Anybody can occasionally fall asleep on the toilet, especially when roused from a deep sleep and needing to use the bathroom at night. If this is becoming a habit, you need to find out why.
Falling asleep on the toilet could result from exhaustion, as you’re not sleeping enough to gain sufficient rest elsewhere. The sedative effects of alcohol can also cause people to doze off on the toilet.
There could be a medical reason for you to fall asleep on the toilet. Narcolepsy (falling asleep at inappropriate moments) is rare but shouldn’t be ruled out. High blood pressure could also explain why you fall asleep while sitting down.
Falling asleep on the loo is potentially dangerous. You’ll breathe in a range of bacteria while spending a prolonged period in the bathroom with the toilet seat up, and sitting upright too long can lead to restricted blood flow and deep vein thrombosis.
If you regularly fall asleep on the toilet, take steps to stop this from happening.
Stand up while using the toilet if possible, and if this is not the case, make the toilet seat uncomfortable, occupy your mind, or set the alarm to prevent dozing off.
Why Do I Fall Asleep on the Toilet?
The need to empty the bladder frequently at night is known as nocturia, a condition that becomes increasingly common as we age.
The Journal of Urology said that up to 93% of men older than 70 must urinate at least once overnight.
For the elderly, falling asleep on the toilet can become an unwelcome habit. There could be a health reason for this, or you may need to make some lifestyle changes.
If you keep falling asleep on the toilet, ask yourself if you are prone to dozing off while sitting upright in other situations. If so, it’s likely that you’re exhausted and are not gaining enough restful sleep.
If you struggle with insomnia and don’t sleep well at night, consider adjusting your lifestyle and embracing a sleep hygiene routine.
This could be as simple as heading to bed earlier and thus spending more hours in bed.
Rising from Deep Sleep
If you’re living with nocturia, you may be roused from a deep sleep by the need to use the bathroom. If you feel groggy as you go to the bathroom, you’re still in a state of sleep inertia and adjusting to wakefulness.
You’ll not be fully awake by the time you sit on the toilet, and much like hitting the snooze alarm in bed in the morning often sees you doze off again, the comparative comfort can lull you back into a state of sleep.
Give yourself a minute or two to wake up before heading to the bathroom, splashing cool water on your face if necessary. This may be unappealing at 3 am when you want to return to sleep, but it’s much better to fall asleep in bed again than on the toilet.
While many people enjoy a nightcap before bed, drinking alcohol interferes with sleep. The Behavioral Neurobiology of Alcohol Addiction explains how alcohol has simultaneous stimulant and sedative effects.
The latter can lead to falling asleep on the toilet while drunk. If you’re already feeling sluggish due to alcohol, sitting down with nothing occupying your mind or hands will likely encourage you to fall asleep.
If you fall asleep on the toilet drunk, you’ll be at greater risk of a mishap or injury. If your circulation drops, the natural clumsiness associated with intoxication will be magnified, and you may slip and fall.
High Blood Pressure
Your kidneys will struggle at full capacity if you have high blood pressure (hypertension), leading to more frequent bathroom trips. High blood pressure can also lead to exhaustion, dizziness, and feeling faint when you sit down.
Combine these factors, and you have a potential explanation for why you may fall asleep on the toilet, especially late at night when you are already tired.
If you have other hypertension symptoms, including blurry vision, chest pains, headaches, and nosebleeds, make an appointment with a doctor.
If you keep falling asleep at inopportune moments, you may have narcolepsy. The New England Journal of Medicine claims this condition impacts 1 in 2,000 people worldwide.
Narcolepsy is usually caused by the brain’s lack of hypocretin (also known as orexin). While narcolepsy can affect anybody, it is most commonly diagnosed in men between 20 and 40.
The chief symptom of narcolepsy is so-called “sleep attacks,” which involve falling asleep for up to 15 minutes at a time, no matter the circumstances. If you only fall asleep this way while on the toilet, narcolepsy is unlikely to blame.
Is Sleeping on the Toilet Bad?
