using pillows or blankets. This will help keep your body from moving too much and keep you from straining your back.
- Be mindful of your sleeping position. Side sleepers will have the easiest time sleeping on the couch because of how narrow couches are. You can try to switch up your sleeping position to get more comfortable.
- Add a fitted sheet to the cushions. This mostly helps with comfort levels, but it can also make the couch feel more like a bed.
- Limit your screen time. Many people fall asleep on the couch with the TV on, but the blue light from the TV screen can mess up your body’s circadian rhythm and keep you from getting enough sleep.
Additionally, if you find yourself regularly on the couch, consider underlying health issues that may be a factor. Many people choose to sleep on the couch because it helps quell symptoms of medical conditions like sleep apnea, heartburn or acid reflux. Instead of trying to solve the symptom, address the central health concern that puts you on the couch in the first place.