Regardless of your usual sleeping position (back, side, or stomach), the chances are that you are accustomed to sleeping in a mostly flat position. Unless you have had a severe injury or health condition that requires elevating parts of your body, sleeping generally means getting into bed, rolling until you’re comfortable, and drifting off to sleep. Or some variation of this practice.
But what if there was another way? What if certain health conditions could be improved or prevented by making one tiny adjustment to the way that you sleep each night?
Have you ever come home and fallen asleep on the couch with your feet propped up on the armrest and thought that it was unusually comfortable – more so than you would have thought? Or perhaps you’ve participated in an exercise class, such as yoga, where the instructor has guided you into a lying pose with your legs up the wall. It’s not a coincidence, and you’re not alone in the relief that you feel by having your legs elevated.
The reason why you feel comfortable in this position is because of the release of pressure that it brings to not only your back but your legs as well. Let’s look at little closer at 11 health benefits that you can get from sleeping with your legs elevated.
1. It Can Reduce Swelling
For those who suffer from constant swelling, medically referred to as edema, in the legs and feet, keeping them elevated is an excellent way to help minimize the swelling. There are many different causes of edema in the legs, which can include:
- An allergic reaction. For example, a bee sting.
- Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). The heart has become too weak to continue to pump blood effectively, causing a fluid build-up in the legs.
- A blockage in the flow of blood. For example, the presence of a tumor.
- Liver and kidney disease. Due to an excess of fluid.
- Pregnancy. Because of pressure from the uterus and extra fluid.
- An injury. Because of the increase in fluids transporting additional white blood cells.
Regardless of the cause of your swelling, raising your legs above the heart can aid the blood flow and help it to circulate more effectively, giving your body the chance to remove any excess fluid in the area.
In addition, for those with Lymphedema, keeping your legs elevated while you sleep is often recommended to help with the management of the swelling. Lymphedema occurs when there is damage to the lymph vessels, which can often happen during cancer treatment. This prevents them from draining lymph fluid properly. Excess lymph can cause severe swelling in one or both legs. Sleeping with your legs elevated is also a preventative measure to prevent continued swelling for those at risk of primary or secondary lymphedema.
2. It Improves Circulation
As I’m sure you know by now, any part of the body that is below the heart keeps the circulatory system working on overtime to pump blood throughout the body consistently. Add in lifestyle elements such as standing or sitting for too long, wearing tight clothing like skinny jeans, wearing heels that are too high, or being overweight, and your veins are bound to feel the pressure.
The problem with poor circulation is that it can be a precursor to some of the other issues on this list, or they may exacerbate the problem. By sleeping with your legs elevated, you may be able to improve your circulation and prevent some of these risks before they become a reality or stop them from becoming worse.
Because all of the other systems in our body rely on the circulatory system for transport of blood, nutrients, waste, and more, it’s crucial to ensure that we maintain proper circulation throughout. Elevating your legs while you are asleep will help you to use gravity in your favor by allowing the circulatory system to work a little easier and bring the fluids from your feet and legs back to the heart.
3. Prevention And Treatment of DVT
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is the medical term used when one or multiple blood clots develop in one of the deep veins of the body, typically in the legs. Anyone can be at risk for having DVT; however, the chances increase in some instances, for example:
- Being immobile for long periods, such as long-distance flights
- History of a previous DVT
- There is a family history of having blood clots
- Blood vessel damage
- Taking certain birth control pills
When you have DVT, you will experience pain and swelling in the leg containing the blood clot, specifically the calf, as well as other symptoms. In addition to taking blood thinners as prescribed by your doctor, keeping your legs elevated as often as possible can help with the management of DVT.
Because the elevation helps with circulation, as we’ve seen above, it can also help to prevent future blood clots.
4. It Can Lessen Varicose Veins
As we age, we start to become more and more aware of changes to our body, such as the appearance of varicose veins. Easily noticeable, varicose veins happen when the valves in the veins don’t operate correctly, allowing blood to flow back towards the wrong direction or to begin pooling. The swelling of the veins tends to occur more often in pregnant women or people who are obese.
