As the old Turkish proverb goes:
He who sleeps on the floor cannot fall out of bed.
We’ve all slept on the floor at some point in our lives, perhaps during a camping trip, an all-nighter at a friend’s dorm, or maybe just the simple family get-together in a small house.
And while the floor probably wasn’t your first choice in such occasions, many people these days are in fact, willingly choosing this firmer alternative. In fact, Japanese families have been doing it for centuries!
The reason is simple: it’s just plain practical.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the benefits of sleeping on the floor, the tried and true methods of making your transition as seamless as possible, and some things to consider before making the switch.
So let’s get to it!
Benefits to sleeping on the floor
It Makes the Room Multi-Purpose
It’s not by coincidence that Japanese families opt for the space-saving sleeping mat over the mattress. The fact is, when living in tight quarters, rolling up your bed and tucking it away in the closet is a huge advantage, freeing up what was once a sleeping quarters for use as a guest room, or an office space, or whatever other contrivance one can think of for their newfound space.
Sleeping on the floor is good for your back pain.
What’s more, is that westerners travelling to Japan partaking in floor sleeping report an increase in energy throughout the day, crediting the hard surface of the ground with a more restful sleep that had fewer interruptions. And those with back pain often report a noticeable improvement.
This is because hard surfaces naturally align the head, neck, and spine, allowing the body to make the most of its eight hours of rest and repair. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about a mattress, which gives under the weight of the body and throws skeletal alignment out of whack.
Yep, sleeping on the floor may be the very best thing you could do for your back pain and may even help improve your posture.It Improves Health and Energy Sleep research regarding “primitive” cultures who sleep on the ground without pillows suggests a correlation between natural, mattress-free sleep and the absence of musculoskeletal lesions.1
It Makes Cleaning and Organizing a Breeze!
By rolling up your sleeping mat and putting it away in the morning, you’re able to instil a sense of control over your space and you’re able to stay organized with greater ease.
Also, you very likely clean your floor more frequently than you clean your mattress. A plus for those with allergies who need to keep dust at a minimum. Throw in a hypoallergenic pillow and your allergy free sleep space is all set.
Making the Transition for the mattress to the floor
So you’re willing to give the floor a shot. Congratulations! You’ve made the right choice.
But now what?
Like any other habit, making the transition to a rigid sleeping surface can be difficult given the fact that most of us have developed our sleeping habits around a mattress for the entirety of our human existence.
Fortunately, our bodies are incredibly adaptable, and there are a number of simple methods one can use to make the transition from mattress to floor one of seamlessness and ease:
I suppose “sleeping on the floor” can be a bit of a misnomer.
While many people in fact do just this- sleep directly on the floor without any barrier between body and surface, one can still reap the benefits of mattress-free slumber by lying on a thin, cushioned mat.
Sleeping mats are extremely common in eastern cultures, and for good reason: they offer a common-ground between the mattress and floor, making them an excellent option for those seeking to trade their mattress for a firmer alternative.
The below listed are a few practical, health-conscious options.
Okay, so this one is like a cross between a mattress and a mat. Sitting up to a mere 8 inches off the floor, a futon pairs comfort with portability.
If you are looking for a slightly thicker sleeping surface than a mat then you really can’t go past a futon. Don’t be fooled by it’s soft, spongy looks, futons are firm. But that’s kinda the point. Of sleeping on the floor.
With some muscle, a futon neatly rolls up for easy storage. Because of the extra thickness, it is also the least portable floor sleeping option.
The Thai Massage Mat
Because the intent of these mats is to provide a surface for people undergoing a massage, they are inherently designed to provide a surface for those who choose to sleep on the floor.
These mats provide slight, cushioned comfort while still remaining firm enough to withstand “give” that would otherwise throw the spine into misalignment.
While some modern models are designed with a cotton make-up, traditional Thai mats are constructed with Kapok, a cotton-like fiber indigenous to Thailand, Malaysia, and India.
Note: These mats tend to be expensive, with the average price in the low-to-mid $200’s.
The Tatami Mat
These ancient multi-purpose mats date back to at least 712 A.D., where they are referenced in the oldest surviving Japanese book, “Record of Ancient Matters”.
Over time the word Tatami Mat’ has diluted to mean Japanese flooring or mattress. As a result you will find Tatami mats vary greatly in thickness, from super thin, to a thickness similar to that of the American futon mattress.
Composed of soft material ranging from rice straw, to wood-chip boards, to modern polystyrene foam, these mats are now sold as portable, foldable mattresses that can be easily stored away in a closet or packed for travel.
Thicker tatami mats are similar in appearance to the American futon, yet distinct in their gentle, yet firm composition. Some people refer to tatami mats as ‘Japanese futons’.
Their breathability makes them a joy for sleeping in warmer weather.
Note: While extremely practical and comfortable, these mats can be expensive, with prices hovering around the mid $200’s.
