A comprehensive guide to Sleeping on the Floor

Sleeping on the floor

Hello! You have found the Internet’s first and most comprehensive resource  dedicated to the life-changing art of Sleeping On The Floor (or other hard surfaces)! If you are a fellow Floor Sleeper or someone only beginning to look into it, you are in the right place! I’m happy to say that you have a wonderful journey ahead of you!

In this article you will find:

  • How and why I personally decided to try sleeping on the floor
  • My three-day floor sleeping experiment
  • Why sleeping on the floor is so good for you
  • How my family began sleeping on the floor 
  • The exact benefits your body gets from sleeping on the floor
  • Why bed is bad and the best mattress is no mattress
  • How your mind benefits from sleeping on the floor
  • How to teach yourself to sleep on the floor
  • What to actually sleep on when you sleep on the floor

It’s been 10 years since I first tried sleeping on the floor and never looked back. Many other people have, too, including my family, a few friends and people I’ve met online. Floor sleeping has tremendous benefits for the health of many systems of your body, including your vascular, digestive, nervous, respiratory and skeletal systems, and especially and particularly the health of your back and neck! (Hello nation of crouched, back pain-ridden office workers!)

But so few people know about it, and so few have actually tried sleeping on the floor. When people hear about it, they think it’s some strange new fad, something done by hippie folks or yoga folks etc. We have beds for a reason, don’t we? (Yeah, the reason is all those bed companies want to make money ;). People have slept in beds forever, right? (Actually, wrong. Also, people who have slept in beds forever, have had back pain forever. Do you really enjoy being one of those people?)

People generally have bad associations with sleeping on hard surfaces. (Remember that camping trip where you couldn’t get a good rest because you were away from your cushy mattress?) And when they try sleeping on the floor for a night, they decide to never do it again, because they wake up sore  – more sore than they usually wake up, that is. At this point, they give up on the idea and never try it again.

That’s a mistake, and I’ll explain why. But first, let me tell you my story.

SLEEPING ON THE FLOOR : MY STORY

I first heard about sleeping on the floor about ten years ago. Back then I was in my early twenties and really into experimenting with different health and wellness approaches in search of those that would work best for me. I’ve tried raw-foodism, vegetarianism, veganism, frutarianism, cold showers, jogging, polyphasic sleeping, lucid dreaming, fasting and lots of other things. I was in my early twenties after all 🙂 A lot of those things I happily abandoned as they didn’t prove to add much to my health and well-being.

Sleeping on the floor, however, was one of the best things I have ever done to my health, and ten years on, my floor and I are still going strong 🙂 Here is how it began for me.

I have read somewhere that sleeping on the floor is supposed to be good for you because it’s a natural way to sleep. Animals don’t have beds. Our cavemen ancestors didn’t have beds. We have evolved to sleep on hard surfaces, because evolution has not created mattresses and beds for us. Only hard earth, maybe a layer of grass, maybe some leaves and branches, and a skin of some animal to throw on the ground. We’ve been that way for millions of years before we invented beds, so our bodies have evolved to sleep on harder surfaces and the general rule is that your body will do best with that which it has evolved to do.

I am a pretty sceptical person in general, and tend not to take an opinion seriously unless there is a sound logic behind it. (Astrology and me never worked out, sorry astrology.) This sounded reasonable to me, so I decided to give it a try. By that age I was already starting to have chronic back tension and sometimes back pain when I worked too many long days in a row and neglected stretching and exercise. I also used to have persistent neck pain which flared up if I spent any time in any kind of uncomfortable or unnatural position or movement. Both my back and neck pain seemed worse right out of bed. Sometimes I couldn’t move my neck without pain right after waking up. I would often wake up with half my body numb or my shoulders hurting. Sometimes the pain or discomfort was in the hips. There was always something, and I have always been very attuned to any discomfort in my body due to the chronic issues with my neck, which, if left neglected, brought me quite a bit of …hmmm… pain in the neck? This is another reason why the notion that we might be sleeping in an unnatural way, resonated with me.

I was also pretty open-minded. I was in my second year of University back then and living in a dorm-like environment. My lifestyle was far from fancy. Sleeping on a quilt on the floor, covered with some sheets for the sake of the experiment did not seem like such a wild thing to do. I’m sure you’ve done wilder 😉

So, I picked a night, put a thin quilt on the hardwood floor of my room and went to sleep, excited to begin this experiment.

SLEEPING ON THE FLOOR: MY 3-DAY EXPERIMENT

My current sleeping setup. (I do NOT use pillows, they are just there for decor purposes 🙂 Basically, a duvet thrown on the floor, some sheets and a blanket. No mattress.

