Sleeping on a mattress is a relatively new phenomenon though most of us have been doing it since we were born. One question most of us have never asked, though, is why do we sleep on mattresses? We all know that they’re comfortable, but are they really the best surface for us to rest our tired bodies on? This is a question I had never thought about until I starting looking into how our ancestors used to sleep. Research varies, but it seems that homo sapiens either slept in trees or on the ground. This led me to run an experiment on sleeping on the floor, which I have been doing every night for the past five weeks.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that people who live in the forests, or those from more primitive cultures, have fewer musculoskeletal issues than "civilized" people.
Here is what I’ve learned, and why I think you should consider sleeping on the floor:
1. Sleeping on the floor feels more natural.
Sleeping on the ground is something that our species has been doing since day one. In fact, a large segment of the population still sleeps on the ground. Yet, in today’s modern societies, we have abandoned the ground and instead have opted for super-soft mattresses. Although this unnatural surface feels good initially, it could lead to chronic health problems.
It’s not that sleeping on any mattress is bad for you; it’s sleeping on a mattress that dips in the middle (such as an old mattress) and chronically subjects your body to misaligned positions that’s the real problem. Over time your body will adapt to these misaligned positions, and, just like the effect of sitting in chairs, your body will begin to develop unhealthy curves and postures.
2. Sleeping on the ground is better for our bodies.
When we sleep on a firm, flat surface our body, and especially our spine, gets a chance to realign to its natural posture much more easily. When we don’t have a mattress hugging our body, far more spaces open up between us and the floor. On the floor you experience a vast increase in body awareness. When you can fully feel your entire body while you sleep, I believe you develop a stronger mind-body connection, which you miss out on when you sleep on a mattress.
3. Sleeping on the ground reduced stiffness in my body.
I had become so accustomed to waking up with mild stiffness that I didn’t even realize it was there until I started waking up without it. The reason this mild stiffness develops is because, as with sitting in a chair for too long, our bodies get into these slightly hunched positions while we sleep. These positions cause our muscles to tighten up and when we stand up straight in the mornings we feel stiff.
I do have to mention that for the first couple of nights, you may feel uncomfortable because there is a period when your body will be adapting to this new sleeping surface. You may even feel stiff when you wake up. I felt this way because I was stretching out the muscles that have become tight from years of sleeping on a mattress. However, after your body has adapted and your muscles have stretched out, you will wake up feeling amazing.
4. Beds have become a luxury.
Although I now prefer to sleep on the floor, I still enjoy napping and resting on a bed. The contrast between a floor and the bed makes lying on a mattress feel like a luxury. Something that I once completely took for granted has now become a surprisingly pleasant experience whenever I decide to rest on my mattress.
The only downside to sleeping on the floor is that sometimes the floor can be quite dirty and it also doesn’t look very appealing. The true transition would be to get a Japanese-style wooden futon bed that feels just like the floor but looks like a bed. That way you’ll be able to get the best of both worlds. As for my experiment, sleeping on the floor has been so beneficial that it is something I plan on doing indefinitely until I can finally make the transition to a wooden futon bed.