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Sleeping On The Floor: Good Or Bad Idea?

We spend so much time looking for the perfect bed, the perfect mattress, pillows, and all the other sleep accessories when there are people simply sleeping on the floor.

For us in Western society, sleeping on the floor is something we seldom consider, while people in other countries find it completely normal.

Traditionally, people have been sleeping on the floor for hundreds of years, so what is it that has changed.

Why did we transfer to sleeping in beds, on mattresses? Maybe comfort is the primary reason, or maybe the need to have your own clean and private sleeping environment.

Either way, if we had the option, could we go back to sleeping on the floor? If you’re considering this idea as well, here’s a little insight into why that idea might be good or bad for you.

The History Of Floor Sleeping

Before we get into the pros and cons of sleeping on the floor, let’s take a quick look at how our predecessors slept.

It is believed that indigenous and nomadic people slept on the floor for several reasons.

indigenous and nomadic people

Terry Cralle, RN

For example, some historic findings show that people usually mimicked how other, non-human primates slept. Animals slept on the ground, or on the ground where they could be in control, look out for danger, and have a quick route to run away.

Moreover, sleeping on the ground made sure they minimize heat loss, or if the weather is hot, the ground would regulate their body temperature, keeping them cool.

That’s exactly how indigenous and nomadic people slept; they usually used their arms as pillows, since they really had no cushions, but later got to make pillow-like units from plants and other things they could find in nature.

Later, people used plants to make beds, or at least something that would protect them from direct exposure to the ground, insects, and other animals.

From there, people evolved their ‘sleeping on the ground’, and some cultures never really stopped practicing such sleeping.

Nowadays, sleeping on the floor is closely connected to anecdotal historic stories about how sleeping on the floor corrects posture, fixes back conditions, and is generally healthy for you.

The Effects Of Floor Sleeping

Neutral Sleeping Position

One of the most frequent arguments in regards to floor sleeping is the fact that it regulates our sleeping position. Sleeping on the floor simply forces your body to sleep in a neutral position, or at least doesn’t allow you to sleep otherwise, as you might be in pain.

Moreover, floor sleeping is believed to promote proper spine alignment, which is closely related to having less health- and back-related concerns and conditions.

When you sleep on the floor, the body manages to position itself properly; for example, your back, ribcage, hips and other parts of the body assimilate to the straightness and hardness of the floor very quickly, and the only way to do it is to maintain a neutral sleeping position. That is why some people argue that floor sleeping can correct malfunctioning joints and muscles, as well as one’s posture.

Pain Relief

Even though floor sleeping isn’t associated with a painless sleeping experience, many people would state the contrary. Because your body is in a neutral position, floor sleeping provides pressure relief when it comes to the pressure points of the body.

So, no matter how you sleep on the floor, every position will be neutral since the body has to adapt to the sleeping surface, and not the other way around.

Mattresses, for example, are made to deal with your pressure points and relieve pain by adjusting to your body and sleeping position. The floor can’t do that, so your body has to neutralize each position and assimilate entirely on its own.

Back Pain Relief

Almost every person nowadays can say to have experienced some sort of back pain. We’re always trying to find that one perfect mattress that will take the back pain away, but it seems that we’ve all been dealing with this problem wrongly.

Even though it is not scientifically proven, many believe that the best cure for back pain is floor sleeping. The reason must surely be in the fact that floor sleeping ensures a neutral sleeping position and relieves pressure point pain.

Howeverdoctors and medical professionals do not advise people with back pain to sleep on the floor, at least not regularly.

Instead, people with such conditions should opt to sleep on a medium-firm to firm mattresses, which mimic the floor sleeping experience but also provide support and comfort where it is necessary.

Possible Help With Sciatica

Sciatica is a back condition caused by the sciatic nerve. The nerve runs in the lower back area, usually affecting the lower back, hips, buttocks, and legs. Sciatica is caused by herniated discs that affect the sciatic nerve and can cause terrible pain, as well as the inability to sleep properly.

One of the recommended treatments for sciatica include sleeping on hard or firm surfaces. Many people argue that floor sleeping can help with sciatica; it can relieve pressure and help the body find a proper, pain-free sleeping position.

However, there isn’t enough research and study to prove floor sleeping is proper sciatic treatment. That is why we said previously that floor sleeping benefits are often anecdotal.

So, if you do have sciatica and want to see if floor sleeping can be of any help, make sure to consult with a medical professional for more info and advice.

More: The Best (And The Worst) Sleeping Positions for Sciatica

Free Movement

Some people argue that sleeping on a mattress prevents our movement in sleep. This movement is, however, very important for the way our body functions while we’re asleep; movement ensures that our muscles stay flexible, or that we’re able to find a good sleeping position even when we’re not aware of it.

But, it seems that floor sleeping ensures that we move freely in our sleep. This is seemingly very helpful to some people; it provides them with a sense of freedom and ability to sleep however they want.

Nevertheless, this has no proof in the scientific or medical world and is yet to be researched. But, since it is helping so many people, there ought to be some truth to it, probably.

Negative Effects Of Floor Sleeping

Increased Body Or Back Pain

Now, here’s an example of why the floor sleeping debate is rather complicated. We’ve mentioned before that floor sleeping relieves pain, in the back and rest of the body, and now we’re stating the complete opposite. That is because there is no enough study to prove the claims, and the benefits are often anecdotal.

