Should you sleep on the floor… or is it officially too bad for your back?
There have been a number of stories online recently about how sleeping on the floor is actually better for you than sleeping on a soft bed.
The stories usually sound something like this.
Our ancestors slept on the ground for millenia. They didn’t have soft, comfortable beds.
As a result, they were stronger, and their backs were healthier.
Try sleeping on the floor for better back health!
But is this true? Or is it just another thing that someone came up with to try to create some hype?
Is this really a path to better sleep and back health, or is it just trendy social media clickbait?
In this post, we are going to explore the truth.
Is it good or bad to sleep on the floor?
Let’s dive in!
What Will I Learn?
- 1 Is It Healthier to Sleep on the Floor?
- 2 Indicators of Quality Sleep
- 3 Does Sleeping on the Floor Straighten Your Back?
- 4 How to Sleep on the Floor Properly
- 5 Is There Any Scientific Evidence That Sleeping on the Floor Is Bad for You?
- 6 Is It Ok to Sleep on the Floor?
- 7 Our Experience With Sleeping on the Floor
- 8 Reasons for Why Sleeping on the Floor Might Be Bad for You in Some Cases
- 9 Sleeping on the Floor on Your Side
- 10 The Final Verdict: Should You Sleep on a Bed, or on the Floor?
Is It Healthier to Sleep on the Floor?
This trend is actually really popular with the paleo-diet crowd.
Well.. it is popular with some of them.
Along with eating the diet a caveman would have eaten, some paleo-diet enthusiasts also believe that sleeping like the cave-men would have slept is also good for your back.
People who believe in this trend believe that…
- It helps to correct posture
- It gets more comfortable when you get used to it
- It improves circulation
- It helps you to sleep deeper
- It eliminates random aches and pains associated with mattress sleeping
But is it true? Does sleeping on the floor actually accomplish all of this?
Well, that’s a tougher question.
The Truth About Sleeping on the Floor
As it turns out, there is a lot of disagreement about this.
A simple Google search on the topic reveals articles in support of both sides of the discussion.
On one hand, you have people claiming that sleeping on the floor is more natural… and that soft mattresses are actually not providing the kind of support we need for proper back, bone, and joint health.
But there are also people who claim that the only reason sleeping on a mattress would be damaging is if we did it the wrong way, or chose a mattress that was simply low in quality.
The proponents of mattress sleeping maintain that as long as you sleep in the correct posture, on the correct mattress… sleeping on the mattress is by far the superior option.
But what does the science say?
And what do people ‘in the trenches’ have to say about this?
Here at Dawn Study, we always want to try to get to the bottom of important conversations like this… so we actually tested it out ourselves.
Obviously, this doesn’t qualify as a scientific study. But one member of our team spent an entire year sleeping on the floor on yoga pads.
So we will also cover that in this article as well.
But for now, let’s get to the good stuff.
Indicators of Quality Sleep
One difficult part of this discussion is how to measure quality sleep.
How do you know which one is better?
Well, you obviously want to sleep better, right?
That’s the whole goal!
But what do you specifically look at to measure whether or not a particular night’s rest was ‘good?’
Do you look at joint pain? Do you look at how much energy you have the next day? Do you look at how good or bad your back feels?
Well, the National Sleep Foundation has actually released a list of four indicators of good sleep quality.
These indicators were established by a panel of experts, and are agreed upon as being key determinants of quality sleep.
In other words… if all four of these key indicators are present, then the night’s sleep was likely to have been ‘high in quality.’
Here are the four key sleep indicators.
- Sleeping for at least 85% of the total time you spent in bed (or on the floor… wherever you were sleeping)
- Being able to fall asleep within 30 minutes or less of laying down
- Not waking up more than once per night during sleep
- And spending no more than 20 minutes awake for the duration of your rest period after you initially fall asleep
But these indicators are not just endorsed by the National Sleep Foundation, either.
They are also endorsed by a number of other prestigious organizations, associations, and groups… including:
- The American Association of Anatomists
- The American Academy of Neurology
- The American Physiological Society
- The Gerontological Society of American
- The Human Anatomy and Physiology Society
- The Society for Research on Biological Rhythms
… and more.
