You likely spend the hours preceding bedtime with your feet up. Lifting the legs is often considered shorthand for relaxation, after all. This makes it interesting that many of us fail to elevate our legs in bed, despite such a posture offering a range of health benefits.
Sleeping with the legs above the heart improves circulation. Any muscular or tissue injuries will heal faster as blood flows around the body, and it promotes good organ health. Also, sleeping with elevated legs can ease back pain and reduce pressure or swelling throughout the body.
Sleeping with the legs elevated doesn’t need to be complicated. You can lift your legs using everyday items found around the home, so there’s no need to get specific equipment.
Why is it Good to Sleep with Your Legs Elevated?
According to the North American Journal of Psychology, our preferred sleep position is intrinsically linked to our personality. However, most of us sleep on our back or side.
In these instances, the legs remain flat and in line with the rest of the body. If that feels comfortable for you, and you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to face the day, continue as you are.
Alas, many of us are plagued by everyday pains and discomforts, especially as we grow older. Sleeping with the legs elevated can go a long way to resolving issues that we’ve learned to accept.
There are five good reasons to sleep with your legs elevated:
Superior Circulation and Heart Health
The main advantage of elevating your legs while sleeping is the positive impact it’ll have on your circulation. Lifting your legs while sleeping will prevent blood pooling in your lower extremities.
Anybody unable to live an active lifestyle is recommended to sleep with elevated legs. As explained by Circulation, age and immobility lead to vascular stiffening. Keep your legs up at night to combat this if you cannot work your muscles by day.
It’s never too early to start thinking about the heart. If something as simple as sleeping with the legs elevated can promote better health later in life, it’s worth considering at any age.
Management of Back Pain
Back pain, whether temporary due to excessive labor or chronic due to damage to the sciatic nerve, can have a sizable impact on sleep. People that live with severe back pain often struggle to find comfort in bed. Elevating the legs can resolve this issue.
If you prefer to sleep on your back, you’ll be placing pressure on your spine. If you elevate your legs, this strain is reduced a little. Lifting the knees will rotate the pelvis enough to make all the difference.
This will help your spine regain natural alignment. It’s all too easy to fall into bad habits with posture, such as sitting in an inappropriate chair at work or failing to observe best practices when lifting heavy objects.
Elevating the legs while we sleep, especially alongside an optimized head and neck pillow, will start to rectify these issues.
Minimized Inflammation in the Lower Body
A common issue when we sleep is blood pooling toward the bottom of the body, which leads to inflammation. Keeping the legs elevated is the first step toward resolving such concerns.
Swelling in the ankles and feet is a common complaint, medically known as edema. Pregnant women and anybody carrying a little extra weight are most at risk of this issue.
Elevating the legs will go a long way to managing these issues. The laws of gravity are at play here. If your legs are elevated, blood cannot gather and pool around the feet. As a result, swelling is less likely to arise.
Now, if you have edema due to an inactive lifestyle, elevating your feet in bed can only do so much. You’ll need to enhance your cardio routine to keep blood flowing at all hours.
Blood Clots and Deep Vein Thrombosis (DBT)
DBT and blood clots are most commonly associated with low air pressure levels, such as air travel. The concerns can strike at any time, especially when we’re not as active as we may like to be.
As with varicose veins, keep your legs elevated to stave off this risk. The more the blood flows around the body, the less likely it is to clot in the legs and feet.
Better yet, it’ll prevent blood clots from reaching other critical organs, including the heart.
Also known as ‘spider veins,’ varicose veins are unsightly. These deep, blue veins are often associated with older age, but they can be avoided, most notably through elevating the legs while we sleep.
Significant levels of blood pressure cause varicose veins. Blood pools in the impacted area and pushes the veins closer to the skin. Eventually, it’ll be impossible not to notice the outcome.
As discussed, elevating the legs will keep such a level of blood from pooling around the lower legs. Instead, the blood will be redirected back up the body and away from the legs. This ensures that even thin skin can be sustained for longer.
Reduced Pressure on the Bladder
If you find your sleep disturbed by regularly needing the bathroom, aka nocturia, you may write off the frustrations as part of the aging process. While it’s true that our bladders weaken in middle age, there are still steps that we can take to reduce nocturia.
If you sleep on your back, you’re less likely to place pressure on your bladder overnight with your legs elevated. It’ll still need to be emptied, but reduced pressure means less agitation.
That all means that your brain is less likely to receive panicked messages demanding an immediate race to the bathroom. While you may still need to pee at night, elevated legs may mean this is just once rather than two or three times.
Recovery from Physical Injury or Trauma
Sleep will be prescribed as a critical healing remedy if you have injured yourself playing a sport, are recovering from a surgical procedure, or are struggling with an injury. To ensure you enjoy this necessary high-quality sleep, elevate your legs.
As is often the case, the cause of this enhanced healing is a lack of swelling. Whether due to a fracture or a muscular tear, an injured body part needs to be left alone to heal.
