After a long day of traveling to visit family for the holidays, there’s nothing better than plopping down on a soft, cushiony bed. But this time, you put your bags down in the guest bedroom only to discover — oh no! — the air mattress they set up for you must have sprung a leak, and it’s totally deflated. What are you supposed to do — sleep on the floor? As it turns out, you might actually want to. Floor sleeping has benefits for your health, and some cultures have been practicing it for centuries. Learn more about sleeping on the floor and how this habit can help you below.
What cultures practice modern day floor-sleeping?
Humans have been sleeping on the ground since the dawn of time, and several modern cultures continue to do so. In Japan, it’s more popular to sleep on the floor than it is to slumber in a Western-style, off-ground mattress. That said, these aren’t the cold, hard, wooden floors you might be imagining. Rather, they’re tatami mats, which are large, thin mats made of rice straw that can be rolled out for sleeping and rolled up for storage. Japanese futons — floor cushions that are rolled up and stored during the day, and set back up at night for sleeping — are laid on top of the mats. Lighter futons are used in the summer; heavier ones in the winter.
Why do Japanese people sleep on the floor? Yes, they have a commitment to tradition, but floor-sleeping also has several benefits. And their health opinions are worth heeding — Japan is consistently ranked one of the healthiest countries in the world, with the longest life expectancies.
Why should I sleep on the floor?
Now that you know millions of people choose to sleep on the floor every night, it doesn’t sound so absurd, does it? We’re not saying you should throw out your mattress — but there are some good reasons to give sleeping on the floor a shot. Not only does it save space (especially if you use a rollable futon as in Japan), but it can also alleviate some uncomfortable health woes.
It could soothe back pain.
If you have back pain, you’re far from alone. According to research from Georgetown University, 16 million adults (8 percent of all adults) suffer from some degree of back pain on a regular basis, which leads them to be less active and more unhappy overall. And if you experience worse back pain in the morning, have on old mattress, or have trouble getting comfortable at night, your bed could be part of your problem. Since you spend about half your life in bed, it’s worth getting something that works for you. You might think that when it comes to back pain, the softer the mattress the better — but studies show that a medium-firm sleeping surface resulted in the least amount of discomfort for back pain sufferers. So take a few cushions to the floor the next time your back pain is keeping you up at night.
It keeps you cool.
There’s nothing worse than waking up feeling hot and sweaty with your once-soft, dry pajamas sticking to your skin and making you clammy and uncomfortable. To top it off, your sweat-slicked skin ends up making you too cold to sleep outside the covers, leaving you with no happy medium and a bad night of rest. Many women lose sleep due to menopausal hot flashes, and when bundled up on a soft, heat-retaining mattress, it’s easy to see why. Good news: because heat rises, sleeping on the floor is a lot cooler. Aside from keeping hot flashes at bay, a cooler sleeping environment leads to better sleep, says science.
It can improve mobility and longevity.
Flopping into bed at the end of a long day doesn’t require much effort. But the kneeling down and standing up that floor sleeping requires could help to keep your joints stronger and more limber. It might not seem like a significant amount of exercise, but repeating these movements on a regular basis — every time you go to or get out of bed — adds up. And according to a 2014 Brazilian study, your ability to rise from a seated position on the floor without using your hands or knees is a good predictor of longevity.
How can I start sleeping comfortably on the floor?
Before you start changing your entire sleep routine, keep in mind that science hasn’t unequivocally declared sleeping on the floor a better option. The Sleep Foundation notes that it could actually increase back pain in some people, as well as lead to allergen exposure. And if you have mobility issues, sleeping on the floor may not be your safest bet However, if you think the benefits to you would outweigh any potential risks, The Sleep Foundation offers several tips for getting started.
Be thoughtful about your bed.
From cushions and mattresses made to be put directly on the floor to simple roll-out mats, there are several options for floor-sleeping “beds.” Take your preferences into account: Do you want extra support? Do you want your floor bed to be easily stored and put away during the day? If you sleep in a certain position, will you need extra pillows to be more comfortable? Because it’s cooler, will you need extra blankets? There are a lot of factors to consider. If you want to go traditional, check out this Japanese sleeping futon (Buy from Amazon, $175).
Keep the floor clean.
Since moving from a lifted, Western bed to sleeping on the floor is quite the mental and physical change, you want to make sure it’s at least as clean as possible for optimal comfort while you adjust. Plus, keeping the floor clean helps you avoid allergens that are tracked in on your feet. You’ll also want to make sure the area is clear of any items you might bump into during the night.
Dip your toes in the water before diving in.
Before making floor-sleeping a routine, test-drive it with a nap, or even try it for a week and see how you feel. There’s no shame in going back to the old way if you find you don’t enjoy sleeping on the floor. Did reading this make you sleepy? If so, make sure you grab a cushion before you hit the hay … or floor.
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This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.