So, when we look at these indicators, we can pretty much see what is required for a good night’s sleep, and then compare that to the ‘normal results’ people usually get from sleeping on a mattress… and then compare that to the experience most people have sleeping on the floor.
This might help us on an individual basis, because it gives us a metric by which we can measure the results for ourselves… but it still doesn’t necessarily answer the question.
Thankfully, however, there is a bit more science to look into.
Does Sleeping on the Floor Straighten Your Back?
As it turns out, this topic has been fairly well researched by some people. And one such researcher who has done quite a bit of work in this regard is a woman named Katy Bowman.
Bowman is “an internationally recognized biomechanist, author, and science communicator.”
She has published several bestselling books, has a website, and has dedicated her life to the science of human body movement.
And as it turns out, she has some rather strong opinions about the topic of sleeping on the floor.
In an article that was published on MensHealth.com, Bowman had this to say about sleeping on the floor.
“We live an over-cushioned life…” she is quoted as saying in the article. “We sit in chairs at work, on sofas in front of the T.V., and we sleep on thick mattresses at night.”
She goes on to explain that all of this cushioning actually does a few negative things.
For one, it makes us soft.
But it also tends to lock us into one place, prohibiting our bodies from moving freely during the night.
Bowman, who has reportedly been sleeping on the ground herself for over three years now, says that the aches and pains that most people wake up with are due to a lack of movement while they are sleeping.
How to Sleep on the Floor Properly
In the article, Bowman also says that switching immediately to the floor is not necessarily beneficial, or required.
You can transition to this point slowly, by going through a series of steps.
At every step, once you start sleeping soundly and getting comfortable with it, you can move on to the next step… and progress until you have achieved your objective.
Sleeping right on the floor!
Here are the steps she outlines.
- Switch to a different side of the bed every night
- Sleep in a different room every night (switch rooms and sleep in a different bed)
- Get rid of the extra foam padding and mattress toppers, and sleep right on the mattress
- Cushion up the floor, and sleep there
- Start minimizing cushioning, until you are pretty much sleeping directly on a blanket or sleeping bag on the floor
Obviously, these steps take time. In fact, people who have experimented with it say that you need to allow more than a week for some of the steps… as trying to move too quickly is just too much.
But… there have also been some good reports.
Is There Any Scientific Evidence That Sleeping on the Floor Is Bad for You?
According to an article published on Healthline.com, there “isn’t any scientific proof that floor-sleeping helps back pain.”
This same article also makes it a point to point out that scientists have not recommended ditching mattresses altogether.
There is, however, a bit of evidence to point toward the fact that a firmer sleeping surface does help to keep the spine straight.
Is It Ok to Sleep on the Floor?
There are actually quite a few reasons to at least test floor sleeping for yourself.
It does seem to promote better support for the spine… at least according to accounts from people who have tried it and liked it.
But there are also conflicting reports.
For example… some people complain that sleeping on the floor is simply too hard, and does not offer enough comfortability.
But do people say this only because they have grown so used to sleeping on a soft mattress that they are now unable to cope with a potentially ‘healthier’ habit of floor sleeping?
Our Experience With Sleeping on the Floor
One of our contributors actually spent an entire year sleeping on the floor!
He recorded some of his thoughts to give you a firsthand look at how this type of lifestyle might look to someone who is interested in trying it out.
Here’s a brief summary of his experiences over the course of the year, and what he ended up deciding was best for him.
“I started sleeping on the floor out of curiosity. It just always appealed to me.
I experimented with many different types of cushioning… but what I ended up settling on were two yoga mats, a quilt, and a sleeping bag. I would lay on top of these, and cover up with another quilt.
I also experimented with pillows. I found that two pillows worked best when I slept on my side, while a single pillow worked best while I was on my back.
This gave me just enough support, but also felt soft enough that I didn’t get uncomfortable.
When I tried to sleep with less padding (I tried sleeping on just two blankets for awhile), I would legitimately wake up at night because I couldn’t get comfortable.