The Yoga Mat
Ahh, yes. The common yoga mat. You’ve probably seen these at your local gym; thin cushioned mats used for stretching and performing yoga poses.
But as you probably could have guessed, that’s not all they’re good for…
These mats also provide a great sleeping surface as their thermoplastic rubber composition keeps them firm enough to maintain alignment in the neck and spine while still providing ample cushion and insulation from the ground.
Cheap and compact, these mats are extremely portable and can fit inside most backpacks, making them ideal for camping and travel.
Note: Yoga mats range in price from $9.99 to upwards of $90 depending on material and design.
Sleeping straight on the floor, no padding
While these mats are perfect for blending the benefits of spinal alignment with the comfort of a mattress, for those intrepid few seeking the true minimalist route by literally sleeping right then and there on the ground without cushion, there’s another option.
Training your body to sleep comfortably in this manner will not only provide the health and organizational benefits listed above, but also allow you to nap anywhere anytime.
Airports, work breaks, the jungle, you name it!
All you need is an alarm clock.
The alarm clock method
This method relies on using the body’s middle-of-the-night grogginess to gradually wean the sleeper away from the mattress one hour at a time.
It’s also ridiculously simple:
Step 1: Set your Alarm Clock to Ring Two Hours Earlier
If you’re getting up for work at 7:00, set your alarm for 5:00.
When the alarm goes off, you’ll either be ready to start the day early, or so dead-tired that you’ll do anything to fall back asleep.
In any case, it’s a win-win.
If you’re still tired, use your exhaustion to your advantage by going back to sleep. On the floor, that is…
Odds are, your body will be too tired to argue with you and you’ll make the transition with ease, gaining two hours of healthy, properly-aligned slumber in the process.
And if you can’t fall back asleep?
Well then you’ve just added two hours to your day. Use them to pack an extra-special lunch for your kids. Or go for a jog. Heck, take a longer than usual shower while you’re at it. The world is your oyster!
Step 2: Subtract an Additional Two Hours
After a day or two of waking up at 5:00, set your for 3:00. Your body is going to be much more tired than it was waking up at 5:00, and you should have little trouble finding a comfortable position on the floor.
It’s during this stage that acclimation begins taking place. You’ve added four hours of sleeping in perfect alignment to your nightly routine, and by this point you’ll no doubt feel a boost in energy and a reduction in back pain during the day.
Step 3: Go Straight to the Floor
From here, you can either repeat the process of setting back your alarm, and moving to the floor midway through sleep, or you can just forget your mattress entirely. In any case, at this stage you’re already spending the majority of the night on the floor anyway, and it’s hardly a stretch to transition straight to the ground.
If you feel like you’re still not getting a full-night’s sleep using this method, here’s another technique you can try:
Layer up then layer down
If you’re having trouble adjusting to a change of surface midway through your sleep, it may be easier to simply reduce the amount of cushion you’re sleeping on at a gradual rate.
Using one of the sleeping mats listed above (or even a common sleeping bag) simply thicken your sleeping surface with a few layers of blanket, reducing thickness as needed.
Try sleeping on a mat with a two-blanket base for the first week, and then decrease to just one the following week, and so on…
Some find this method easier to work with as it doesn’t require waking up and moving around in the night.
Things to consider if you plan to sleep on the floor
Of course, sleeping on the floor isn’t without its cons, and there are a couple of key drawbacks to keep in mind when prepping for your transition:
Winter and Cold Floors
As a Minnesotan, I’d like to think I can handle the cold pretty well. However, as any other winter-faring northerner can attest, few things compare to the shock of walking barefoot across a hardwood floor in January. When winter rolls around, you’ll want to keep warm while you sleep.
Depending on where you’re located, you’ll need to invest in an insulated barrier such as a yoga or tatami mat to place between your body and the floor.
Another weapon in your fight against floor frost is the space heater. They’re great for providing localized warmth to a room and can safely operate at ground-level. And while we are on the subject, don’t sleep on the floor in front of your fireplace.It is quite a dangerous habit.
Note: Bamboo massage mats are renowned for their breathability. This is not a good choice for those sleeping on a cold surface.
Hard surfaces just aren’t as forgiving as a mattress when it comes to the rough and tumble of a good ol’ fashioned lovemaking session.
When weighing the pros and cons of sleeping on the floor, maintaining a quality sex life stands as the most common and understandable concern.
While some couples have credited this “drawback” as a blessing in disguise by allowing them to explore tantric sex, others find it easier to just give in and go back to the bed, if only for romantic occasions.
But if you’ve already parted ways with your bed for good, you can help to create a more forgiving surface for you and your partner by adding a few layers of blanket beneath your sleeping mat or sleeping surface.
What’s your take on firm-surfaced slumber? Has it improved the quality of your sleep? Share your sans-mattress stories in the comments below!