If you grew up in a Western country, sleeping likely involves a big comfy bed with pillows and blankets. Yet, in many cultures around the world, sleeping is associated with a hard floor.
It’s becoming more common in the United States, too. Some people say it helps their back pain, while others simply find it more comfortable.
The popularity of minimalist living has also inspired people to get rid of their beds and sleep on the floor.
To date, there aren’t any researched benefits of sleeping on the floor. The advantages have been purely anecdotal.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- potential benefits of sleeping on the floor
- side effects
- how to do it without hurting yourself
Does sleeping on the floor help back pain?
There isn’t scientific proof that floor-sleeping helps back pain. Yet, many people say it provides relief.
There’s some merit to the idea. A soft mattress doesn’t have a lot of support. It lets your body sink down, causing your spine to curve. This can lead to back pain.
In fact, if your mattress is too soft, Harvard Medical School recommends placing plywood under your mattress. The institution also suggests putting your mattress on the floor.
But scientists haven’t recommended ditching the mattress altogether.
While a firmer surface may ease back pain, it also depends on factors like:
- the cause of your pain
- sleeping position
The only proven benefits are linked to medium-firm surfaces.
In a 2015 article published in the journal Sleep Health, researchers reviewed 24 articles, looking for links between mattress types and sleep. They found that medium-firm mattresses are best for improving pain during sleep.
Does it treat sciatica?
Sciatica is pain that involves your sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back to your hips, buttocks, and each leg. It’s often caused by a bulging or herniated disc.
Like back pain, sciatica may be improved by sleeping on firmer mattresses. A softer surface can worsen sciatica because it rounds your back and stresses out your joints.
However, there’s no hard evidence that sleeping on the floor treats sciatica. The reported benefits are anecdotal. If you have sciatica, talk to a doctor or physical therapist before trying floor-sleeping.
Does it help your posture?
Another anecdotal benefit is improved posture.
Again, there’s some merit to the claim. Soft surfaces let your spine curve, while hard surfaces provide support. People say the firmness of the floor helps their spine stay straight.
But without any scientific proof, it’s best to be careful if you have spine problems. If you have poor posture, or a spinal disorder like scoliosis or kyphosis, ask a doctor if floor-sleeping is safe for you.
Though some people feel better after sleeping on the floor, there are also potential side effects.
Increased back pain
The claims about floor-sleeping and back pain are conflicting. While some say it reduces pain, others say it has the opposite effect. After all, the hard surface makes it difficult for your spine to maintain its natural curve.
In a 2003 study published in The Lancet, researchers found that firmer surfaces were associated with less benefits.
The study included 313 adults with chronic nonspecific low back pain. They were randomly assigned to two groups to sleep on a medium-firm or firm mattress for 90 days.
The group that slept on medium-firm mattresses reported less back pain compared to the group that slept on firm mattresses. This included pain in bed and during the day.
The study is outdated, but it suggests that firmer surfaces may be ineffective for relieving back pain. More research is needed to understand how floor- sleeping specifically affects back pain.
The floor usually has more dust and dirt compared to other surfaces around the home.
This is especially likely if you have carpet, which collects allergens like:
- dust mites
If you’re allergic to these substances, sleeping on the floor might cause:
- runny nose
- itchy, red eyes
- trouble breathing
Increased exposure to cold
Since heat rises, the floor is often cooler than the rest of the room. It might feel good to sleep on the floor during the summer months.
But during the winter, a cold floor can rapidly reduce your body heat, making you feel colder than usual.
Sleeping on the floor isn’t for everyone. It may not be safe for some individuals, including:
- Older adults. As we age, our bones become weaker, and we lose fatty issue. Sleeping on the floor may increase the risk of fractures or feeling too cold.
- People who are prone to feeling cold. Conditions like anemia, type 2 diabetes, and hypothyroidism can make you feel cold. Floor-sleeping can make you even colder, so it’s best to avoid it.
- People with limited mobility. If you have difficulty sitting on the floor or getting back up, sleep on a bed instead. You should also avoid floor-sleeping if you have joint issues like arthritis.
It’s generally considered safe to sleep on the floor while pregnant. Many pregnant people feel most comfortable when they sleep on the floor.
Do whatever feels good for you. But remember, you’ll have to get down on the floor and stand back up. If this feels uncomfortable, you may want to avoid floor-sleeping.
It’s also safe for babies to sleep on the floor, especially true if you want to co-sleep, which is discouraged in beds.
Co-sleeping in a bed increases the risk of:
- sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Soft surfaces, like pillows and blankets, also heighten the risk because they can block the baby’s airways.
But in cultures where floor-sleeping is common, co-sleeping is associated with lower rates of SIDS. In such cultures, people sleep on firm mats on the floor. Soft items aren’t used. The baby may also sleep on a separate mat.
Before floor-sleeping with your baby, talk to their pediatrician first.
If you’re interested in sleeping on the floor, follow this step-by-step guide to get started:
- Find a space on the floor that’s free of clutter.
- Place a blanket, mat, or sleeping bag on the floor. You can use multiple layers.
- Add a thin pillow. It’s not recommended to stack pillows, which can strain your neck.
- Lie down on the floor. Try lying on your back, on your side, and stomach. Experiment with different positions to see what feels best.
- If you’re on your back or stomach, put your knees on a second pillow for extra support. You can also put a pillow under your lower back when lying on your back. If you’re on your side, place a pillow in between your knees.
- Give yourself time to get used to the floor. Instead of diving into a full night, try a short nap first. Another option is to set your alarm for 2 or 3 hours, then return to bed. Over time, you can increase how long you sleep on the floor.
Floor-sleeping isn’t a new practice. In many cultures around the world, it’s customary to sleep on the floor. Some say it also helps back pain and posture, though the benefits haven’t been proven by science.
Floor-sleeping may not be ideal if you have a chronic condition or limited mobility. Your doctor can determine if it’s safe for you.