Leg Elevation During Sleep
As you move throughout your day—whether sitting, standing, or performing daily activities and tasks—gravity pulls your body downward. Gradually, this can lead to sore, tired legs and tight muscles in the lower back.
With the weight of your body placed on your feet and legs all day, it can be difficult for blood flow to travel up the body to the heart, lungs, and brain. This can lead to poor circulation and other dangerous health conditions, such as blood clots and swelling of the feet and legs, known as edema.
Elevating your legs during sleep allows your body to reverse the effects of gravity and pump venous blood toward the upper body. As blood flows away from the legs and feet, it gives the lower body time to heal—reducing swelling and allowing stiff, sore muscles to relax and heal. As the body relaxes, the mind is more likely to drift into a deeper, more restful sleep.
Throughout this article, we explain the benefits of sleeping with your legs elevated. Plus, we cover how to achieve this comfortable and healthy sleep position safely.
Benefits of Sleeping with the Legs Elevated
In addition to better sleep, elevating the legs during sleep offers the following benefits.
1. Improves Blood Circulation
As gravity pulls the body down, old blood can stagnate in the lower half of the body. Over time, this leads to poor circulation because the heart has to work much harder to pump blood to the entire body.
By elevating the legs just above heart level, you encourage old blood to flow away from the legs and new blood to flow into the heart. With the influx of rich, new blood to the upper body, the heart no longer has to work hard to circulate blood, giving it time to rest and repair.
2. Provides Relief From Chronic Lower Back Pain and Sciatica
When resting flat on your back, your hips naturally sink into the bed. If they sink too far down, this could force the spine to bow, causing the lower back muscles to clench and tighten during sleep. Over time, this tightening leads to muscle tension and chronic lower back pain. Elevating the legs and knees reduces the pressure placed on the lumbar spine, helping the muscles relax and recover.
The sciatic nerve, the body’s longest nerve, runs along the spine and down through both legs. Sciatic nerve compression can cause inflammation and put pressure on the back muscles, leading to lower back pain, leg pain, and numbness or tingling in the legs and feet. Elevating the legs at night can lessen the pressure placed on the nerve and alleviate these symptoms.
3. Reduces Swelling in the Legs and Feet
Swelling of the legs and feet, also known as edema, is caused by the buildup of fluid in the lower body. We may experience edema if we stand for an extended period of time or are particularly active in a hot climate.
However, edema can also be connected to more serious medical conditions, such as kidney and liver disease and congestive heart failure, indicating that the heart is not pumping blood properly.
While you should seek a healthcare professional’s advice if you experience constant leg swelling, sleeping in an elevated position can help improve blood circulation and reduce symptoms associated with edema.
4. Improves Symptoms of Varicose Veins and Lymphedema
Varicose veins are twisted and enlarged veins in the limbs, typically the legs. This condition is often caused by wear and tear of the veins, which causes the valves that regulate blood flow in the veins to become weak. Over time, the valves allow blood to pool in the veins instead of flowing back to the upper body.
Blood pooling in the leg veins can cause toxins to collect and lead to tired, heavy, and sore legs. For heavier individuals and those required to be on their feet for long periods of time, symptoms associated with varicose veins can worsen.
If left untreated, varicose veins can cause lymphedema—permanent damage to the body’s lymphatic system. This condition causes the small channels in the lymphatics to collect lymph tissue fluid rather than transmitting it through the bloodstream—this leads to swelling in the feet and ankles.
Raising the legs during sleep can relieve symptoms associated with varicose veins, prevent lymphedema, and reduce swelling.
5. Lessens Risk of DVT
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is caused by blood clots entering the large veins in the lower half of the body. This is a serious condition that can have life-threatening consequences if the clot travels up through the veins and into the lungs or heart, resulting in a pulmonary embolism. Therefore, it is essential that you consult with your doctor if you frequently experience swelling in the lower extremities.
With your doctor’s guidance, elevating the legs above heart level may help alleviate pain associated with DVT and improve blood circulation.
How to Sleep with the Legs Elevated
The most convenient way to elevate your legs during sleep is by using an adjustable base. Adjustable beds offer head and leg articulation, helping sleepers achieving the perfect elevation for their sleep needs.
Adjustable beds can be used with most modern mattresses. However, the best mattresses for an adjustable bed are often memory foam and hybrid beds. Some adjustable foundations even come with high-tech features such as wave massage, under-bed lighting, built-in USB ports, and Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity.
More advanced adjustable beds come with a preset zero-gravity sleep position, helping you to find a comfortable, weightless sleep. If your adjustable bed doesn’t come with this preset, you can set a zero-gravity sleep position by making certain adjustments to the bed.
In addition to the benefits of leg elevation, lifting the upper body to a 45-degree angle during sleep can also provide relief from many sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea and snoring. Elevating the upper body can also help maintain the spine’s natural curve during sleep and prevent tension buildup.
If you are not able to purchase an adjustable bed, you can achieve a similar effect by using a wedge pillow. Wedge pillows are orthopedic pillows with a triangular shape and a tempered incline, similar to a wedge of cheese.
To use a wedge pillow for leg elevation, we suggest using one specially designed for the legs, often called a knee pillow. These pillows lift the legs above the heart but allow the calves and feet to stay parallel to the knees for a more comfortable sleep position.
When using a wedge pillow to elevate the upper body, we recommend using one with a 35 to 45-degree angle, about 8 to 10 inches above the mattress’s surface. The head should rest about 1 inch from the top of the pillow with the thinnest part of the incline near the middle of the back.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is crossing your legs bad for your heart?
Sitting with your legs crossed for an extended period of time can temporarily cause more blood to pump up to the chest, increasing blood pressure. While doing so for a short period of time may not be harmful, constantly crossing the legs can put pressure on the heart.
How can I reduce water retention in my legs?
In addition to a healthy, low sodium diet, elevating the legs can reduce water retention in the legs. Compression socks or leggings can also gently squeeze the legs and prevent fluid from collecting.
What’s the worst sleeping position?
The worst sleeping position is stomach sleeping. When resting on the stomach, the spine curves upward, forcing it out of alignment and leading to pressure and tension buildup in the back muscles. For this reason, stomach sleepers often experience chronic neck and back pain.
What is the healthiest sleeping position?
Resting on the right side of the body is the healthiest sleeping position. According to health experts, right side sleeping pulls the heart to the center of the chest, regulating cardiac output and improving heart and lung function. Side sleeping also aids in digestion, reduces snoring, and helps alleviate symptoms of acid reflux.
How long should you elevate your legs for varicose veins?
Most doctors suggest elevating the legs above the level of the heart at least 3 to 4 times per day for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. If you are required to stand for a long period of time, be sure to bend your legs throughout the day to ensure proper blood flow.
Elevating the legs during sleep comes with a host of benefits. It can help you find a more comfortable sleep position and improve the quality of your rest. Nighttime leg elevation can also help you find relief from many common medical conditions. Plus, it is not difficult to achieve an elevated leg position at home. If you are not able to purchase an adjustable bed, wedge pillows are budget-friendly and widely available.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.