Why Is It So Difficult to Sleep While Sitting Up?

iStock
iStock

Many of you traveling home to visit friends and family over the holidays will encounter the eventual need to sleep on an airplane, train, or bus, or in a car … while sitting up. Have you ever wondered why it's so much more difficult to get a good sleep in the upright position as opposed to lying flat in bed?

In order to understand it, you first need a quick primer of your sleep cycles: The human brain cycles through five phases of sleep when your head hits the pillow, the fifth of which is called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM only makes up about 25 percent of your sleep cycle, and occurs approximately 70 to 90 minutes after you fall asleep, but you enter REM sleep several times during the night. During REM, the brain sends signals to the spinal cord to create a temporary paralysis of your muscles, which causes you to lose muscle tone. 

"Usually during REM sleep, other than eye movements, our voluntary muscles are paralyzed," Dr. Neil Kline, an internist and sleep disorder physician and CEO of the American Sleep Association, tells Mental Floss. "We likely evolved this disconnect during REM sleep in order to prevent injury to ourselves." For individuals who suffer from REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), “this disconnect is faulty," Kline says. "People with RBD act out their dreams, and often injure themselves and others."

The partial paralysis and loss of muscle tone make holding the upright posture of a straight back and neck difficult. It may be why your seatmate tilts sleepily into your personal space, snoring on your shoulder, and why sleeping on a plane is just hard to do comfortably.

Despite this difficulty, some Buddhist monks purposely sleep sitting up as part of their meditation practice for up to five hours per night. They sit in specially designed chairs with hard, firm backs and proper cushioning, and do this as part of a goal to be in meditation as many hours of the day as possible. Your goal may be just an hour of snoozing between takeoff and landing.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Reason Your Dog Follows You Everywhere

Crew, Unsplash
Crew, Unsplash

Depending on your mood, a dog that follows you everywhere can be annoying or adorable. The behavior is also confusing if you're not an expert on pet behavior. So what is it about the canine companions in our lives that makes them stick by our sides at all times?

Most experts agree on a few different reasons why some dogs are clingy around their owners. One is their pack mentality. Dogs may have been domesticated thousands of years ago, but they still consider themselves to be part of a group like their wild ancestors. When there are no other dogs around, their human family becomes their pack. According to Reader's Digest, this genetic instinct is also what motivates dogs to watch you closely and seek out your physical touch.

The second reason for the behavior has to do with the bond between you and your pet. As veterinarian Dr. Rachel Barrack told the American Kennel Club, puppies as old as 6 months can imprint on their human owners like they would their own mothers. Even older dogs will bond with the humans in their lives who show them care and affection. In these cases, a dog will shadow its owner because it sees them as an object of trust and security.

The last possible explanation for why your dog follows you has more to do with your treatment of them than their natural instincts. A popular training tactic is positive reinforcement—i.e. rewarding a dog with treats, pets, and praise when they perform positive behaviors. The point is to help your dog associate good behaviors with rewards, but after a while, they may start to associate your presence with rewards as well. That means if your dog is following you, they may be looking for treats or attention.

A clingy dog may be annoying, but it usually isn't a sign of a larger problem. If anything, it means your dog sees you in a positive light. So enjoy the extra companionship, and don't be afraid to close the door behind when you need some alone time.