Updated 12th May 2022
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Foreword: I’ve been plagued with all sorts of joint problems and wasn’t able to run in my mid-twenties without significant pain. And in 2019, at 39, I ran my best marathon, so far, at 3:04. For me, floor sleeping is a crucial part of running and training relatively pain free. You can read about my marathon Personal Best here if you want to.
I started doing this a few years back on account of suffering a neck injury. I also had chronic shoulder and lower back problems with sciatica pain in my left leg. Currently, these issues are occasionally mild but I’ve generally forgotten about them.
Floor sleeping for one month massively improved chronic pain I had had for years. My neck, shoulder, and back/hip problems improved in ways I hadn’t expected. I think that the two main reasons for this are postural correction and resetting and stretching out muscles which get tight from the comforts/circumstances of modern living – sitting in chairs, not exercising much, being hunched over computers, resting in soft beds and even wearing shoes that distort our posture (particularly shoes with high heels).
I don’t sleep directly on the floor – I use a 1cm thick camping mat, but it’s pretty close, I think. 🙂
After one month of floor sleeping, sleeping in a bed felt very unnatural to me and I found I was inclined to sleep longer and felt more groggy when I woke up.
I have compiled the following list based on what I’ve experienced. The main discovery is that sleeping on the floor is a useful tool for resetting my body and aiding in injury prevention and recovery, unlike the many experiences I had with doctors and physiotherapists. And the great thing is – it costs nothing. Some of the best things in life really are free.
Here is a link to a study I found interesting. I adopt all these positions when floor sleeping: Floor sleeping positions.
Using no pillows when you lie on your side means you often, but not always, end up using your arms in their place. It leads to your curling your arm up by your head and ultimately giving those shoulders a little bit of a stretch.
When I lie on my front, I’m inclined to lie with an arm under the ear closest to the ground, my hand flat on the floor. Having suffered shoulder pain for several years I figured it was always going to be something that plagued me. However, miraculously maybe, my shoulder feels a lot better since I’ve been sleeping on the floor. I believe part of my shoulder problem was related to posture and that sleeping on my stomach in the position mentioned above has helped re-align my shoulder and thereby aided the healing process. I feel a bit annoyed that I wasted money on useless physio when this problem was so easily and cheaply fixable.
Additionally, sleeping on your front also helps stretch out the psoas muscles which attach from the hips to the leg bones. These muscles get tight from sitting in chairs and inactivity. Tightness here can lead to hip and knee pain. Ultra athlete David Goggins talks extensively about this in his autobiography “Can’t Hurt Me”.
Sleeping on one’s front with one’s ear to the ground stretches the neck gently. Sleeping on one’s side stretches it in a different way. Both of these stretches, which occur naturally when one sleeps on the floor, are common stretches that Physiotherapists recommend.
2. Bone density
Bone density is improved through weight bearing exercise. This is a widely accepted fact. In many ways, sleeping on the floor is a weight bearing exercise. Your skeleton is what supports you against the hard floor and this does not happen so much in a bed. Beds absorb the pressure that sleeping on the floor would transmit into your body thereby putting more stretch into your muscles and discouraging your bones from building and maintaining the strength that’s facilitated with the resistance of sleeping on a hard floor.
We’re always being bombarded with adverts and write ups in health + fitness magazines about bone density, reasons to join a gym and lift weights with the frequent citation that it helps maintain and strengthen our bones. But how much bone building and weight bearing will you really do in an hourly 3 times per week gym visit ? And would it be anywhere near as efficient as what you can quite literally achieve in your sleep over the course of your 6-10 hours in bed? Building bone while you sleep surely has to be the preferred option in a hectic, time starved lifestyle? Surely? If you don’t use it, you lose it, or so they say.
It’s natural to assume a foetal position when lying in a nice comfy bed. But think about what happens when you do that! Essentially, in the foetal position, you’re closing up your rib cage. As your head moves forward towards your knees and you pull your knees up, your ribcage becomes more contracted and therefore your lungs are constricted which means it’s harder to breathe well while you’re asleep.
