Slate magazine recently posed a question to AASM member Michael Decker, PhD, RN, at Georgia State University: Is it healthy for humans to sleep sitting up? Occupy movement members, who sleep sitting up to bypass rules against camping on public property, inspired this story. And there was the holiday angle, with many Americans sleeping in their airline seats during long flights.
The article mentioned deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and suggested reclining slightly, at an angle of at least 40 degrees, along with stretching the legs and shifting positions periodically. Readers were then treated to review of animal sleep behaviors, including horses, which have a locking mechanism in their legs that allows them to sleep standing up, and birds that can sleep with one eye open. Dolphins and whales sleep at rest and while swimming, and bottlenose dolphins are particularly interesting because they doze while closing down half their brain. Also mentioned are the Ache hunter-gatherers in Paraguay.
New mothers sleep sitting up with their infants in their laps. However, the practice is very rare in human society, the article pointed out. People sleep lying down, even the foraging and nomadic cultures that don’t have any bedding materials to cushion the ground.