Generally speaking, most people won’t feel too much discomfort from the bulging veins, and treatment is usually sought for cosmetic reasons. However, if not appropriately managed, varicose veins can lead to lymphedema due to an increased build-up of toxins in the blood.
Whether the reason is cosmetic, or if you do begin to feel pain, aching, and heaviness in the leg(s), sleeping with your legs elevated can provide some relief. Even though it won’t help to remove them altogether, you can minimize the pain and prevent the veins from becoming even more enlarged by sleeping with your legs elevated and wearing compression socks.
5. It Can Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s natural reaction to an injury or irritant and is a necessary part of the healing process. The tell-tale signs of inflammation include heat, redness, swelling, and pain. Some of the reasons or situations why you may experience inflammation in the legs can consist of:
- Sprains and strains
- Impact, prior to bruising
- Mild to severe burns
In cases of injury, the elevation of the leg is always instructed to help ease inflammation on top of taking anti-inflammatory medication. That being said, for those with injuries, as well as those with chronic inflammation, keeping your legs elevated while you are asleep can help as a long-term solution to keep inflammation at bay.
6. It Eases Lower Back Pain
Depending on your sleeping habits, your sleeping position may be contributing to your lower back issues. While there are many causes for lower back pain, one of the first places to start for alleviating the pain is by altering the way that you sleep each night.
For those of us who usually sleep on our back, an old mattress or one that is too firm could be contributing to the flattening and compression that is put on your spine throughout the night. This will soon translate to disturbed sleep at night, followed by aching in the lower back during the day.
Additionally, for those with spinal health conditions, such as osteoarthritis in the spine, spinal stenosis, or degenerative spondylolisthesis, soreness and pain can often be felt after a night of compression by lying flat. When elevating the knees and legs, you can find relief from the pressure and achieve a better night’s sleep.
Sciatica is also a common cause for lower back and leg pain, making sleeping more of a challenge. Sciatica is caused when a spinal disc places pressure on one of the sciatic nerves, which run from the spine in the lower back all the way down the leg on both sides. Keeping your legs elevated helps to relieve some of the compression from your lumbar spine on the nerve.
For lower back pain, you don’t need to elevate your legs too high, simply try placing a few pillows beneath your knees and ankles. The height of the cushions will help ease the pressure by rotating your pelvis to a higher angle.
7. Spinal Alignment And Posture
Not only is good posture and spinal alignment important when you are awake and walking around, but it’s also necessary when you are sleeping. As we all know, our physical movements are hard to control while we are fast asleep. For this reason, some people who shift throughout the night may find that sleeping with a prop aids them in keeping proper spinal alignment.
Especially for those with back issues, it’s important not to twist the body and to keep your whole spine straight. For some people, their legs can end up kicked out to the side, crossed, or open too wide. If you are one of the people who end up contorting your body into uncomfortable positions as you sleep, keeping your legs elevated may help keep you in place and prevent waking up in pain.
By sleeping with your legs elevated, you will be able to keep your legs in line with your upper body, while also maintaining the natural curve of your lumbar spine.
8. Faster Recovery From A Leg Injury
There are often times when we don’t realize what is happening below the surface of an injury. An injury is just that, right? We don’t stop to think of the body as a machine that is continuously working to heal and regenerate.
If you have recently had a leg injury or surgery, your leg is going through the healing process that will include many of the items on this list, such as swelling, inflammation, and blood circulation. Without improving each of these three things, the healing process is much slower, and the pain is prolonged.
9. It Can Help With Sleep Disturbances
Unfortunately, no, sleeping with your legs elevated will not defeat your lifelong insomnia. However, what it can do is provide some relief from a number of health concerns that are keeping you awake. Between pain relief, increased blood circulation, and improved posture, you’ll be able to achieve the quality of rest that you may be lacking.
Some people also struggle to find a position that they feel comfortable staying in throughout the night. Sleeping with elevated legs can help if you find it difficult to achieve your optimal sleeping position.