Increased Body Or Back Pain

Image Source: Terry Cralle

However, there is proof that sleeping on firm or hard surfaces can cause or worsen back and body pain.

Note: A study conducted in 2003 shows that sleeping on firm surfaces, like firm mattresses, can worsen pain among patients with chronic, or non-specific back pain issues.

The study also shows that patients experienced the least pain while sleeping on medium-firm surfaces and mattresses. Sure, the study was conducted in 2003, and by now would be considered outdated.

This simply shows that there isn’t enough study regarding this topic, and it can be hard not to be conflicting or feel confused.

Hypothermic Effect

People are often advised to sleep in cooler rooms or cooler mattresses because low temperatures help sleep onset and ensure better sleep quality.

Now, sleeping on the floor might be effective if you want to sleep on a colder surface; the heat rises from the floor into the rest of the room, leaving the floor cooler. And, sure, this can be very nice during the hot, summer nights.

However, sleeping on the floor can also have a hypothermic effect on your body, because it rapidly reduces your body heat. It can make you feel colder than you are, and make it hard for you to warm up. So, the floor sleeping during cold months can be very uncomfortable.

Hypothermic Effect

Terry Cralle,RN

Allergies And Allergic Reactions

It is safe to say that the floors in your home are the dirtiest surfaces. You walk around in your shoes, carrying all kinds of allergy-inducing particles on them. Even your rugs are dirty, no matter how often you clean them.

They often collect and trap allergens (like dust, mold, dust mites), which can enter your airway and cause allergic reactions, or even cause allergic reactions when in contact with your skin.

Such reactions often result in a runny nose, irritated eyes, coughing, sneezing, breathing troubles, etc. So, if you’re prone to allergic reactions, or you’re allergic to any of the aforementioned allergens, then you should avoid sleeping on the floor.

Allergies And Allergic Reactions

Image Source: Terry Cralle, RN

So, Is Floor Sleeping Good?

First of all, it is important to mention that there aren’t enough studies proving that floor sleeping is good for people, especially those with back pain and bak conditions.

Floor sleeping benefits are anecdotal, but some of them do make sense and could be potentially scientifically proven. Furthermore, each person requires a different sleeping surface or sleep accessories.

So, sleeping on the floor might be rather comfortable for some, while extremely uncomfortable for other people.

It is also important to mention that even though it is said that floor sleeping helps with joint and muscle pain, it can also simultaneously cause that pain.

That is the deal with floor sleeping; everything that it can help you with, floor sleeping can also cause it, whether it is back pain, muscle and joint pain, bad posture, discomfort, etc.

Because there is a lack of research and evidence, we can only say that everyone simply tries sleeping on the floor and see for themselves. If it feels good, then sure, go for it and replace your mattress with a floor-sleeping mat, sleeping pad, or similar floor sleeping surfaces.

However, if you feel discomfort and you start feeling pain, then floor sleeping is definitely not for you.

We also have to point out the importance of discussing floor sleeping with your doctor or medical professional before you embark on this journey. This especially applies to people with back conditions like sciatica, fibromyalgia, scoliosis, etc.

Who Shouldn’t Sleep On The Floor At All?

  • Elderly – elderly people are known to have weaker bones, thinner skin, and less muscle and fat. This makes them susceptible to all kinds of injuries, bruising, and pressure sores. Because their joints are weak and vulnerable, elderly people can experience serious injuries even when sleeping on the floor.
  • People who struggle with movement – if someone cannot sit and stand up without any form of aid, then they shouldn’t be sleeping on the floor. They can fall, injure themselves, and even feel trapped when sleeping on the floor because they experience movement limitations. Regardless of age, people who struggle with movement need to sleep on surfaces where they can comfortably get up, minimizing their need for aid.
  • Cold sleepers – since sleeping on the floor can have a hypothermic effect (especially during winter), cold sleepers should avoid sleeping on the floor. Since the heat rises from the floor into the rest of the room, the floor always remains cold. This means that it will also make you cold and unable to warm up. For that reason, unless you have heated floors or appropriate heating pads or mats, sleeping on the floor is a no-no for cold sleepers.
  • People with skeletal and muscular problems – people who have any form of medical issue regarding their bones, joints, and muscles should avoid sleeping on the floor. Floor sleeping can worsen or even cause pain, so it is better to stay away from hard surfaces like floors. Instead, people should opt for medium-firm surfaces or mattresses that can cradle their bodies and provide gentle support to the suffering body areas.
  • Pregnant women – even though many pregnant women say to feel most comfortable sleeping on the floor, it is important to bear in mind that you still have to get down on the floor and get up from it. This can be a rather challenging task for a pregnant woman, especially if there’s no one around to help her. So, we advise that, unless there is no one to help, pregnant women should avoid sleeping on the floor.

Final Words

Sure, there may be advantages to sleeping on the floor; some people state that floor sleeping has helped them treat some of the most persistent back pain and back conditions.

However, because there isn’t scientific evidence, and because the disadvantages are more believable than the advantages, we recommend you still reconsider your decision. Floor sleeping needs to be discussed with a specialist, doctor, or a medical professional, especially when it comes to people with serious back conditions.

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Wednesday 25th of August 2021

It's irresponsible, in my opinion, to tell people to try it and say if they have pain it's not for them. You don't just tell someone who has never driven to give it a whirl and then tell them it's not for them when they crash. The body didn't get into the condition it is in, that causes people to research floor sleeping, overnight. It most be gradually trained.