It has been 3 years now since I started transitioning from sleeping on a mattress and pillow to a firmer bed on the floor. Although it didn’t take long (about a month) for me to start recognizing some personal benefits to my new sleeping arrangement, the passage of time has given me a better sense of what floor sleeping means for my body.
Why did I start sleeping on the floor in the first place? While it’s natural for us to seek out comfy, soft beds, it’s unnatural for us to be able to sleep on such a surface night after night. When humans lived in the wild, their sleeping surfaces would have changed as they moved from place to place. Furthermore, while I’m sure people sought out the cushiest spots to sleep, they would have had a hard time finding a bed as cloud-like as the modern mattress. For this reason, as human bones were evolving into what they are today, they would have done so with the experience of spending eight-ish hours (a third of one’s life!) on firm, uneven, and often changing sleeping surfaces. Some advances in technology since hunter-gatherer days have been very helpful, but some miss the fact that our physiology is designed to exist in a wild world.
Modern mattresses have a big emphasis on supporting the body. But just like we aren’t born needing arch support in our shoes, we aren’t born needing supports for our neck, back, and hips while we sleep. Because I spent my whole life until 3 years ago sleeping on a mattress, my bones and joints had grown used to being on padding. My neck, shoulders, and back were used to being held in place, cradled by the cushion of my bed. Sleeping on the floor was uncomfortable at first. The parts of my bones that rested on the floor had to grow denser to accommodate the greater pressure. My muscles felt a little achy because they were being put in different positions than they were used to. Over time, my body adjusted, and I could enjoy the benefits of relinquishing the so-called comfort of my mattress.
The first thing that I noticed was a decrease in headaches. I also no longer woke up with a “tweaked” neck from sleeping with it in a funky position. I had been searching fruitlessly for the right pillow that would allow my neck muscles to relax. It turns out the right pillow was no pillow. Another thing I noticed was that I had less early morning stiffness. The firmer bed was less comfortable. But what that really meant is that I had to change my position more often in order to stay comfortable. Cushioned beds and chairs allow us to remain still for longer than is healthy. Based on my experience, I think a healthy sleep involves sleeping in many different positions, and that a firmer bed allows us to explore greater ranges of motion while we sleep. One other benefit I’ll share is that sleeping on the floor has made co-sleeping with my baby very easy. Without pillows to get in the way and with no distance to fall if she rolls off, sharing my bed with my child has been a very rewarding and stress-free experience for me.
Lastly, why on the floor?
The reason my bed is on the floor is because of convenience and the added movement it takes for me to get down and up off the floor when I get into and out of bed. In the past, people sometimes raised their beds off the floor to be warmer and to avoid insects. My modern abode is pretty warm and insect free, so it isn’t necessary for me to put my bed on a raised platform. Another reason to get one’s bed off the floor is for air circulation. In order to air out the bottom of my bed, I hang it up during the day. This helps keep it clean and out of the way, and gives me another dynamic movement to do every day.
By sleeping on a thinner bed on the floor, I feel that I am better supporting the health of my body during the third of my life spent in bed. I recognize that the story of my body is different from yours. If you have slept with a certain amount of support for your neck or back for a long time, floor sleeping can sound like Forrest Gump’s leg braces falling off while he ran—scary and unrealistic! If you want to try changing what you sleep on, I suggest doing so in gradual steps, at the pace your body is ready for. Small changes in our environment can make a big difference to our bodies. I also welcome contacting me through my website with questions!