For those who have concerns about tossing and turning or who want to ensure that they sleep in one (comfortable) position, sleeping with your legs elevated can also give you the security needed to prevent shifting. It can be challenging to prevent our body from moving throughout the night, but having a prop can keep you in place even when you are fast asleep.
10. More Relaxation
There’s a reason why we “take a load off” or “kick our feet up” when we relax. Your legs are the pillars of your body. Along with your core, they are responsible for keeping you upright, getting you from place to place, carrying your body weight, and participating in any kind of physical activity. At the end of the day – your legs deserve a break.
If, when you lay down at night to go to sleep, you feel heavy, but can’t seem to relax your body fully, try elevating your legs. By keeping them raised slightly higher than your heart, you will not only drain excess fluid and blood, but also stress and tension will seem to go along with it.
Legs up the wall pose is a shortened version of sleeping with your legs elevated and is a common position in yoga. The pose is said to have meditative and calming effects for those who try it. You might think of resting this way as sleeping meditation.
At the same time, you will also be giving your legs a slight stretch that can help relax tense hamstring and calf muscles. Try incorporating slow, rhythmic breathing, and soon you will feel the weight of the day sink deep into your bed.
11. It Can Help Ease Restless Leg Syndrome
Have you ever noticed that your Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) seems to feel worse when you climb into bed? You’re not alone, and it’s because RLS is often triggered by rest or non-movement. Restless Leg Syndrome is a significant contributor to sleeplessness and anxiety in those who have been diagnosed.
Sleeping with your legs elevated can help to promote relaxation in the muscles, as well as aiding in the circulation and minimizing pain.
How To Sleep With Your Legs Elevated
If you are considering sleeping with your legs elevated and want to know where to begin, here are a few quick options that will help you on your way.
It’s important to remember not to elevate your legs higher than 45 degrees; you’ll want to keep them at roughly 8-12 inches higher than your heart when lying down. You also want to avoid sleeping in the shape of a V:
- Try not to sleep with just your knees bent and feet flat – be sure that your calves are elevated as well as your thighs.
- Don’t raise your legs higher than 45 degrees, especially if your head is also elevated.
The easiest way to begin sleeping with your legs elevated is to use stacked pillows. Start by stacking 4-5 pillows lengthways under each leg. You will want to stagger them to create a staircase. This will allow for a gradual and comfortable increase in height for your legs.
Leg Elevation Pillow
Using regular pillows is a great start, but will require using quite a few, and they have the tendency to shift. If you decide that you want to sleep with your legs up as a long-term solution, it may be worth investing in a leg elevation pillow. This type of pillow is designed to be the ideal height and will include grooves for your calves in order to give you the most comfort. I have personally had the best luck using this Leg Elevation Pillow from Amazon. It’s comfortable and supportive unlike other leg elevation pillows I’ve tried in the past.
A Mattress or Bed Riser
These are made of metal, plastic, or foam and can be placed directly under your mattress. They come in many different heights, and may also be called a bed wedge, mattress elevator, or mattress raiser. All of these will help you easily elevate your legs. I personally recommend The Wellness Wedge (link to Amazon), because of how easy it is to install and put to use. Just lift your mattress, slide these under, and then you’re good to go! All the advantages of elevating your legs without having something physically in your way at night!
An Adjustable Bed Frame
An adjustable bed frame is an excellent option for those who also wish to sleep with their head or torso slightly elevated. It’s also ideal to find the best height for your individual needs as well as giving you the ability to change the height from day-to-day. I actually have a LUCID Adjustable Bed Frame that I recently purchased from Amazon. I absolutely love that it is able to adjust to my every need. It really helps to further personalize a bed to fit your exact needs – I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an adjustable bed frame!
While sleeping with your legs elevated has many health benefits, the most important ones to remember are the reduction of swelling and the increase of circulation. Because many health concerns stem from or are a result of swelling and poor circulation, using a way to prop your legs up while you sleep can be immensely beneficial for maintaining your health.
Remember to always consult your doctor to find out if changing your sleeping pattern is a good idea for your individual health needs.