Don’t knock it ‘til you try it. That’s my advice when it comes to sleeping on the floor. Years ago, I would have thought it was the worst idea ever. Who wants to sleep on a rock-solid floor when you can sleep on a soft, pillowy mattress?!
That was until I didn’t have another option. I was in Spain with friends and due to an Airbnb mishap, we didn’t have enough beds in our small flat. As a result, I had to roll out my yoga mat and sleep on the floor. I was super jetlagged so I fell asleep quickly, and when I woke up the next day I felt AMAZING! Arguably better than I had ever felt. So, I continued to sleep on the floor for the entire two months I was there.
I was so impressed that I turned to Google to see if I was the only one who loved sleeping on the floor. I quickly discovered that I was not. Katy Bowman, a runner and specialist in biomechanics and movement, has slept on the floor for over three years. Bowman told Men’s Health that our over-cushioned life consisting of sofas, chair cushions, and thick mattresses makes our bodies soft. She says when you sleep on the floor, “you’ll sleep better, achieve a deeper quality of sleep, and wake up feeling good.”
Western society has led us to believe that the plusher, thicker, and softer the mattress, the more comfortable it will be and the better we will sleep. Yet, many cultures around the floor sleep on the floor. In Japan, the majority of people sleep on the floor rather than in western-style beds. This has always been a part of Japanese customs dating back to the 10th century when people placed hemp mats on the floor before sleeping.
Today, many Japanese people sleep on a tatami mat made of rice straw. It is like a very thin yoga mat that can be put away in the morning. Alternatively, an entire bedroom floor may be made of it. Some people may also add a layer of padding, known as a Japanese bedroll. However, when it comes to bedding, they don’t like to be over-cushioned and believe in the benefits of more supportive mattresses and pillows. Further, instead of fluffy, feathery western-style pillows, they use a traditional Japanese pillow known as a sobakawa pillow.
As one of the top five healthiest populations in the world, they must know what they are doing!
The Benefits of Sleeping on The Floor
The benefits of sleeping on the floor are primarily anecdotal, although research suggests that soft mattresses can cause health issues. Our bodies are not designed to sleep on overly cushioned bedding. Just like our ancestors and those in Japan, we can benefit from sleeping on firmer surfaces.
One of the most significant benefits of sleeping on the floor is easing back pain. A firm mattress is believed to be better than a soft one when it comes to back health. The Harvard Medical School recommends placing plywood under your mattress or putting your bed on the floor if it is too soft. This is because a soft mattress doesn’t support your body, causing it to sink and create an unnatural curvature of the spin, leading to back pain.
Some also believe that sleeping on a hard floor can ease sciatica. Sciatica is pain caused by your sciatic nerve, often triggered by a herniated disk. When you sleep on a soft, cushiony mattress, it puts stress on your joints, rounds your back and makes this pain worse.
There are also reports that sleeping on the floor can improve your posture. Again, this is because your body doesn’t curl and curve unnaturally. Those who advocate for sleeping on the floor say that it keeps their spin straight.
Sleeping on the floor may also improve the quality of your sleep. For some people with insomnia, changing their sleeping arrangements can help them finally get the rest they need. Moving to the floor could help you sleep. Consider the cause of your sleep troubles - if they are caused by an uncomfortable mattress, allergies from your mattress, an unruly sleeping partner, or warm temperatures, transitioning to the floor could provide relief.
Lastly, sleeping on the floor may improve blood circulation. For example, when you sleep on the floor, your weight is evenly distributed, and there isn’t an excessive amount of pressure placed on your spine, hips, and shoulders. This allows blood to flow more evenly throughout your body. Better blood circulation can improve your health and is tied to a stronger immune system, enhanced muscle recovery, and better heart and lung function.
The Risks of Sleeping on the Floor
There are some considerations and potential risks to consider before sleeping on the floor. If you are prone to allergies, you may find that it worsens while on the floor, especially if you are placing a mattress or padding directly on the floor.
Your floor collects dust and skin cells which can trigger allergies. There also isn’t sufficient airflow under your bedding when on the floor. If you leave it there, moisture can become trapped, creating the perfect home for mildew and mold. To prevent allergies, remove your bedding from the floor when you get up or clean and dust daily.
Depending on where you live, you could also be at risk for unwanted bedmates like spiders, ants, and other insects. Further, your floor could be exceptionally cold, and it may require more blankets to keep you warm. That said, if you are in a warmer climate, this can actually be a huge advantage!
Sleeping on the floor may not be for everyone. For example, if you have limited mobility and have difficulty getting to the ground, it may not be ideal. Side sleepers may also find it uncomfortable if they don’t have the proper pillow like a neck roll pillow to provide alignment.
Want to try sleeping on the floor? Here’s how you can get started…
You don’t have to quit your mattress cold turkey. Instead, experts recommend easing into it. You can start by switching sides. For example, if you usually sleep on the left side of your mattress, it may have lost its shape and become softer. Move to the right side of your bed as it should feel a bit firmer. At first, it may feel a little weird, but within a couple of days, you should get used to it.
The next step is moving to a different mattress. If you have a spare room, try sleeping there for a few nights. Your body will then adjust to this new sleeping arrangement before moving to the next step. If you have any padding on top of the mattress, remove it. Egg crate toppers, foam, or feather beds add extra softness. By removing them and sleeping on only your mattress, you will feel a difference.
The most significant step is leaving the mattress. Start by placing a bit of foam down like one of the toppers you removed from your mattress in the previous step. You can add some additional blankets for added padding if you like, but the next step will be to remove them. One by one, take away the layers of padding.
If sleeping on nothing but a yoga mat just isn’t comfortable enough for you, there is still some benefit to sleeping on the floor with padding. Floor sleeping with a mattress is another option. This is when a mattress (ideally a firm one) is placed directly on the ground. Although some may find this a more comfortable option, it can ultimately cause your mattress to soften and sag faster.
When sleeping on the floor you should still use a pillow, but try swapping out your big soft western-style pillow for a Japanese pillow. Sobakawa pillows are naturally firm and filled with buckwheat hulls. These pillows provide you with proper alignment that can ease aches and pains and improve wellness. You can also try a neck roll pillow. This pillow is also filled with buckwheat hulls and is excellent for side sleepers.
So, is sleeping on the floor better for you?
It depends. Your sleeping position, mobility, health, and pillow will also affect whether sleeping on the floor helps you. If you want to try it, use the steps listed here and ensure you have the right pillow, like a sobakawa pillow or neck roll pillow.
After sleeping on a yoga mat for two months (and loving it!) I moved back to my mattress when I got home. That said, I do occasionally hit the floor when I have trouble sleeping and have incorporated some healthy Japanese sleeping customs into my routine. Now, I exclusively use a Japanese pillow to aid in alignment and provide greater support in addition to having a firmer mattress.
If you’re tempted, I recommend trying it. You may be surprised!