You may already have heard about the benefits of sleeping on the floor. Often it’s claimed that sleeping on the floor is also good for curing insomnia. Many people who sleep on the floor say that they toss and turn less, contributing to better sleep. But is that really the case?
This blog post will discuss five steps if sleeping on the floor is suitable for insomnia and how to get a safe start to try it.
Why floor sleeping is an experiment
Sleeping on the floor is not a new invention, nor is it entirely uncommon. Our ancestors slept on the floor, and in many cultures around the world, it is still completely normal to sleep on the floor, either directly on the floor or on soft materials.
Although there is a long history of sleeping on the floor, there is very little scientific research on the advantages and disadvantages. So if we want to look at whether sleeping on the floor improves your sleep quality, we have to rely mostly on anecdotal reports and theories from people who have experimented with it.
Step 1: Find out what’s the root cause of your insomnia
The question of whether sleeping on the floor can solve your sleep problems depends first on what the root cause of your insomnia is.
Generally, there are two types of insomnia – primary and secondary insomnia. Primary insomnia, also known as psychophysiological insomnia, is the most common type. It’s called primary insomnia because your sleep problem is the primary medical condition that is not related to any other health problem.
Primary insomnia and sleeping on the floor
Psychophysiological insomnia (psychology – the mind) involves the interaction between your feelings, behaviors, and thoughts and your body systems such as those of the heart, lungs, brain, and nervous system (physiology of the body).
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It usually begins as a response to stressful events or traumatic life experiences. This then becomes a more chronic condition due to negative conditioning. The stressful event triggering the sleeplessness can be, for example, a job interview or a forthcoming exam. It could also be a life-changing experience such as a family tragedy or a relationship breakup.
If you belong to this group, floor sleeping will not help you much to cure your insomnia because if your sleep problem is psychological, you will also need a psychological approach to fix it.
Secondary insomnia and sleeping on the floor
It can be different if you have secondary insomnia. Secondary insomnia is when your sleep disorder is a symptom or a side effect of something else like physical health problems such as chronic pain such as back pain, sore muscles or joints.
If this concerns you, you may have asked yourself if you are using the wrong mattress. Especially if it’s back pain that keeps you from a restful sleep, the mattress is usually singled out as the culprit. That may well be the case, but before you buy an expensive new mattress, it might be worth trying out whether sleeping without a mattress on the floor can alleviate the pain and thus improve your sleep.
Floor sleeping may reduce lower back pain
One of the most commonly reported benefits of people who have chosen to sleep on the floor is that it can reduce lower back pain. Even though this benefit is not scientifically proven, the fact that a soft mattress doesn’t offer much support may justify it. A mattress makes your body sink down, which curves your spine and can lead to back pain. When sleeping on a flat hard surface like the floor, your back is in a neutral position, which helps your spine realign itself.
However, this may be different for your joints. With time sleeping on a hard surface compresses your joints, especially if you always sleep in the same position. A hard floor doesn’t give, which means all the bodyweight is on the contact points, resulting in limb and muscle pain and sore joints. As a result, some people report that sleeping on the floor may alleviate back problems in the short term but can affect their joints in the long term.
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On the other hand, physical therapist Michael Tetley says that certain sleeping positions on the floor can significantly reduce back pain and joint pain, and stiffness.
I know, it’s all a bit conflicting. There are pros and cons to each aspect, so the only way to find out if sleeping on the floor will relieve your pain and thus improve your sleep is by trying it out for yourself – provided that you’re physically able to do so.
Step 2: Are you physically able to sleep on the floor?
Experimenting with sleeping on the floor is not a good idea for everyone. If one or more of the following apply to you, you should either avoid it altogether or at least be very careful about trying it. If in doubt, talk to your doctor or health care professional before proceeding. This is especially important if you have skeletal or muscular problems.
- Age – Older people shouldn’t sleep on the floor. The loss of muscle and fat and thinner skin means they are prone to bruising and pressure points from a hard sleeping surface. Joints also become vulnerable, increasing the risk of serious injury from sustained pressure.
- Mobility – If you have trouble sitting comfortably on the floor and getting up without assistance, you should be cautious about floor sleeping. Falls can be dangerous for people of all ages, and being trapped on the floor and unable to get up is a scary idea.
- Cold – Cold drafts typically collect on the floor, while warm air rises to the ceiling. Uncarpeted floors, in particular, can get uncomfortably cold. In the summer or if you live in an area with a hot climate, this can be a blessing, but not in the winter or a colder place. Also, door gaps often create drafts. There is a higher risk that you will catch a cold. If you still want to try sleeping on the floor, consider a thicker comforter, put on warm fleece pajamas, and use appropriate padding.
- Allergies – More dirt, dust, and skin cells collect on the floor than in other areas of your home. If you are prone to allergic reactions or have respiratory problems, floor sleeping is not recommended. Allergy sufferers who sleep on the floor may experience a runny nose, itchy eyes and throat, coughing, and breathing problems.
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- Lack of comfort – Isn’t it comfortable to hang out on a bed and watch a TV show? Creating the same level of comfort on the floor by adding plenty of padding and cushions (and basically replicating your mattress) takes away the benefits of floor sleeping. If it’s comfort what you’re after, stay in your bed.
- Lack of intimacy – Do you have a bed partner? Will he or she go along with the experiment, or will you sleep separately, and what will that mean for your relationship? If your partner disagrees with the floor sleeping idea, it can lead to conflict and eventually a lack of intimacy.
