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When—and why—it's OK to sleep in your recliner

Rest is best, no matter how you get it

Two recliners in a side-by-side view Credit: Ashley Yandel/Mcombo

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Forget Martin Crane’s tatty, tape-covered chair from Frasier, Joey’s beloved leather beast from Friends, and your granddad’s ragged tufted throne. Recliners are no longer the ugly duckling of home furnishings—and there’s generally no need to feel guilty about sleeping in a recliner, either, say medical professionals.

Is sleeping in a recliner bad for you?

Dr. Deanna O’Dwyer, a biology professor and owner of Melrose Family Chiropractic & Sports Injury Centre in Massachusetts, says, “Sleep is very reparative physically and neurologically—if you don’t get sleep, it can lead to a lot of different dysfunctions. I tell my patients that any way they can get sleep is probably better than not sleeping.”

Recliners also fit O’Dwyer’s recommendations for proper sleep positioning, which include lying on the back with the neck in line with the spine. Chair rest can even reduce the temptation to roll over in the night into what chiropractors typically consider the worst resting pose: On the stomach.

Luckily, the tufted turtles of the living room are no longer objects of ridicule and have become showpieces that have family members elbowing each other out of the way for cushy armrests, says Christopher Gaube, Brand Director for Raymour & Flanigan.

“Recliners continue to innovate in serving the needs of the consumer,” says Gaube, adding that bells and whistles include massage options and Bluetooth capabilities. “Recliners have come leaps and bounds from being an item in a corner to a centerpiece of a home.”

Today’s designs are a perfect marriage of form and function for those aging in place who may have mobility issues that prevent them from moving to second-floor bedrooms—or those with ailments like sleep apnea, breathing issues, or back pain—says Cole Bawek, director of public relations for Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc.

If your health issues are preventing a restful night’s sleep, consider opting for a recliner as an alternative to your bed. Here are a few things to consider before shopping.

Rocking and massage recliners can mimic your baby years

Dr. Aran Kadar, co-director of the Sleep Center at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts, doesn’t endorse specific products, but he does say the gentle rocking motion of certain recliners may mimic successful sleeping patterns.

“There’s something left over from when we’re babies, who learn to self-soothe in certain positions,” he says. “Movements can help young kids doze off, and a motion chair may offer more of that gentle movement than a bed.”

Our list of 15 great power recliners features well over a dozen luxurious chairs with multiple massage and heating modes. Of those options, the Mcombo Electric Power Lift Recliner Chair ($629) and Esright Power Lift Chair Electric Recliner ($439) appear to be the two highest-rated options with added massage functionality. If you need motion to soothe you, these chairs might be a smart purchase.

$629 at Amazon $439 at Amazon

Background noise can be a good distraction

A person sleeps with a TV on in the background.
Credit: Getty Images / tommaso79

Passing out to the television isn't ideal but it's not harmful.

Babies aren’t the only ones who sleep well using white-noise machines, says Kadar. He often recommends a bit of background sound for the adult patients he serves, and while television isn’t necessarily his top choice, it’s not harmful either.

“A TV or some background noise they’re not ‘logged into’ can be helpful—this comes up a lot for those who have lost a spouse” and may even avoid the bed they used to sleep in, he says.

However, there is some programming he suggests avoiding. “You can see why watching the news as you try to fall asleep wouldn’t be restful or refreshing,” he says.

In our testing of the best sound machines, we happened to love the Sound + Sleep from Adaptive Sound. It features 30 different unique sounds and can automatically adjust to accommodate the specific noise level in your living space. Simply put, sometimes the best way to counteract disruptive noise is to make some more relaxing sounds of your own. A product like this can serve as an alternative when keeping the TV or or your favorite podcast at a low hum just won't cut it.

$99 at Amazon

Keeping it cool helps

Recliner sleep may help eliminate another common complaint with those who catch their zzz’s on a mattress: It’s just too hot.

Dr. Kadar explains, “When you’re talking about sleep environments, temperature is one of most people’s issues—most tend to sleep better in a cooler environment. All of that bedding can be too much, and people wake up sweating.”