I challenge you to try it now!! Lie flat on your back (with no pillows) on the floor and just breathe. Notice anything? If you’re anything like me (as in human), you’ll notice that it’s a lot easier to breathe. Now try lying in bed in the foetal position – I think you’ll find it’s harder to breathe.
4. Improved posture/body alignment
I believe many people suffer needless pain and injury because of bad posture. During the first week that I slept on the floor I found it a bit of a stretch on my neck when I lay flat on my back. I don’t feel that stretch anymore because I’ve gotten used to it. I believe that initial stretch was due to bad postural habits that were created by my seated-in-front of the computer lifestyle which is commonplace and unavoidable and downright unnatural. So, I figure if one’s head is misaligned when you walk then one’s entire body is out of balance and joints have to support pressure in ways they were never supposed to, leading to injury. Aside from that, the Quasi Modo posture surely has to lead to the less efficient breathing as mentioned in the previous point.
But it’s not just with the neck. At first, my back felt peculiar. Think about it – it’s nice (and somehow easier) to slouch into a chair and so most of us do it. This rounds and stretches the back in ways which eventually lead to back injury. Sleeping in a spongy bed adds to this as it takes load off bones and if you take it off the bones then where does it go? I believe a lot of it actually gets diverted into the muscles which stretches and strains them in an unhealthy manner. The bed absorbs it, I hear you utter in dismay, but think about that for a moment. Better – think about it while you’re lying in bed and pay careful attention to the positional dynamic of your musculature. Lying flat on one’s back on the floor stretches out the constriction acquired from bad postural habits used during the day, and also preserves the arch in your lower back.
I believe that good posture is crucial to keep body weight supported by muscles rather than joints and that bad posture leads to wear and tear on joints that could easily be avoided. Barefoot running, for me, is an important part of maintaining good posture, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.
Interestingly, since sleeping on the floor, I find myself naturally inclined to adopt a head up, shoulders back, chest forward posture when I’m walking and running. I think, aside from opening your lungs more, feeling better and most probably looking better, that one also emanates more confidence. Not intentionally, you understand, but just because of the fact that you FEEL more confident and it’s only natural that if you feel it that you take on the appearance of it.
Did you know that approximately 15% of your pillow weight is made up of dead skin cells, dust mites and all sorts of bacteria. It’s gross to think about. Dust mites apparently can be rather problematic to people with asthma. But hey, who says you have to have asthma to be affected?
Without a bed you don’t really have to worry about having space for one. I use a 1cm thick camping pad and just roll it up and pop it in the cupboard when I get up, which is loads easier than having a big stupid bed that one has to make every morning.
Initially, I found it rather uncomfortable to sleep on the floor and woke up a lot at night to move about. In spite of this I felt rather fresh in the morning, which I thought odd since I slept less. Gradually though, I accepted that moving about was a part of my night’s sleep and since I felt better in the morning in spite of it I’ve come to the conclusion that moving around is a good thing. Why? Because I believe it encourages blood circulation. Think about it – if you lie on one side all night, your body will go into complete shutdown whereas moving around more gets the heart going just a tiny bit more than if your were in a bed, thereby maintaining blood flow around the body.
Additionally, when you lie in various positions, your muscles get pressure applied to them – which doesn’t happen to the same extent in a bed. For instance, when lying on your back you can feel, quite distinctly, your butt cheeks flattening under the weight of your hips.
8. Injury prevention
By strengthening bones and encouraging better posture, I believe you’ve gone a long way towards preventing a whole host of life-related injuries. Stronger and better aligned bones has to go a long way towards this.
9. Save money
You don’t need to spend so much money on beds. Also, there’s a good chance you may avoid expensive physiotherapy, doctor’s visits and toxic medication that just masks symptoms and does nothing to cure them.
