Is Sleeping on the Couch A Good Idea?

We’ve all been here before— you’re winding down after a long, hopefully productive day. You’ve finished your dinner, cleaned the kitchen, and are now in full couch potato mode. Before you know it, you’re fast asleep on the sofa.

When you’re on the couch, your brain is likely in that sweet spot where you’re feeling comfortable, drowsy, and relatively stress-free. In other words, perfect conditions for some quality sleep. 

But why is sleeping on the couch easier for some than sleeping in bed? It can depend from person to person, but a few common reasons include an uncomfortable mattress, stress, and maybe even your bed partner. Let’s take a look.

Why is it Easier to Fall Asleep on the Couch than in Bed?

For many people, the couch is a comfortable place where you can relax, unwind, and clear your head. It’s warm, it’s cozy, and is free of many of the stresses you may feel once you crawl into bed. But if your bed isn’t helping you to do this, you may find yourself snoozing on the couch more often. 

It’s also important to remember that your bed should be used for only two purposes— sleep and sex. Doing anything else in bed— like working, scrolling social media, or stressing over the day’s events— can make your mind associate it with anything other than a good night’s sleep. And if you sleep on the sofa often, this can further create negative associations between your bed and your sleep.

5 Reasons Why You May Struggle to Sleep In Your Bed

Your bed should be a peaceful place to rest and recover from each day’s events. But when it isn’t, it’s natural to find a place that is. From the physical causes to the emotional, here are 5 reasons why you may find it easier to sleep on the sofa than in your bed.

1. Your Mattress is Uncomfortable

There’s nothing quite like lounging on a comfortable couch or chair at the end of a long day, but if your sofa is more comfortable than your bed, then you have a problem.

If your mattress isn’t as comfortable or supportive as it should be, your body will let you know. It can do this either with those familiar aches and pains you feel after you sleep in a weird position, or through your mind telling you it doesn’t want to sleep there. And if your couch is more comfortable than your bed, that makes it a lot more tempting to doze off there.

Buying a new mattress can be tricky sometimes, and buying a high-quality, comfortable mattress can get expensive. A good mattress pad can make a huge difference in your sleep, but it can only put a bandaid on needing a proper mattress for so long.

So if your mattress is showing any of these signs, it’s time to get a new one:

  • It’s lumpy, uneven, sagging, or visibly worn
  • It squeaks, creaks, or makes other noises under your weight
  • It’s rickety or unstable
  • You wake up sore or in pain

Need to get rid of an old mattress? Check out my guide on how to dispose of a mattress, the right way.

2. Your Bed Partner or Pets are Ruining Your Sleep

Sharing the bed can be a very cozy and intimate experience, but isn’t always easy! This is especially true if your partner has a different sleep schedule, snores, or is a restless sleeper. The same is true if you share the bed with one or more of your four-legged friends. Take it from me— on any given night, my wife and I may be joined by one or all of our pets!

Whether you share the bed with another person or with pets, it’s especially important to prioritize your own sleep. If their snoring, disruptive schedule, or tossing and turning in bed are depriving you of a good night’s sleep, you may have found a comfortable— and quiet— place to sleep… on the sofa.

If you don’t want to sleep on the couch forever, communication is key. If you’re struggling to share the bed with your significant other, it’s important to find a solution together. This can include:

  • Using earplugs or a sound machine to obscure snoring
  • Using a Manta eye mask to block out unwanted light— especially if you’re both on different sleep schedules
  • Keep the pets out of the bed, but give them their own comfy place to sleep in your room
  • In the worst-case scenario, consider a sleep divorce. This may sound scary or final, but sleeping apart may actually help you appreciate your partner more, especially if they’re no longer the cause of your sleep problems.

3. Your Sleep Environment is Not Ideal for a Good Night’s Rest

A cozy sleep environment is key to a good night’s sleep. This isn’t just your bed either— your sleep environment includes your entire bedroom, from the ceiling down to the floors. Unfortunately, if your bedroom isn’t the perfect environment for healthy sleep, that can make snoozing on the couch more enticing.

Here are a few of my suggestions for improving your sleep environment:

  • For most people, the ideal room temperature for sleep is between 64 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Before you go to bed each night, remember to adjust the thermostat to your ideal sleep temperature.
  • Your body temperature is important too. If you sleep cold, consider sleeping with extra blankets or in pajamas and socks. If you get too hot, you can remove a layer until you’re comfortable again. If you sleep hot, an electric fan can help keep you cool. The Chilisleep mattress pad is also a great option, especially if your bed partner prefers to sleep warmer. The dual temperature option makes dialing in the perfect temperature for each of you easy.
  • Block out ambient light with blackout curtains or with an eye mask.
  • Use a white noise or sound machine to mask ambient noise, such as a snoring partner.
  • Keep your floors tidy and clutter-free. This is especially important if you ever need to get up in the middle of the night.
  • Keep electronic devices out of your bed. This includes your phone, tablet, laptop, and even some reading lights. This is because the blue light from these devices can hinder your circadian rhythm and make it harder for you to get the quality sleep you need.

