Lying down with your head slightly elevated is the most natural position for people to sleep. Sleeping horizontally with some cushion for spine support has also been proven to be a healthy sleeping position because it distributes all of your bodyweight evenly. While a traditional flat mattress provides the ideal place for catching your Zzz’s, sometimes a cozy couch or armchair ends up being the place you settle down to rest.

It’s better to sleep in the same location every night but dozing off on the couch occasionally is probably not bad for your long-term health. However, there are some instances when you should absolutely avoid sleeping on the couch. This article will cover the do’s and don’ts of sleeping on the couch, including times it can be harmful or cause injury.

Sometimes the sofa is simply the most comfortable option for sleeping. If you have certain health conditions, sleeping on the couch might even provide the best sleep experience.

Sleeping on the couch might help if you have cold or flu symptoms

When you’re congested or feverish, it can be hard to get comfortable on your bed. Laying on the couch, encased in soft upholstery, can help you to get comfortable. There’s also the opportunity to lay with your chest higher than your legs when you sleep on the couch. Anecdotally, this can help to drain congestion and make it easier to sleep when you’re ill.

Keep in mind that your couch won’t wick away moisture the way that your mattress is designed to, so sleeping on the couch when you’re sweating heavily from a fever or chills may mean your couch gets wet.

It might help if you have insomnia

If you have trouble falling asleep (the condition called insomnia), falling asleep on the couch for a few nights might provide a change of scenery and help your brain recalibrate as you drift off.

Keep in mind that if you have insomnia and your brain gets too used to sleeping on the couch, it might become difficult to go back to sleeping in your bed. Consider purchasing a new mattress if yours is uncomfortable and keeps you awake at night.

For most people, it is not a big deal to fall asleep on the couch once in a while. But couches were designed for relaxing in an upright position — not as a place to sleep. If you sleep on the couch, you may notice some side effects.

Sleeping on the couch may cause back and neck pain

Sleep posture is an important predictor of stiffness, back pain, and neck pain, according to several studies. If you’ve ever woken up from a night sleeping on the couch with a “crick in your neck” or a pinched nerve, your sleep posture is the reason why. Sleeping with spine and neck support is the safest way to sleep — and sleeping on the couch doesn’t necessarily provide that.

If you fall asleep on the couch once in a while and wake up with some nerve pain or stiffness, it will probably wear off throughout the course of the day. But if you make a habit of sleeping on the couch, it can start to cause long-term damage to your lumbar spine and neck.

It may cause leg pain

When you’re lying down, you may find that you’re longer than your couch. This can result in your legs awkwardly sticking over the edge of the couch while you sleep. While some leg elevation in your sleep can be good for circulation, sleeping in a prolonged posture with your feet dangling can often lead to numbness and tingling in your lower limbs.

Not safe for infants

If you are co-sleeping with an infant, sleeping on the couch is dangerous for your child. Bed-sharing is not recommended for any child under the age of 1, but soft surfaces like the couch significantly increase the danger of suffocation for infants. While it may be tempting to nod off with your baby snoozing beside you after a long day, you should move your child to a firm surface where they can sleep on their back as soon as you start to feel sleepy.

If you have been kept up all night by your infant’s needs and are feeling exhausted, ask someone else in your household to double-check and make sure you don’t fall asleep with your baby next to you on the couch.

May lead to poor sleep quality

If you fall asleep on a couch in a shared space, your chances of being interrupted during the night due to someone else’s movement are increased. Not only that, sleeping on the couch often means that you are falling asleep with the television on. Sleeping in front of a TV can result in a lack of REM sleep, disturbing dreams, and more frequent wake-ups during the night. That’s why it’s recommended that you keep phones and TV screens out of your primary sleeping space.

There are some people who can only seem to fall asleep on the couch. Bed sleeping may not be restful because your mattress is uncomfortable, because your bedroom is not a restful space, or simply because you sleep next to a partner who snores.

You can create a bedtime routine to try to wind down, do relaxing activities before bedtime, invest in blackout curtains, and even try a natural sleep aid (such as melatonin or a bedtime tea) to try to make your bed a more restful place. If you feel like you’ve tried everything and still find you get your best sleep on the couch, there are ways you can do so with safety in mind.

If you’re going to be sleeping on the couch, there are ways you can minimize your risk of waking up with pinched nerves or a twisted back.

  • Treat your couch like a mattress by covering it with breathable, moisture-wicking cotton sheets.
  • Don’t use throw pillows or couch pillows to sleep on. Use a firm pillow with a removable pillowcase to support your neck while you sleep.
  • Position yourself intentionally. If you do fall asleep on the couch, try to be conscious of your positioning before you surrender to a night full of sleep. Stretch your body out over the length of the couch and lie down so that your back is flat.
  • Turn off your TV and put your phone out of arm’s reach before you fall asleep for the night. Ideally, you will be free from screens for an hour before you turn in for the evening for the best sleep quality.
  • Avoid elevating your heart rate with exercise or eating a big meal for 3 hours prior to your bedtime.
  • Go to bed at the same time each night whenever you are able to.

Sleeping on the couch once in a while probably won’t harm your long-term health, although you may wake up with a crick in your neck. That said, sleeping on your sofa every night can put you at a higher risk for some health conditions, such as chronic back pain and neck pain. If you do sleep on the couch, position yourself on your back and support your neck with a firm pillow.