Unless you’ve just binged a sci-fi series or turned the pages of a space odyssey book, you’re probably not thinking about astronauts flying off into space as you fall asleep. In reality, though, some of us would benefit from thinking about the cosmos when we crawl into bed. If you are lucky enough to have an adjustable bed, there’s a space-inspired sleep position — often referred to as the zero gravity (or zero g) position — that mimics the feeling of weightlessness astronauts experience while floating in the microgravity of space. For many — especially those with sleep apnea or joint pain — it may be a practice worth bringing down to Earth.
Many sleep professionals agree the zero g position could be beneficial to anyone looking to get restorative sleep. While there haven’t been many studies on sleeping in zero g yet, its impact on sleep quality and comfort in bed could make all the difference, especially when paired with the right mattress on an adjustable bed.
What is sleeping in zero g?
Perhaps you’ve seen the button on your remote control for your adjustable base bed, or you’ve just heard about zero g and are wondering what it entails.
The zero g position gives you a sense of weightlessness by elevating both the upper and lower body at once, so that your head and feet are both elevated above your core.
“Gravity puts a lot of strain on our bodies,” says Sleep Expert™ Christopher Becnel. “We can relieve that strain by sleeping in the zero gravity position.”
This stress-free position, which aims to combat the constant pull of gravity on our bodies, can help with a range of sleep-related complaints that often stem from, or lead to, a night of junk sleep.
According to neurologist, sleep specialist, and Sleep.com advisor Dr. Chris Winter, sleeping in zero g “relieves pressure on joints, facilitates favorable spinal alignment and comfort, and the slightly upright position can improve breathing, reduce sleep apnea, and even help prevent GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).”
NASA originated studies on the idea of Neutral Body Positions (NBP) — which forms the basis of the zero g position — when they were looking for ways to make astronauts more comfortable, nimble, and efficient on missions to outer space. They found that the natural positions that bodies assume in a microgravity environment, without the influence of external forces, made for less physiological wear and tear, as it reduced the body’s efforts to exert itself against the pull of gravity.
That data, which gave them insight on the body’s preferred posture, was then used to inform the design of spacecraft workstations and living quarters. Not only has it helped preserve the bodies of astronauts on grueling missions to the great beyond, the research has been adopted by companies as a benchmark for comfort standards here on Earth, too. Nissan, for example, began designing car seats that would help the occupant maintain a neutral body position while sitting in one of their vehicles. Compared to the levels of fatigue that occupants experienced in conventional seats, the company’s research showed that seats designed around NBP models resulted in a 50 percent reduction in physical exhaustion.
How do you sleep in the zero g position?
Since most of us aren’t likely to be sleeping in the lower gravity of outer space anytime soon, let’s explore how we can achieve the zero g sleep position in our own beds, thanks to an adjustable base.
Start by adjusting your top half to create a 120-degree angle from the legs. With the head slightly raised and knees bent gently toward the chest, both areas should sit higher than the heart.
If you have extra pillows, it’s possible to create a zero g position by placing a stack beneath your head and upper back, and another under your knees. But there’s also an easier solution and one that doesn’t need re-fluffing or readjusting: Sleeping on an adjustable base. With the press of a button, these beds get into the zero g position by raising the upper body and legs without you having to fuss with any pillows. Adjustable bases are a platform surface your mattress sits on, replacing the frame and box spring or any other support. An adjustable base typically operates through a remote control or an app, simultaneously lifting the head and foot at your discretion. Those sections raise independently so it’s also possible to have the head raised and the foot section lying flat.
Who can benefit from sleeping in zero g?
Sleep is the time when our bodies rest and recover, and the position we lie in plays an important role in how well our bodies are able to do both.
With less pressure and pull, sleeping in zero g could be the ticket to a great night’s rest. Here’s who could benefit from sleeping in zero g:
People with sleep apnea, snorers, or those who are prone to allergy or sinus issuesIf you’ve ever tried to get sound sleep with a cold or congestion from sinuses and seasonal allergies, you know how uncomfortable it is to wake up reaching for the box of tissues. Zero g elevates the head and upper body to reduce head and sinus congestion. And it can do wonders for your breathing, too. By opening up the chest, the zero g position gives those who snore or sleep with a CPAP machine the advantage of an open airway.
Pregnant people who can’t get comfortableIn addition to dealing with things like swelling in the legs, pregnancy can make it a chore to find a comfortable sleeping position. “Pregnant people, especially further along in pregnancy, are putting a lot more weight on their back because they are carrying additional weight that their body is not used to,” Becnel says. “Elevating the toes above the nose increases your blood circulation which actually reduces swelling in people's legs.”
Athletes looking for optimal recoveryRestorative sleep is vital to anyone who works out, as it gives the body an opportunity to build muscle and recover. Becnel explains that sleeping in a zero g position takes the strain off the body and maximizes the overnight recouperation processes. “The time that you're sleeping is when your muscles are rebuilding,” Becnel explains. “You want to ensure that your body is in the best position it could be in to get that deep sleep and REM so that your body has the best opportunity to rebuild.”
People with reduced mobilitySome of the most popular beds today are low-to-the-ground platform beds, which can be a struggle for some people to get in and out of. People with reduced mobility or those recovering from an injury or surgery could be particularly comfortable sleeping in a zero g position, especially on an adjustable base. In addition to helping relieve pressure on the neck, back, hips, and knees, some people could find that the zero g position helps with getting out of bed. “My grandma actually sleeps in zero g on an adjustable base,” Becnel says. “When she gets up, she can move the upper body into a seated position so that she can swing her feet over to the side without using a lot of energy or strain to get out of bed.”
Anyone who likes to read, watch tv, or work from bedNo matter how many studies tell us it’s not great, sometimes the most enjoyable way to relax is to binge watch a great show in bed. Instead of wrestling with pillows to get propped up, a bed that has a zero g setting can easily raise the upper body and feet to get in an incredibly comfortable position. “I always joke that it’s like bringing your recliner into the bedroom,” Becnel says. “You can elevate your head without stacking pillows or putting strain on your neck.” The same goes for working on a laptop in bed or reading.
Who shouldn’t sleep in zero g?Back sleepers tend to have the most success in the zero g position. Those who sleep on their sides or stomaches will likely feel contorted in an uncomfortable way, so should experiment with the settings before committing to a full night sleep.
As with any big change, it’s smart for anyone with health considerations to consult with a medical professional before committing to sleeping in a new position.