Step 3: Getting prepared
If your insomnia is caused by pain, such as back pain, and you feel physically fit to attempt sleeping on the floor, it’s time to get prepared.
The right surface
Sleeping on the floor doesn’t have to mean sleeping directly on the floor (and is not recommended, especially in the beginning). Japanese, often cited as a shining example of floor sleeping, sleep on a futon (albeit a thin one), which is usually on comfortable tatami bast mats that give.
You can use different materials to make the surface a little softer. You probably won’t have a tatami mat available, but a backpacking air mattress or a massage or yoga mat can be a suitable surface for your base.
If there is no carpet available, use multiple layers. Place an additional blanket or sleeping bag under your mat. By mixing and matching different layers according to your preferences, the surface becomes softer and better insulated. What you’re looking for is a surface that is harder than you’re used to but still not immediately uncomfortable.
As for the pillow, keep it simple. It’s best to use a thin pillow that raises your head only slightly and keeps your spine and neck in straight alignment. You can also use a second pillow to place under your knees if you are a back sleeper, or between your knees, if you sleep on your side.
Is sleeping on the floor with a mattress a good alternative?
Some people who don’t feel comfortable sleeping directly on the floor place their bed mattress on the floor. Sleeping on the floor with a mattress provides more cushioning and seems more comfortable at first because you lie higher off the ground and are further away from the dust on the floor.
However, placing the mattress directly on the floor is usually a bad idea. A mattress on the floor is more prone to sagging, excessive wear, and bed bugs. It will not be adequately ventilated as it would be if it were on a bed.
The mattress retains heat and sweat, becoming a hotspot for mold and mildew. Mold and mildew are not only unsanitary, but they also trigger allergies. If mold has accumulated in your mattress, you will most likely need to get rid of it.
This is also why using a mattress on the floor voids many mattress warranties, and many companies require that the mattress be used only on a bed.
The right sleeping position
Let’s get this straight: if you are a side or combination sleeper, sleeping on the floor will be more challenging for you than for back or stomach sleepers. Hard surfaces, such as hard flooring, can cause poorer spinal alignment and pressure buildup on side sleepers’ hips and shoulders, creating additional pain.
However, you can avoid this by ensuring that your neck is really in line with your spine when you side-sleep. You can use a thin pillow or even your arms for this. Additionally, place a pillow between your knees.
If you sleep on your stomach, make sure that the pillow is not too high, or sleep without a pillow to avoid neck pain. By extending your elbows and sleeping on your forearms as if on a pillow, your spine can easily correct itself.
If you’re lying on your back, rest your knees on a second pillow for extra support. You can also place a pillow under your lower back, especially if you have lower back pain.
Step 4: Starting the sleeping on the floor experiment
You must expect that the first nights will be uncomfortable, and your sleep may deteriorate at first, with a lot of tossing and turning. You will probably have difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. Your body may even ache more than before while it gets used to the new surface.
It may also be that you wake up in the morning with a hurting back, neck, shoulder, and feeling exhausted. So don’t go into the trial expecting to sleep better right away; otherwise, you’ll quickly get discouraged about the whole thing. To make an informed decision about whether floor sleeping can positively affect your sleep, you should give yourself at least 3 to 4 weeks.
Take a gradual approach to floor sleeping
The important thing is to make the change a little at a time to get used to the floor. Try it out with a short nap first instead of jumping right into a full night’s rest. Another option is to set your alarm for 2 or 3 hours and then return to bed. Over time, you can increase the amount of time you sleep on the floor.
Some also advise the opposite way – sleep in bed first, then set your alarm a few hours before you usually get up to sleep on the floor for the few remaining hours. You add more floor sleeping hours each night until you get used to a full night on the floor.
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However, if you have sleep problems, you should be careful with this approach because it’s challenging to fall back asleep in the early morning hours. The frustration of not falling back asleep leads to unnecessary stress and additional lack of sleep.
How does sleeping on the floor affect sleep apnea?
Even though the surface has little effect on what your airways do during the night, sleeping on the floor is not recommended for a medical condition like sleep apnea. It’s better to consider getting a sleep wedge pillow (a type of ramp made of foam) or even an adjustable bed.
For some people, apnea can be relieved if they have the head end of their bed slightly elevated. One study found that a slight 7.5° degree of head-of-bed elevation could reduce OSA severity by an average of 31.8% in people with predominantly mild to moderate OSA.
If you have secondary insomnia and your sleep problems are caused by back pain, sleeping on the floor may eventually help relieve back pain, as a firmer surface helps keep your spine and back in a neutral position.
However, there are pros and cons to this type of sleeping. For some people, it’s better than for others. If you are interested in trying out sleeping on the floor, make sure you are physically able to do so. It’s definitely not ideal if you have a chronic condition or have limited mobility. Consult your doctor to determine if it’s safe for you.
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If you’ve never slept on the floor before, the transition may be a little uncomfortable. Give yourself time to get used to the floor and see if it’s a viable longer-term option and really helps with the pain.
While it doesn’t mean you’ll never sleep in a bed again, going back and forth isn’t the right approach if you’re having trouble sleeping. A consistent sleep schedule is crucial when you want to improve your sleep. So give floor sleeping some time, and if you find that it’s not working for you, stop the experiment. You may then want to consider a firmer mattress to help relieve your back pain.