It didn’t go too well at first. I couldn’t find a position in which my body wouldn’t hurt on the floor. I felt as if I could feel every inch of it and it hurt everywhere. My shoulders and shoulder blades and collarbone and hip bones – everything was feeling sore and I couldn’t find a good position to sleep in. Only my head was somewhat comfortable, as I did have the pillow. Finally, after tossing and turning for half-a-night, I fell asleep, thinking that I should definitely feel better in the morning.

In the morning, I woke up sore and uncomfortable. It took an effort to get out of bed. My shoulders hurt. My neck hurt. I felt the same discomfort I had when I slept in bed.

I was slightly disappointed, but decided to try it again next night. Finding a comfortable position seemed a bit easier this time. It almost felt like my body learnt the curves of the floor, or rather, their absence, and adapted. I fell asleep faster and didn’t have any discomfort at night. In the morning, I woke up with only a hint of soreness. I thought, that’s great. Even if sleeping on the floor doesn’t seem all that worth pursuing long term, I at least know that I can do it. I should do the third night, just because three is a good number.

So I did the third night. This was where everything changed. I went to bed that night, or rather, to my quilt, and felt as if I went in heaven. My body immediately relaxed on the hard surface. I felt all the tightness leave it, even the tightness I didn’t know was there. The pressure of the hard surface was really nice and felt almost like a massage. I marvelled at how good it felt, until I fell asleep without even noticing it.

When I woke up on that third morning, I felt, at first, as if I was in space. Weightless, and absolutely relaxed. There was no tightness, no soreness, no numb limbs, no sore hips. And I couldn’t feel any tightness whatsoever in my neck, which used to bother me almost every night. What was even better, I felt super rested. My brain was clear, no brain fog, no tiredness, no grogginness. Most of all, it felt as if I just had an eight-hour long massage! Do you know that feeling you get after a good massage? A feeling of your body relaxed and rejuvenated, and the energy that comes with it? That’s how I felt after that third night on the hard floor.

Since then and until now, 10 years later, I’ve slept most of my nights on the floor unless I am travelling. I will never go back to sleeping predominantly in bed. When I do, even for a night, I can never get a good sleep during that night. I feel like I keep falling into the mattress. I can feel that my body isn’t in a natural position that it should be in. I can feel it bend where it shouldn’t, and feeling sore and tight. And then I wake up, also sore and tight, often unable to easily turn my head because my neck feels “stuck”. 

HOW MY FAMILY TRANSITIONED TO SLEEPING ON THE FLOOR

Since then my family has also transitioned to floor sleeping, not that I ever thought that would happen. Back then, when I still lived in the dorm, I told my mom about my experience of sleeping on the hard surface. She laughed and said that I should instead concentrate on making more money, moving out of the dorm and buying a good bed for myself. Well, I am out of the dorm now but still sleep on the floor. As does she. We had an extremely hot summer the year I told her about sleeping on the floor, and she decided to mock me and do it once, mostly because it was much cooler to sleep on the floor than in bed.

A few weeks later she told me over the phone that she now sleeps on the floor and so does my dad, and that it helped them both with neck and back issues (my dad) and lower back pain (my mom.) They both have special quilts on which they sleep in their bedroom. My mom jokingly calls this arrangement “a gypsy family bedroom”.

The pattern that I noticed in my parents’ transition to floor sleeping is the same I’ve heard a few people mention online as well, and the one I went through myself. The first few nights of sleeping on the floor don’t feel that good. That’s because your body is taking time to re-learn what it is like to sleep in it’s natural environment, in the physiological way that’s far more natural for our bodies than sleeping on soft mattresses. Once the body adapts, almost everyone I know who tries sleeping on the floor simply never goes back.

WHY IS SLEEPING ON THE FLOOR GOOD FOR YOU?

Here is why sleeping on the floor (or any hard surfaces) is good for you.

Sleeping on the floor is good for your skeletal system, or , good-bye, back and neck pain.

Our bodies experience constant  stress due to our unnatural lifestyle. We sit too much, hunched over our computers. We don’t exercise enough. We don’t do natural movements that our body has evolved to do, such as crawling, climbing, running and many others. All of these factors cause various effects on the health of your skeletal system and particularly your back. Your muscles weaken and get stiff. Increased pressure on back and spine leads to herniated disks. Compressed spine leads to pinched back nerves which leads to discomfort and pain.