My Physio laughed at my sleeping on the floor, said it was unnecessary and said all I needed to do was certain stretches. I pointed out that I was basically doing all these stretches throughout my night’s sleep on the floor with no pillows. He just smiled, like an all knowing god, and handed me a sheet with stretches to do in sets of 10 three times a day. Assuming the fact that he had training, a decade (at least) of experience and charged €70 a visit, I took his advice. Within three weeks my neck was as bad as it was right after I’d injured it. The upshot is that I haven’t gone to a physiotherapist since.
Sadly, people want a quick fix. In truth, most people don’t even bother with Physio exercises and in my experience they don’t do a darn thing but bore you. Sustainable and persistent lifestyle habits, I think, go a whole lot further than forking out small fortunes to “medical professionals” who rarely, if ever, recommend simple fixes. Simple, free, do-it-yourself fixes don’t do anything for their bank balances and they have bills to pay just like everyone else.
10. Better brain function
Who are some of the global leaders in technological innovation? That’s right – it’s the Japanese! And guess what – traditional Japanese beds are much harder than what us westerners are accustomed to. Causation does not equal correlation I hear you say. That’s true, but can you close your mind to the possibility that it does on this occasion? Can you? Maybe you can! And you’re entitled to do so. 🙂
11. Increased athletic performance
Better posture, more oxygen, less injuries, and a greater sense of well being is obviously going to lead to better athletic performance, right? It’s a no brainer I’d say. Agree?
12. You will never again need to worry about falling out of your bed
Actually, this could be an old Chinese proverb. It could be. I’m not sure, and if it’s not it should be but I’m claiming copyright if it’s not!!! Here goes:
He who sleeps on floor no need worry fall out of bed!! (Me, 2015 or some wise China man I’ve never heard of! If you are that wise China man – get your people to call my people and let’s do lunch!
You don’t have to do this all night, every night to derive benefits, this may not be practical or wise, especially in the beginning. For starters, you could simply try lying on your back for an hour before bed and then do the same on your front. If/when it gets uncomfortable you can just get into your “normal” bed. After a while you will gradually find that sleeping the whole night through is no problem at all.
Since initially writing this post I find I alternate regularly between floor and bed sleeping. I tend to floor sleep a lot more when I’m training for marathons so as to maintain optimal posture.
Many people I know have scoffed at this post and quite a few of them have, subsequently, developed back problems/injuries and gone on to try this and every one of them have found it helpful.
It’s a funny thing that the medical professionals we trust aren’t inclined to recommend this simple fix but I guess if all of the diseases and malaise were fixed cheaply and freely then an entire industry would collapse overnight. There’s no money in simple and free cures and so why would anybody be motivated to provide them?
Nowadays, it seems to me that people revere medical professionals like all knowing gods. I used to be of this persuasion myself but at some point I realised they generally just provide toxic medication that doesn’t work, send you for physio that doesn’t work, or, in extreme cases (for pesky people that say they still feel unwell), send people to psychiatry that doesn’t work. I’ve heard of so many examples of the latter from people that I’ve quite literally lost count. When they can’t help people that are sick/in pain, they invariably say, “Oh, you’re very anxious, maybe you need counselling”. Many people dutifully/or in desperation then go off and get counselling and perhaps some of them even convince themselves they feel better as a result. Having said that, the power of positive thinking can be helpful. Anxiety and stress inevitably lead to a weakening of the body and a worsening of pain and general malaise.
Around a century ago a French psychologist and pharmacist, Émile Coué, espoused saying everyday to one’s self: “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better”. In the absence of help from conventional medical practices, I suspect this may be as good a treatment as any that a psychologist might offer.
Finally, if you have found this post to be helpful then please let me know in the comments and perhaps consider helping me to keep this blog going by clicking by donating the price of a coffee here.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I am merely an ordinary Joe Soap sharing a personal experience which I have found both free and helpful.