image of dog sleeping on couch

5 Reasons to Avoid Sleeping on the Couch

/ August 19, 2019

If you've ever woken up with a stiff neck 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, says Jason Queiros, licensed chiropractor at Norwalk Sports and Spine, regularly catching Z's on your sofa can harm both your body and your sleep. “If you do get in a regular habit of sleeping on your couch, you're subjecting yourself to a lot of long-term dysfunction of your spine and muscular system," Queiros explains.

Here's why you may want to skip sleeping on the sofa and be sure to make it to your mattress for bedtime.

Couches lack support

The biggest issue with couch-sleeping? Support. “Most people have really soft, comfy couches," says Queiros. “Most of them aren't even supportive enough for sitting normally, let alone lying down." 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. (Here's 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, Queiros explains. “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 leads to a stiff neck." Regularly sleeping with your spine out of alignment 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. (Shudder). 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.

Your couch may be twelve times dirtier than your toilet.

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 or non-breathable fabrics that will give you sweaty sleep instead of sweet dreams. A 2012 Sleep in America Poll found that 86% of respondents said that comfortable sheets and bedding were key to a good night's sleep—something that a night on the couch won't provide.

Skip the Couch and Sleep on One of These Saatva Mattresses Instead

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Couches lead to distractions

A night on the couch also can negatively impact your sleep in other ways. Couches are usually located in more well-lit, distraction-prone areas like living rooms. Street lights, car noise, blinking stereo lights, charging electronics, running dishwashers—all these little distractions can add up to a poor night's sleep. If you fall asleep on the couch while bingeing Netflix, the blue light from your TV may also make it harder to get to sleep. The cues of darkness and quiet help to “set" your internal clock and keep your circadian rhythm synchronized to a 24-hour cycle, reports the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

If you have to sleep on the couch...

If you do end up needing to sleep on the couch, there are ways that you can try to make the best of it, says Queiros. “If you have to sleep on your couch, sleep on your back on a firmer couch and put a pillow under your knees to try to support the arch of your back." If you're a side sleeper, avoid putting your head on the armrest and sleep on a pillow instead. Also place a pillow between your knees to keep your spine in alignment, Queiros suggests. “If you're on your side, you want your neck and hips to be supported so that your spine is in a nice straight line."

If you find yourself regularly on the couch, consider underlying health issues that may be a factor, recommends Queiros. “A lot of people that sleep regularly on the couch may be doing so because it helps some other health issue like heartburn, acid reflux, or sleep apnea," he says. Instead of trying to solve the symptom, address the central health concern that puts you on the couch in the first place. Your spine and your quality of sleep will thank you.

Always waking up with a sore neck? Here are the best pillows for neck pain.

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