What does sleeping on the hard surface do for your back? For one, our bodies were wired to re-align and destress when all the negative factors are taken out of the picture. When you lie on a hard, flat surface, your body takes the natural position it is supposed to be in. All muscles relax, your hips and shoulders straighten and go back to their natural alignment.

When muscles are relaxed and your spine straightened, your pinched nerves become released and your back pain goes away. So does back stiffness or hip pain when you wake up. You will absolutely forget what hip pain is after sleeping on the floor. Another benefit that I have found is that, when your muscles fully relax on the hard surface, they let your bones actually be in contact with the hard surface, instead of protecting the bones when you are in an unnatural position on a mattress.

The resulting pressure of the hard surface on the bones, according to some doctors, may increase bone density, or help prevent the loss of bone density, which is a problem for a lot of people, especially as they age. My own experience of what sleeping on the floor does to you back and neck is this. After a night on my floor bed, I get up in the morning feeling as if I just got off the massage table. I feel completely relaxed, my body realigned, my muscles rested and ready to go. I’d take that over any night on a mattress.

Sleeping on the floor is good for your vascular (circulatory) system.

As I already said, when you sleep on the floor, your body gets into its natural alignment. Everything that was pinched, such as nerves and blood vessels, gets released. Your whole body straightens, stretches and relaxes. There are no unnatural curves or curls – your hips don’t sink into the mattress, your neck isn’t unnaturally curved. All of this improves circulation, letting blood flow around your body like it was naturally supposed to. When you wake up, you feel rested, rejuvenated, and you don’t have numb limbs or sore hips or sore arm because nothing has been obstructing your blood flow for hours.

Sleeping on the floor is good for your respiratory system.

When you spend your day hunched over at the computer, or sitting in front of the TV, your spine gets compressed and your chest gets contracted, preventing optimal functioning of the lungs, shortening your breath and decreasing flow of oxygen in your blood. When you relax and decompress on the floor, your chest expands and you lungs start working to their full capacity. That leads to higher oxygenation of the blood, which means more vital oxygen for your brain and other parts of your body. This is why you will feel so much more rested after sleeping on the floor or another hard surface.

Sleeping on the floor improves your digestive system.

When your body is relaxed and realigned on the hard surface, your inner organs are not squished, pinched or misaligned. The blood flow is better to and from the organs which leads to better organ functioning throughout the body,  including your digestive organs. Due to better blood flow, your body gets more nutrients from your food more efficiently. Also, a natural sleeping position helps prevent constipation or any kind of stasis in your intestines.

Sleeping on the floor is good for your neck

This has been a huge one for me. I recommend ditching you pillow too, as part of sleeping on the floor. I am a strong believer (and my experience has confirmed this) that nature is the best architect when it comes to your body, and nature has it all taken care of as long as you follow what’s natural for your body. Sleeping on the pillow, especially big fluffy pillows that keep your head elevated and your neck bent, is not natural.

I have had neck issues since I was a baby due to a trauma at birth. My neck pain easily flares up if I keep my neck in an unnatural position longer than a few minutes. After I ditched the pillow and started sleeping on the floor, I don’t have neck pain in the morning anymore. In fact, all the other instances of neck pain caused by other factors have also reduced.

Your neck is just another part of your spine, and, contrary to popular opinion, it does not require any special support at all. Animals have necks too and they don’t use pillows. In people, neck pain is often indicative of issue with the spine, and often tends to be particularly nasty. I believe this is why we are conditioned to believe that our necks are somehow weak and need support when sleeping. This couldn’t be further from truth. Your neck needs natural alignment and decompression just like the rest of your spine does, and you cannot achieve it when your neck is bent in an unnatural way on your triple soft pillow.

Sleeping on the floor or other hard surfaces is good for your posture

In about a week after you begin sleeping on the floor, you will notice your posture improve, your back straighten, your shoulders realign, and a lower tendency to stay hunched for a long time, even if your lifestyle otherwise didn’t change. Your body will slowly start to re-learn what it’s natural state is. Your muscles will work better because now they actually have time to relax during the night. Your joints won’t hurt allowing you more freedom of movement. You will feel more relaxed and at ease with your body, which will naturally translate into a better well-being and better posture throughout the day.

Sleeping on the floor in summertime is more beneficial than sleeping in bed.

For one, you are lower to the ground and this is where cooler layers of air tend to concentrate (warmer air goes up, colder stays down.) You will keep your body cooler throughout the night, which is especially important in hot climates. Better “climate control” will allow you a better rest and a more comfortable night.