We have beds for a reason, and the toilet would be low on a list of alternative places to sleep. While it’s unlikely that you set out to fall asleep on the toilet, there are significant hazards.
The average toilet bowl contains around 3.2 million bacteria per square inch. If the toilet lid is up, these bacteria can circulate freely.
If you use the toilet, flush, and walk away, the risk of exposure to these bacteria is minimal. You’ll be conscious of the hazards and react accordingly. If you’re asleep, you prolong the time spent breathing in potential health risks, especially if you doze with your mouth open.
Risk of Falls and Injuries
If you fall asleep on the toilet or sit there for too long, blood flow to the nerves in the legs and feet will be cut off. This leads to numbness and tingling, commonly called “pins and needles.”
We have all experienced pins and needles at one time or another, and it’s rarely a significant concern. It can be dangerous in a bathroom, especially if you have just woken up from a doze on the WC.
Upon realizing you fell asleep, you’ll likely awaken with a start. You can quickly lose your balance if you try to stand up on numb feet. Bathrooms are often small, so slipping and falling could increase the risk of hitting your head on a hard porcelain bath or sink.
Even if you avoid a head injury, it can be tough to walk while you have pins and needles. Be careful not to roll your ankle or stub your toe on an inanimate object. That’ll quickly start hurting once blood flow returns to your legs and feet and numbness passes.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
Sitting still for a prolonged period, such as after falling asleep on the toilet, can lead to deep vein thrombosis. DVT is caused by blood clots forming in the lower body, most frequently in the legs.
DVT can be devoid of symptoms or can be identified by swelling and pain in the legs. The condition leads to many health risks, especially as blood clots in the legs can break free and travel to the lungs, and this restricts blood flow, making a pulmonary embolism possible.
How to Stop Falling Asleep on the Toilet
Occam’s razor principle suggests that the simplest solution to a problem is often the best, which applies to falling asleep on the toilet. If it is an option, do not sit down when using the toilet at night. If you’re able to stand, do so, then leave the bathroom.
This will not be an option for everybody. If you need to sit down when using the bathroom at night, consider these steps to reduce the risk of falling asleep.
Make the Toilet Uncomfortable
You’re less likely to fall asleep if you don’t put the toilet seat down before using it. This will be very uncomfortable and may force you to adjust your body weight, but that is the point. You’ll not relax and fall asleep if you find the position physically awkward.
Occupy Your Mind
If it takes a while to do what you need to, consider ensuring that your mind is occupied while you wait. Leave a newspaper or magazine in the bathroom to read while you go about your business.
This isn’t the most hygienic approach, and it can look a little untidy, but if you have something to do while sitting on the toilet, you’re less likely to succumb to sleepiness.
Set an Alarm
If you’re prone to falling asleep on the toilet, you can always set the alarm to wake you up if you doze. Place an alarm clock in the bathroom, or use your cell phone.
You do not even need to use anything so hi-tech. A simple egg timer sold in a kitchen goods store will do the trick. Set this to make enough noise to wake you if you’re still on the toilet after several minutes.
You could also try holding something like a teaspoon while sitting on the toilet. If you fall asleep, you will likely drop this item. If the bathroom floor is not heavily padded by rugs or linoleum, the noise may startle you awake.
Keep the Lights On
If you move from an illuminated living room or bedroom at night to a dimly-lit bathroom, your circadian rhythms may grow confused. Your body will likely be flooded with melatonin, the hormone that encourages sleep unless your bathroom lights are on.
Before setting foot in the bathroom, and certainly before sitting on the toilet, turn on the overhead light. If you don’t have such lighting, ensure your bathroom is host to the brightest lamp possible. This can be battery-operated if you don’t have a power socket.
Give your eyes a moment or two to adjust to the illumination, then step in and do what you came to do. Leave once you are done, minimizing exposure to darkness. This should prevent the need to sleep from taking hold of you.
Falling asleep on the toilet can happen to anybody, but it is not advisable to make a habit of it. Take steps to ensure that you remain awake while emptying your bladder at night, and work to discover the potential reasons why you keep dozing off in the bathroom.