6 Benefits of Sleeping with Your Legs Elevated
Last Updated on September 24, 2023
At one point or another, we’ve all heard the advice to “relax and put your feet up.” But did you know there’s some medical wisdom behind it?
Whether you’re getting home from a long day or you’re settling in for the night, elevating your legs and feet might be just what you need for deep, healthy sleep. While you should always consult your doctor for personalized medical guidance, the following six benefits can get you started.
1. Helps Improve Blood Circulation
Throughout the day, blood circulates through your veins, traveling away from and then back toward your heart. When you’re laying down, however, your heart has to work even harder to move things along. The simple solution? Raise your legs slightly, and let gravity provide a boost! Raised leg poses have long been practiced in yoga as a way to get your blood flowing, and sleeping in this position can help you wake up feeling refreshed and revitalized.
2. Helps Minimize Pain and Sciatica Symptoms
As the body’s longest nerve, the sciatic nerve can cause pain when inflamed. This nerve follows the spinal cord down the back into the buttocks and then down both legs. When the sciatic nerve is irritated by compression or inflammation, it can cause lower back pain, leg pain and even numbness in the legs and feet.
To alleviate pain, the key is to reduce the pressure that the lumbar discs put on the root of the nerve. Lying on your back with your feet elevated can do just that.
3. Helps Reduce Swelling
Edema, which is caused by an excess of fluid in your body’s tissues, is very common in the legs and feet. Symptoms include swelling and puffiness, and sometimes stretched or shiny skin. There can be many causes of edema, including:
- Fluid build up in the lower extremities from standing or sitting for an extended period, especially in hotter climates
- Lung diseases that place pressure on the blood vessels between the heart and lungs, creating a burden on the heart as veins struggle to pump blood back to it
- Congestive heart failure, which can be a serious issue when your heart can’t pump blood effectively
- Kidney and liver disease, as well as poor nutrition, which can cause low levels of protein in the blood
- Preeclampsia during pregnancy, which is a serious condition that can cause fluid buildup
- Strained muscles, bones or ligaments, like when you sprain your ankle (you’ve probably heard of RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation!)
In the same way elevating your legs and feet helps improve your blood circulation, it can reduce swelling by “draining” fluid away from them.
4. Lowers the Risk of Blood Clots and DVT
When you’re sedentary for a long time, especially after a major surgery, your risk of blood clots increases. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) can also occur, which is when a blood clot forms deep inside your veins, usually in your body’s lower extremities. This can lead to a life-threatening situation, so be sure to contact a medical professional for help.
Once under the care of a doctor, you can help ease DVT by keeping your legs elevated to relieve pain, improve circulation and reduce swelling. In addition to pain relief, sleeping with your knees up can also help to reduce swelling and keep the blood flowing.
5. Helps Reduce Varicose Veins
While varicose veins aren’t known to be a serious medical condition, they can definitely be uncomfortable. These enlarged veins are caused by an increase in blood pressure, signifying damaged or weakened valves (the parts of the veins responsible for pumping blood to and from your heart). Elevating your legs at the end of the day, combined with compression socks and lifestyle changes like losing weight, can help.
6. Alleviates Back Pain
If you were taught to stand up straight as a kid, you might assume that your spine is completely straight. The truth is, your spine has a natural curve to it! Because of this, sleeping completely flat can add unnecessary pressure on your lower back. By elevating your legs slightly—or even better, getting into a zero gravity position with your head and legs raised—your body will be in a more comfortable, natural position. The result? Deeper, higher-quality sleep without any back pain.
Are There Any Cons to Sleeping With Your Legs Elevated?
We’ve talked about all the pros… so it begs the question, are there any cons? Should anyone avoid elevating their legs?
Good news: there are very few downsides to sleeping with legs elevated, and it’s certainly not dangerous to do so. (Of course, you should always consult with your doctor for medical advice.)
The key is to find a position that’s comfortable for you. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try experimenting with more or less elevation. Or, set aside 20 minutes before bed with your legs up, and then get back into a flat position when you’re ready to sleep. You can also try the zero gravity position, which is when your legs and torso are raised.
How to Sleep with Your Legs Elevated
Now that you know some of the many benefits of sleeping with your legs elevated, let’s look at a few different ways you can get comfortable in this position.
Use a Stack of Pillows
The easiest way to elevate your legs is to simply position a few pillows underneath them. You’ll need a few in order to get the right height—remember, you’ll want your legs to be above your heart. Medium to firm pillows, like a memory foam pillow, will work best as they collapse as much under the pressure of your legs. Keep in mind if you toss and turn a bit, you may need to reset your stack as the pillows shift around.
Use a Small Pillow or a Folded Blanket
If you’re a side sleeper, you’ll need to get a little creative to elevate your legs and feet. But it isn’t impossible! Simply place a wedge shaped pillow or a small folded blanket between your legs to get comfortable. This position helps keep your spine aligned and helps your blood circulate easier.
Use an Adjustable Base Bed
Another easy way to elevate your legs is with an adjustable bed. Widely known in the world of medical care, adjustable bases now come equipped with tons of extra features too, such as massage and under-bed LED lights. With the touch of a button, you can elevate your head as well as your legs to find a comfortable position for relaxing or sleeping.
FAQs about Sleeping With Your Legs Elevated
How Long Should You Elevate Your Legs?
The answer to this will depend on what you’re trying to achieve. Most health experts recommend starting with 15 minutes at a time, 3 to 4 times per day. If your goal is to reduce swelling, you may want to start with this amount of time and work your way up if you’re not seeing results. For any other health conditions, we recommend checking with a medical professional to get their advice.
How Much Should You Elevate Your Legs?
How much elevation is enough? Is there such a thing as too much elevation? The general guidance is elevating your legs to about 6 to 12 inches above your heart, with a natural bend to your legs.
Should You Elevate Your Legs if You’re a Side Sleeper?
It’s worth experimenting with elevating your legs on your side! For some people, it may not be comfortable—but with the GhostBed Adjustable Base, you’ll have custom elevation options that you can play around with.
As a former athlete, I know what it feels like to wake up in pain. Once I realized how much better I slept with my legs slightly elevated, I made it my goal to share that feeling with the world. With up to a 70% incline for the leg section, the GhostBed Adjustable Base will help you find a comfortable position for great sleep.
Marc has spent the last two decades designing & manufacturing mattresses and other sleep products, drawing on a lifetime of experience working with the material sciences. With several patents to his name, he works closely with the GhostBed team to create products with the perfect balance of comfort & support. Learn More