Lower layers of air also tend to contain more oxygen and are more humid than higher levels, which is also beneficial for your circulatory system and ultimately all other systems of your body.

WHY THE BEST MATTRESS IS NO MATTRESS?

A mattress or any soft, uneven surface, will cause your hips and shoulders to sink in, creating unnatural curves and preventing the body’s natural alignment. This causes stiff muscles as your body cannot relax and so needs to put effort into keeping you in that unnatural position for hours during the night. Bad alignment causes pinched nerves and pain. Unnatural position leads to back compression (just like sitting in a chair all day does, so you don’t get a break from compression even at night!).

Back compression leads to contraction of the chest and collapsing of the lungs which makes them work less effectively. Your breath gets more shallow and short. You get less oxygen in your blood, plus your circulation is affected by your unnatural position and pinched blood vessels, so it’s a double whammy. You get worse blood flow and less oxygen to your brain and other systems which negatively affects not only your sleep but your health in general. You cannot fully relax as your body is trying to adapt to an unnatural position, and you wake up tired, groggy, and with back, neck and hip pain.

Sounds familiar?

If sleeping on the floor is so good and matresses are so bad, why do people still promote them as best for sleeping?

For one, because we’ve had mattresses for years now, and they are a part of our lives. For centuries mattresses and soft beds were a luxury of the rich – not because they are good for us, but because poor people simply could not afford them, and they became a status symbol. Then in the last century, mattresses became a commodity, and fluffy beds are still viewed as a necessary condition for good nights sleep. We are just conditioned to believe that. Plus, a big fluffy bed looks soft and cozy, which tricks our brains into thinking that it must be very comfortable. 

But it has never been proven that mattresses and soft beds are actually good for us. There is no research whatsoever that would state exactly which width or thickness of mattress is optimal, and which level of softness/hardness is best for your back. We are bombarded by advertising, presenting this or that mattress to be optimal, best supporting your back health, maintaining your body shape and other such statements, but they are all just that – advertising. Again, there is no scientifically stated criteria as to what makes a mattress good for you. Of course, mattress companies want to sell their product, so they will say anything that  will make their product look good. This is why we get ads that state that this or that mattress provides “perfect hardness” to support your back, and yet the mattress is up to a foot thick. Why can’t it be narrower? Why does it need all those springs in it, if the brand boasts the “hardness for better health”? Why, if hardness is desirable, it can’t just be a pad or a mat? Well, maybe because you won’t pay $2000 for a pad? (Wink, wink).

Memory foams and memory mattresses are another example of wild marketing operating on the basis of lie. They claim that this memory surface will “remember the shape of your body and maintain it during the night for better comfort.” What shape of your body?? Your body has just one proper, aligned shape – and it’s straight, the way it is when it’s relaxed on the hard, natural surface. It’s definitely not the shape your body is in when your hips and shoulders are sinking into a mattress and your back is bent in all the wrong places. Don’t believe advertising. Remember that those companies’ only goal is to sell you a product and they will say anything that gets them there. Instead, try out various approaches to sleeping for yourself, and see what works best for your health. I can pretty much guarantee it will not be a memory mattress.

WHAT TO SLEEP ON WHEN YOU SLEEP ON THE FLOOR?

So, since we are ditching the bed and mattress, what exactly will we sleep on? Don’t worry! You do have some options.

1. A rug

You can buy a small to medium-sized rug specifically to sleep on. Rugs are thick enough to preserve heat so you won’t be cold on the floor in winter. They are also provide a tiny bit of cushion against hard floor if that’s what you are seeking.

2.Tatami

Tatami mats are special flooring mats that have been used in Japanese homes for centuries. Traditionally, they were made of rush grass and rice and were a great natural solution to use as a mat/flooring or bedding system. Today, tatami is a popular solution for people that would like to transition to sleeping on the floor and aren’t afraid of hard surfaces! Tatamis are hard! They will provide your body with a great opportunity to relax and re-align and will give you a great night of sleep in Japanese style 🙂

Read more here about sleeping on tatami mats.

3. Yoga mats are not just for yoga!

A solid alternative to a tatami, albeit less fancy and stylish, could be a simple yoga mat. Try to get a new one on Amazon or your local store – I would not recommend sleeping on your used yoga mat! I would also recommend a mat made predominantly of natural materials as opposed to a fully synthetic one. Since you will be sleeping on this mat, it should be breathable and not collect moisture, otherwise it could get mouldy with time. A yoga mat will provide you with insulation from the floor and keep you warm, while still allowing you a good hard surface to sleep on.