I tried it for several weeks, and it just never worked out. It took adding the yoga mats to really make progress.
Once I got this nailed down, I slept that way regularly. I would literally set up this little ‘floor bed’ beside my real bed, and sleep on it… because I preferred it to sleeping on a mattress.
There was one time where I got really sick with a fever, though, and ended up moving into my bed… because I was especially sore, and laying on the floor felt especially hard.
During those nights, I chose my bed over the floor.
In the end, I never did go back to sleeping in a regular bed. I ended up getting rid of it when I moved, and bought myself a large, but very thin mattress for the floor instead.
I threw some throw pillows on it, piled three blankets on it, and turned it into the most comfortable thing I’ve ever slept on!
It is stiff enough to provide support, because the mattress is very thin. But it is also soft, and I keep plenty of throw pillows and blankets around to keep it comfortable.
Plus, it is much larger than my yoga-mat floor bed. With the yoga mats, I would have to be careful not to roll off and just lay on the floor. But this bed is much larger… almost king-sized.
When my friends try it out, they rave at how comfortable it is. I even have one friend who comes over just to nap on it when she’s having a really bad day!
To this day, that is the bed setup I use… and I cannot imagine going back to sleeping on a mattress.
A mattress is fine for a night or two… but every time I try to go back to sleeping on one full-time, my back and neck start to hurt when I wake up.”
Reasons for Why Sleeping on the Floor Might Be Bad for You in Some Cases
There are certainly some cases where sleeping on the floor just may not be a good idea. For example… people who suffer from disorders like scoliosis may find that sleeping on a hard floor is simply not comfortable.
Older adults may also find that sleeping on the floor becomes more problematic. Especially if they are overweight and prone to snoring.
As we age, our bones get weaker. We also tend to lose fatty tissue… which could cause sleeping on a hard floor to hurt even more than usual.
People who have problems with limited mobility or physical disabilities might also have a tougher time sleeping on the floor.
In all of these cases, it would seem that extra cushioning is almost always a good thing.
Sleeping on the Floor on Your Side
Sleeping on the floor on your side can be especially difficult, especially for your neck and legs.
It seems that people get the best results from this when they place a pillow between their knees, to keep their spine straight… and put an additional pillow under their head, so that their neck does not ‘hang down’ and get sore.
You can also use a body pillow to help keep your body straight while sleeping on your side while on the floor.
It really just depends on your body and on what feels good.
The Final Verdict: Should You Sleep on a Bed, or on the Floor?
At the end of the day, it really depends on what feels the best to you.
Some people love how their mattress feels… while others swear by sleeping on the floor.
Science seems to have very little to say about this topic in terms of specifics… and to be really honest, the most important metric is truly the quality of sleep you experience.
With that being said, it would seem that this is likely the best approach to finding the best, healthiest sleeping position for you.
Test a few different ways to sleep. Find the method of sleeping that gives you the highest quality sleep available, and sleep that way.
This could be on the floor. It could be on a bed. It could be with a softer or firmer mattress.
But another thing to keep in mind is that if you never try anything different, you’ll never find anything better!
We’ve heard floor-sleepers tell us that they never realized how uncomfortable their backs used to get after sleeping on a mattress until they tried sleeping on the floor.
Because if something happens often enough to be ‘normal’ to you, you are probably less prone to notice it.
This is why people who switch to the floor after sleeping in a bed for years might suddenly become aware of how sore they usually feel after sleeping in a bed.
Or… they might realize how comfortable they usually are, and how well they usually sleep when they compare their normal sleeping experience to an experiment on the floor.
One thing that is for sure, though, is this.
In the modern western world, far fewer people give sleeping on the floor a fair try.
Sure, it may not be for you. But if you don’t have any back or health problems keeping you from giving it a try… why not dip your toes in?
If going ‘all the way’ seems like too much, consider putting a piece of plywood under your mattress, or putting your mattress on the floor.
This offers more support than when your mattress is on your box spring. And while it may not necessarily be the same as if you were to sleep on the floor completely, it could still help you to experiment with a firmer sleeping surface, to see if such a thing might be right for you.