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Is It Possible to Sleep Standing Up?

Cows can sleep while standing because the joints on their four legs can lock.
As humans are bipeds that cannot lock their legs, they topple soon after falling asleep while standing.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2014
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Whether or not a person can sleep standing up really depends on a person's definition of sleep. A number of people who must remain standing while performing repetitive work claim they have fallen asleep on their feet, but the experience is often more of a temporary mental shutdown than physical sleep. Under most conditions, it is virtually impossible for a person to sleep while standing for hours without any outside support at all.

The difficulty does not lie in the mental aspect of falling asleep, but more in the physical, at least for humans. People simply cannot lock out their supportive joints long enough to allow for hours of uninterrupted sleep while remaining vertical. The reason a four-legged animal such as a cow or horse can sleep standing up is anatomy. Cows and horses have the innate ability to lock their knee joints, allowing them to place all of their weight on their legs as they sleep. They stay standing up in order to maintain the option of a hasty exit if threatened.

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Humans, on the other hand, have no such abilities. When a human tries to sleep while standing, he or she generally fails within a few minutes. Sleep involves a general relaxation of the muscles, including those responsible for keeping a person standing upright. Because the would-be sleeper's mind has largely shut down, it is not providing all of the subtle and not-so-subtle adjustments that keep standing humans in balance. In essence, once the brain, joints, and muscles stop working to keep a person upright, it's time to meet the floor.

As far as sleep positions are concerned, even if it were possible to sleep standing up, constant stress on the spine would most likely create a new level of pain for the sleeper the following morning. A supportive body brace might overcome the relaxed joint situation, but other pressure and pinch points would make sleep just as difficult. Attempting to sleep while standing up would appear to defeat the restorative purpose of sleep in general, although a short mental catnap might still be possible under the right circumstances.

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anon355077
Post 19

I've visited New Mexico and Arizona and I know of Native Americans who apparently sleep standing up. The purpose of this is to never lie on their backs until the day they die. I'm very interested in this so if anyone can help me out, then please do.

anon307929
Post 18

@Post 3: It isn't just the alcohol causing your husband to fall asleep standing up. I never drink, but also fall asleep standing up for one to three hours at a time once or twice every night.

I have even tried taking different sleep aids but this only seems to make it worse. I have fallen three times so far and have been injured, but not seriously so far. Thank God! Any other ideas of what could be causing this? Please help before I get seriously injured.

anon293043
Post 17

Wow! I don't know exactly why I never put these keywords in a search box before, since I have suffered tremendously with a major sleep disorder now for near onto10 years. One of the danger zones is from the crashing to the floor as almost nightly. My "perch" will be somewhere in the kitchen in a corner, hovering without a clue until gravity and sleep paralysis marry up and, blammo! There goes another rib, shoulder, hip, knee -- insert anatomical part name here.

I have been diagnosed as narcoleptic with a heavy side of sleep apnea with a touch of COPD for flavor. Mine began while doing night shift janitorial work then driving a school bus morning and afternoon (that was policy, not choice) back in the late 90's.

The severity set in after being on prescription IV Phenergan for a year while dealing with a screwy pancreas. I've dreamed up all kinds of harness and bracing scenarios. I'm thinking that a velcro wall and well fitting hook/latch suit would work but would stink for thermal comfort.

anon289760
Post 16

I fell asleep while walking and even dreamed during military training. I hadn't slept in five days and was in about 50 pounds of gear, including a gas mask. I was only asleep for five seconds, and it felt like being asleep and being awake were overlapping. I was definitely out of it.

anon286515
Post 15

My husband has been falling asleep standing up for a couple of years; it has to do with a heart condition and not getting enough good sleep. Excessive sleepiness can be a lack of oxygen, so you may want to check that out, especially for smokers; their lungs are already compromised.

anon178447
Post 14

The benefits of standing up and sleeping as opposed to the lay down method include less build up of paralytic chemicals in schizobe paralytic over production. Decrease of pulsation to brain from hypertension or postural hypertension. But no supportive stand up method to sleep is available.

anon151955
Post 13

@anon83706: Don't worry about your son. He isn't possessed or anything. If there is one thing I hate about living in Texas, it's the stupidity caused by believing in something that doesn't exist. Sometimes weird things happen when you're asleep.