Recliner sleep may also offer relief for those whose rest is disturbed by a partner whose shared space causes them to overheat.

“As long as you feel well-rested during the day, it’s not the worst thing to fall asleep with your partner and then get up in the middle of the night,” he says. “People want to sleep in the same room as their partners, but will often sleep better by themselves.”

Sleeping in any recliner removes all those brig, heavy comforters, but the cooling effect is even greater if you have a chair made of cloth or fabric. Leather recliners can be exceptionally comfortable if you have the climate control of an air conditioner, but there's no denying the material doesn't handle sticky summer evenings or cold winter nights in the best way. With that fact in mind, many users loved this ANJ Power Massage Lift Recliner Chair. It's made of special anti-skid fabric, which sounds tailor-made for sleeping, and not too thick to be comfortable for a full night's rest. You might also want to take a gander at our list of the best portable air conditioners in the event your existing chair is a bit too toasty for longer sessions.

$469 at Amazon

Recliner chairs can help with sleep apnea

A person sleeps in a recliner chair with a book in their lap.
Credit: Getty Images / vladans

Staying at an upright angle can alleviate people with sleep apnea and emphysema.

It’s recommended that those with conditions like sleep apnea and emphysema sleep at a more upright angle versus on their backs, says Dr. Kadar, but that’s easier said than done.

“A lot of my sleep apnea patients struggle with their machines in bed,” he says, because the equipment requires a mask with tubes. “Sleep apnea can be less severe in an upright position, but people can be very sensitive to positional changes.”

A chair with myriad recline positions may help “retrain” those who have been sleeping flat on their backs for decades. But, Dr. Kadar recommends using some props first, like wedge pillows and even buckwheat hull pillows (that has a structure that is more turgid than traditional pillows, and prevents overheating).

If these don’t work, a pricier recliner may—but Kadar’s advice? “Try before you buy,” he says. “You want to know what it feels like to manipulate it and get in and out of that position. Make sure it’s easy.”

A pillow like this adjustable Bed Wedge Pillow from AllSet Health seems like an appropriate first step for those with medical conditions that require sleeping in an upright position, but the right recliner can provide that benefit as well. We're reminded of recliners like this power lift recliner from Ashley Yandel, because its backrest and footrest can be operated completely independent from one another. If medical needs mandate that you stay elevated, a recliner like this is customizable enough to seat you in any way you like.

$772 at Amazon $60 at Amazon

Power lift recliners can help with circulation

A power lift recliner can “lift” its seat to help you get in and out of it. Some can also rise your feet above your heart. This promotes better circulation and relieves back pain, while the cherry on top is a lift option for those who need a little oomph. We've got a great list of power lift recliners, with options ranging from $298 to $799 to suit a myriad of budgets and desired features including heat and massage.

Lifting the chair’s ottoman a few inches higher than traditional recliners can help enhance blood flow from the legs to the heart.

O’Dwyer says, “Sometimes it helps for people with poor intravenous return to elevate their legs for an extended duration, usually when they’re sleeping.”

However, most people move around when dozing in bed. So, the structure of a recliner and the inability to move to one’s side or stomach, for instance, are ideal ways to keep legs stationary, says O’Dwyer.

Learn more about power lift recliners

Shorter armrests won’t cause back pain

“Most furniture is made for someone who is about 6 feet, 1 inch,” says O’Dwyer.

Accordingly, not many recliner models feature shorter armrests, but this is important because higher armrests can make many folks inadvertently shrug their shoulders. Heavily padded headrests can push forward the necks of shorter sitters.

The result can be neck or upper back pain, which can be prevented by using a small rolling pillow behind the neck. This $39 neck pillow from BCOZZY has well over 15,000 positive Amazon reviews and seems ideal for travel or lounging in your chosen recliner. Customers love this product for its portability, comfort, and durability. If sleeping in a recliner doesn't feel quite right on your first attempt, a pillow like this is one way to potentially make the experience a little more relaxing.

$39 at Amazon

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