4. Stress

Whether it’s because of work, relationships, kids, or the ongoing pandemic, life can be pretty stressful. Stress is a normal part of life— it can even be beneficial sometimes. Eustress, or good stress, includes exciting or challenging events and serves as a way to motivate you throughout life and its challenges.

However, too much bad stress— also known as distress— can be debilitating and have a negative impact on your life, health, and sleep.

When you’re feeling anxious and stressed out at bedtime, your sleep is going to suffer. In fact, stress and anxiety are major contributing factors to sleep disorders like insomnia. Not only that, but worrying about sleep every night can actually condition you to associate your bed with stress. Even worse, you may end up sleeping better on the couch than in the bed because of this! 

Here are some of my favorite ways to relieve stress and put my mind at ease, especially before bed:

  • Meditation. This is especially effective in clearing your head and entering a more tranquil state of mind before you go to sleep for the night.
  • Breathing techniques, such as the 4-7-8 Technique. Similar to meditation, repeating a series of deep cleansing breaths can relieve stress and help keep you calm in the evenings, or when you’re beginning to feel anxious.
  • Take a warm bath before bed. A warm bath can relax your muscles and your mind, and help your body reach the perfect temperature for a good night’s sleep.
  • Gentle yogic stretching. Yoga helps you practice mindfulness, relieve stress, and become more in tune with your body.

Grief

Grief is a powerful emotion that can make it difficult or even painful to sleep in your own bed. Grief doesn’t just mean the death of a loved one or a pet— grief is a normal reaction to losing anything you may have come to love, including friendships, romantic relationships, and even jobs and physical possessions. 

One definition of grief that I like is “any incomplete emotional communication.” When you think of grief in those terms, you often identify things you may not have considered to which you are having a grief response. Once you identify them, it can be easier to address them.

Everyone mourns differently and at their own pace. While someone is grieving, they may gravitate more towards sleeping on the couch. Their bed may be a symbol of what they have lost, or a symbol of emptiness. Rather than experience that pain all over again, they may choose to sleep on the sofa because it’s a source of comfort and peace of mind.

Processing your grief in a healthy way is vital to a sense of normalcy and a good night’s sleep. Here are a few ways to help you look after yourself through any stage of the grief process:

  • Give yourself the time and space you need to grieve. This is probably the most important step. Remember— everyone grieves differently, so do not try to limit how you choose to mourn, or for how long.
  • Don’t bottle up your feelings. You have to acknowledge your negative feelings in order to heal. Sometimes, it’s okay to not be okay.
  • Try to keep up with your hobbies or interests. Doing something that brings you joy can help you process your grief in a healthy way.

5. You Have a Sleep Disorder

Sleep disorders are often the root of poor sleep and other sleep problems. This is especially true if they’re undiagnosed— when this is the case, you may be struggling to get a good night’s sleep and have no idea why. Left untreated, sleep disorders like insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, or circadian rhythm abnormalities can lead to lasting damage on your physical, mental, and sleep health.

One of the best ways to prevent this is to treat the sleep disorder. Following a sleep study, a sleep specialist will diagnose you and suggest a course of treatment. By sticking to this treatment, you can return to the adequate sleep you need to feel rested each morning.

For many though, this is easier said than done. It can be difficult to know whether or not you have a sleep disorder because many of their symptoms occur as you sleep. This is why so many of them go undiagnosed.

If you’re worried that you have an undiagnosed sleep disorder, here are some symptoms you and your bed partner should keep an eye out for:

  • Taking 30 minutes or more to fall asleep each night
  • Waking up at least once during the night
  • Waking up earlier than you intend each morning
  • Loud, persistent snoring, or pauses in breathing while you sleep
  • Feeling tired or worn out, even after a full night’s sleep
  • Cognitive impairment, such as difficulties focusing, or with attention or memory

Better sleep may be just a sleep study away. To find an accredited sleep specialist in your area, check out this tool by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

So Is Sleeping on the Couch Bad?

Yes and no— there are some benefits to sleeping on the couch, but the cons might outweigh the pros. Sleeping on the couch often involves resting with your head and shoulders slightly elevated. This is a very natural and comfortable sleeping position. It’s also helpful if you have a cold or the flu, because it can help make it easier for you to sleep when you’re ill and help drain congestion.

However, sleeping on the couch can be a bad idea if you experience chronic pain since it can also cause back, leg, or neck pain. It also negatively impacts your sleep posture, which can lead to additional aches and pains. Sleeping on the sofa can also lead to poor sleep quality, especially if the TV is on. Sleeping in front of the TV can cause a lack of REM sleep, more nighttime interruptions, and even nightmares. 

Finally, couches are designed to support your body properly in the seated position— not lying down for long periods. It’s not great for your couch either!

If you’ve struggled with sleep problems before, you probably already know that there’s no magic cure for them. Even if you have the best mattress and you go to bed feeling absolutely zen each night, it’s still possible to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. 

That being said, don’t stress if you still have nights where you conk out on the couch. Once you wake up, you can always go back to bed and try again. 

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM

The Sleep Doctor

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!