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Is It Possible to Sleep Standing up?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

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.

Cows can sleep while standing because the joints on their four legs can lock.
Cows can sleep while standing because the joints on their four legs can lock.

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 humans are bipeds that cannot lock their legs, they topple soon after falling asleep while standing.
As humans are bipeds that cannot lock their legs, they topple soon after falling asleep while standing.

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.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular TheHealthBoard contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular TheHealthBoard contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


I have this crazy issue, too. When I'm very tired and try to get one last thing done, the next thing I know, I'll wake up as many as three hours later, bent over completely at the waist with my head almost touching the floor, legs straight. So far, I've never fallen down while asleep. This is without any medications or alcohol in my system. I asked my neurologist about it (as I have some health issues), and the idiot said it wasn't possible. It freaks my daughter out when she comes over and finds me like that. I usually wake up fairly quickly, but am often still so tired that I fall asleep again before I make it to my bed, which makes me crazy.

I've also learned not to try to even go pee right before bed, as I've fallen asleep soon many times in the bathroom. Even weirder, I've gotten hurt a number of times falling off the toilet after I've been asleep for a while (hours sometimes). Why I can stay standing but not sitting is beyond me! Waking up while hitting a tile floor hard and smashing your head and neck into the tub is terrifying.


@anon42426: What you described is almost exactly what I went through. Unfortunately, it is due to opiate addiction such as pain pills or heroin. Sounds like he is only snorting it and not shooting it up. Either way, this is exactly what happens.

When you bring it up, a very defensive response is spot on typical behavior from abusing opiates. Sorry to give you this news and I know it will be a problem to flat out bring this up, but you can do it other ways, like paying more attention to what and how he spends his money.

His eyes will look like they are the same size as the ball in a ball point pen -- the pupils. Any opiate user will have to go through withdrawal when they stop. Have you noticed him saying he is sick and can't go to work a lot or anything like that? Try google searching exactly what to look for.

Possibly bring up the idea of drug testing him and see what his reaction is. Actually a good idea would be this: Say you are trying to get to the bottom of his problem so you bought a drug test to see if anything comes up, like maybe he is eating something or taking a vitamin that might have something dangerous in it and the drug test is to rule out anything like that. You could say that and see what his reaction is. Say you talked to a friend that is a doctor and that is what she recommended.

Good luck with everything. I hope this helps and I know the truth hurts sometimes, but at least you will know and can move on from there to something happy again.


It is possible to enter a hypnogogic state while standing such that the part of your brain that keeps you standing remains active without any conscious effort. I think this is what people are referring to when they say they have fallen asleep standing up. It has happened to me as well. The reason I looked up this article is that I just saw my neighbor dozing while standing with his walker. When I asked him if he was all right, he 'woke up' enough to mumble the words, "I'm sleeping," and he did indeed appear to be asleep.

Not only is it possible to sleep while standing, it is also possible to walk and scream while sleeping. I know this because my younger brother used to have 'night terrors' where he would wander around the house at night totally insensible, sometimes jumping and screeching like a monkey, sometimes trying to walk out the front door in his pajamas in the middle of winter.


At the beginning of this article you said that humans cannot fall asleep standing up. Sorry, I have been doing just that for the past week or so, off and on. Apparently I am not the only one either (in the comments) most of the time I have been leaning on something,or sitting in the washroom (and both legs were numb on waking and it was very painful!).

The other night I was free standing for around an hour! I know for a fact on the time limit. I have been wondering why my lower back has been extremely more painful than usual lately (I have arthritis) and I read here that it can be very painful on your back if you sleep standing up. I do not want to sleep standing up, it scares me! Not only do I do this, but I also sleepwalk and do strange things in my sleep and have a sleepiness problem where I cannot stay awake. It's crazy, but I also suffer from insomnia.

I am 57 years old with numerous arthritic problems and I live by myself and I have a wood stove. I am scared I will fall asleep near the stove, and... I have already caught myself just about to fall asleep while stoking the fire one time! So, your statement that for humans to sleep standing up is false.


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.


@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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


@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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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?


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.


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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    • Cows can sleep while standing because the joints on their four legs can lock.
      By: Bernard 63
      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.
      By: azazello
      As humans are bipeds that cannot lock their legs, they topple soon after falling asleep while standing.
    • During sleep, a person's muscles are relaxed.
      By: WavebreakMediaMicro
      During sleep, a person's muscles are relaxed.