4. A quilt or a blanket

If you don’t want to spend a lot of time and effort looking for a tatami, yoga mat or a special rug, you can simply use a quilt, a blanket or a duvet cover to put on the floor. Use some sheets on top of it and your super hard, super healthy bed is ready to use! Quilts and blankets are also very easy to wash and clean, and they are easily foldable if you want to put them away when you don’t need your bed.

HOW TO TRANSITION TO SLEEPING ON THE FLOOR

As I mentioned before, in my own story of transitioning to sleeping on the floor, it seems to be a gradual process. Granted it’s usually a short gradual process – in my case it only took three days. In your case it might take even less, or perhaps more – depending on the state of your back. My main advice here would be – take it slowly. You need to understand that your body has been conditioned to sleep on the soft surface of the bed or mattress for the past – 20? 30? 40? 50? 60 years?. Now you are trying to teach it something new – the way it was supposed to sleep all along. All systems of your body, particularly your muscles and bones and joints – have learnt to compensate to deal with your sleeping position in their own way. It will take some time for your body to learn the new position. You may feel sore after the first night. You might wake up with stiff hips or shoulders, or sore neck. That is OK. (Obviously as long as you can tolerate it. Disclaimer: I am in no way giving any medical advice here, and if you are aware of any medical condition you may have that may worsen from sleeping on hard surfaces, please don’t do it and consult your doctor first! )

You may want to start sleeping on the floor  gradually. For example, instead of trying to sleep on your tatami or yoga mat all night, first go and take a fifteen-minute nap on the floor. See how you do with that. Take the next nap on the floor too, and the one after that. Then try to sleep at least part of the night on the floor. If it doesn’t work out, or you can’t fall asleep, you can stick it out, or you can always just go to your regular bed and try again next night. No matter how slowly you ease yourself into it, I can pretty much guarantee that, one night, you won’t even notice you are sleeping on the floor. What you will notice is complete relaxation, lack of usual soreness and stiffness, a great quality of sleep and a much clearer head in the morning. Congratulations! You have just changed one of the longest-lasting bad health habits you’ ve probably had for decades into something that is going to change your life and health for the better!

Afterword.

Sleeping on the floor is really neither that revolutionary, nor complex. It’s what our ancestors have done for centuries, and what every single animal on the planet (apart from domesticated ones of course) still does.

If you follow the advice laid out in this article and on this website, you will very likely fall in love with sleeping on the floor. It really is very beneficial for your body, and you will see amazing results within a few weeks of adopting this new habit.

And it really isn’t that surprising. It’s natural to sleep that way, and everything that’s natural seems to be good for us. Exercising, breathing fresh air, being in nature, eating nutritious, natural foods, being around family – all of those things are very natural and very good for us. Wearing high-heels, sitting all day crouched at the computer, smoking and drinking alcohol are not natural, and not good for us. I don’t know about you, but I see solid logic here. Sleeping on hard surfaces is just one of the examples. Just because someone long time ago invented a bed doesn’t mean we were meant to sleep in them.

And again, think how many people have chronic back pain. I am not saying it’s just because of sleeping on soft unnatural surfaces. We do other things (like sedentary life style or lack of exercise), that certainly contribute to these issues. Unnatural sleeping is simply one of the contributing factors. We are just too human, and have too many bad human habits. But maybe we should be a little more like animals? They don’t have beds. They definitely don’t have memory mattresses! Animals sleep on the ground. Or rather, on hard surfaces. Sometimes they sleep in trees. That is also a hard surface. Most often, they sleep on the grass on the ground, whether it’s in some hole, a cave, a burrow or anywhere else protected. Animals don’t have Bed, Bath and Beyond and don’t buy mattresses on credit.

And guess what? Unless animals get sick or injured, or have a genetic condition, they usually don’t have sore backs 🙂

People are not supposed to have sore backs either. (Even though we are quite used to this condition as a species). Humans are supposed to be healthy and vibrant, and quality of sleep as well as how you sleep (and where) are all very important factors. Sleeping on the floor might not solve all of your problems, but I can promise it will solve some. Probably lots. You just have to try 😉

Note: I am not a doctor and do not have professional knowledge of medicine/health of various systems of the body. This article is based on online research combined with personal experience of myself and other people. I do not provide medical advice or any type of guarantee. I also care about your health safety. If you know of a reason that prohibits you from sleeping on the floor, please do not do it. If your doctor told you not to sleep on hard surfaces, please do not do it. (Unless you do your own research and understand the risks for your potential condition.)

 

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