His sleep schedule may be off. He may have eaten something that has a correlation with the part of the brain responsible for shutting off muscles before rem sleep. He may have been half awake, but delirious. Maybe he thought he was being his favorite super hero. He may have had some form of sleep paralysis, or he may have been so tired that he thought he answered you immediately, and his brain was just running very slowly. Calm down.

anon101576
Post 12

Once I fell asleep and then woke up and then fell asleep again then woke up again, then fell asleep finally again. It was so weird.

anon83706
Post 11

I have a 10 year old son, and he scared me to death this morning. I have never seen something like this but in movies.

It was like 6 a.m. and I heard my alarm ring and when I went to wake my son up. He was standing on the bed with his blanket thrown over him and he was just in a blank stare. Oh my gosh, I was scared! The first thing I said to him was, "Why are you standing?" He didn't reply immediately. He replied after one minute or so.

I'm very concerned about my son. Worried mother in Texas

anon74423
Post 10

My girlfriend falls asleep standing up sometimes when we are having arguments.

anon52477
Post 9

i fell asleep standing up when i was like five years old. i was standing up and i was real tired and i just fell asleep and when i woke up my head was leaning down, still standing up. It was weird because i had bad neck pain that day. i was sleeping for like two or three hours standing up.

anon51697
Post 8

This has happened to me as well at least on two separate occasions. On both occasions I was drunk, standing but leaning with my hands on the bathroom sink counter. I would pass out for 2-3 hours at a time. I know my grandfather would also sleep while leaning against a wall or something, so I thought this was just something that ran in my family.

anon49061
Post 7

well, I used to sleep a lot as a child stading against a wooden post, a tree trunk or a wall. I still do but not as often. My head drops but otherwise the wall seems to be enough support.

anon46046
Post 6

I used to sleep standing up when I was a child. Never tried it since. My parents used to prop me up against a wall while they got ready to leave from wherever they may be. It entertained my parents and family for years!

anon42426
Post 5

Wow I am glad I came upon this discussion. My husband has been falling asleep for about 1 year now standing up. It could be early evening or 1 a.m. He just some how drops his head and he is in some sort of sleep mode. But it's getting worse. for example he's starting to go to the bathroom and falls asleep for like 30 minutes. Or falling sleep outside while having a smoke. And if I say anything like "go to bed" or "please just lie down" he will get extremely frustrated and pace around our place until he has to go to work or when his body just collapses. He's seen a doctor and for some unknown reason the doctor prescribed him light sleeping aides but I really don't think that is what he needs and he never took them. Please let me know if you have any advise. This situation is literally destroying our marriage.

Markwkupslp
Post 4

I sleep standing up very often albeit usually, but not always, with a quad cane. Sleep can be for 2 or 3 hours or only minutes. I've also slept making a pot of coffee, eating...I see the sleep clinic next week as this is just the surface of my "sleep" issues.

snogirl8888
Post 3

OK...I just read the article and everything you're saying seems to make sense, *but* I have seen first hand my husband sleeping standing up, not ever falling, for hours at a time. This just happened last night. He was in the bathroom around 1:00am, and at 4:00am, he was still standing there sleeping, when I yelled at him to go to bed. This happens about once a week. I do have to tell you that he is inebriated when he does this, but even though, it still happens. He thinks he has some rare medical "condition" that makes him fall asleep while standing, but I tell him it's just because he drinks too much. Now I don't really know why he does this. Thoughts from anyone?

skersch
Post 2

The article did not take into account that people are asleep when they sleep walk. I have personally witnessed a person standing at a window during a sleep walk as well as standing at a kitchen counter. He was upright, fully asleep, with his eyes open. It was incredible.

Loonier
Post 1

It is possible, if you're weightless, like on the International Space Station or a Space Shuttle in orbit, perhaps wearing magnetic-soled boots so that "down" can be established and, thus, "standing up"...

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