Unfortunately, the circulatory system will flood the injury with additional white blood cells in a well-meaning but misguided attempt to assist. That will lead to swelling and, most likely, a painful throbbing that keeps you awake.
Elevate the legs to manage this issue. The enhanced blood circulation will keep everything else in your body ticking along and prevent your wound from harvesting blood cells.
This leads to better sleep, greater comfort, and a faster recovery.
Risks of Sleeping with the Legs Elevated
One side effect of sleeping with the legs elevated is paresthesia, better known by the colloquial term ‘pins and needles.’ It’s common for the lower extremities to feel numb after a prolonged period of elevation.
Your circulation has not been cut off, and this lack of feeling is temporary. If you feel the warning signs of paresthesia, place a small, safe amount of pressure on the feet until full feeling returns. You may need to walk a few steps for this to happen.
Dizziness is another intense but wholly short-term side effect of sleeping with the legs elevated. Blood will rush to the feet if you immediately try to stand after a night with your legs upright. After all, this part of the body has seen little flow overnight.
This sudden descent can leave the brain lacking blood flow for a second or two. As a result, you’ll feel dizzy or faint. Lower your legs and wait a minute before standing for your safety. This is enough time for the body’s circulation to regulate itself.
How Long Should You Keep Your Legs Elevated while Sleeping?
Eventually, your intention should be to sleep with your feet elevated all night. Ideally, this will help you sleep throughout the night, leading to an uninterrupted eight hours of restful slumber.
Don’t try to spend the entire night with your feet up straight away, though. You’ll need to get your body used to this posture. The drawbacks will become more prominent if you attempt too much, too soon.
Try taking a series of power naps throughout the day. Elevate your feet using the same technique you plan to use at bedtime and proceed to rest with around fifteen minutes. Attempt this 3-4 times a day, and soon you’ll sleep well with your feet up.
If you find that you wake up during the night with your legs elevated, quickly assess how you’re feeling. If you’re in discomfort, lower your legs and try again the next evening.
If you feel fine, start the process over – lift your legs once again and return to sleep.
Comfortable Positions for Sleeping with the Legs Elevated
Most people associated sleeping with the legs elevated with lying flat on the back, in the so-called supine position. This is undeniably the easiest way to lift the legs. Side sleepers can still elevate the legs with pillows by placing a cushion between the knees.
It may take a few nights to adjust to comfortably sleeping with elevated legs. If you struggle to doze off for 2-3 nights consecutively, you may need to rethink the position. Most people can make this posture work for them, though.
The most important thing to consider is how high you bring your legs. Sleeping with feet higher than your head is unnecessary and likelier to be uncomfortable. If that works for you, no problem. If not, lower your legs slightly. Above the heart is elevated enough.
As we’ll discuss, there are various ways you can elevate your legs in bed. These range from simple DIY solutions to purchasing specialist equipment. What matters most is finding a technique that benefits you – and helps you enjoy uninterrupted, high-quality sleep.
Legs Up a Wall
It may seem like the simplest way to elevate your legs at night is by pushing them against a wall. That makes sense on paper, but we don’t recommend this approach.
You’ll likely need to concentrate on keeping your legs in place. Even if you’re doing so subconsciously, this can impact sleep. Every time your legs slip, you’ll react, which may lead to a night of disturbed rest as you constantly adjust your posture.
Even if you manage to keep your legs up, you may lift them too high. If your legs end up above your neck for prolonged periods, blood will rush to your head. This will impact your sleep and sense of well-being when you wake up.
Legs Lifted by a Cushion
The easiest way to sleep with legs elevated is using a cushion (or cushions.) You can even use a pile of blankets if you prefer. Cushions will be soft enough to avoid discomfort and will keep your legs up without any effort or concentration from you.
You can either use a pile of existing cushions or pillows or purchase a specialist wedge pillow. Discuss your sleeping posture with a specialist if you decide upon the latter. A new neck pillow used in tandem may keep your back and spine in perfect harmony.
If you find that pillows help a little, but you would benefit from further support, consider a mattress raiser. Think of these as wedge cushions that sit under the mattress, ensuring that your legs will remain elevated without risk of being kicked out of position.
Adjustable beds are a fixture in hospitals for a good reason.
As confirmed by Nursing: Research and Reviews, these beds improve and enhance comfort for patients in a medical setting. Elevated beds aren’t the sole reserve of emergency rooms, though.
An increasing number of consumer adjustable beds are now available for sale, either through traditional brick and mortar retailers or online bedmakers. If you’re genuinely dedicated to sleeping with the legs elevated, this could make all the difference.
There’s a big price difference between a pile of cushions and a dedicated elevated bed. You’re unlikely to find one for less than $1,000, and you’ll need an appropriate mattress.
Sleeping with elevated legs isn’t a miracle cure for all that ails us, but it can be a good way to resolve day-to-day discomfort. If you’re prone to minor aches, strains, and ailments, consider lifting your legs at bedtime.