The case for sleeping on the floor

It could have a similar effect to foam rolling and massage.

Conventional wisdom tells us that while a well-spent day involves plenty of movement, a good night’s rest should be still. Tossing and turning stirs our sleep, keeping us from a full recovery. (Hence, the advent of fitness mattresses and high-performance sleepwear.)

But Tom Myers, an integrative manual therapist, director of Anatomy Trains, and member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board, argues that it’s shifting position throughout the night which aids regeneration.

His suggestion: Sleep on the floor.

Firmer sleeping surfaces foster movement, explains Myers, who himself slept on a carpeted floor for six months at one point in his life (and has done so for shorter stints occasionally since then). When you stay seated or supine on a hard surface for too long, the pressure squeezes the water out of the tissue, the cells get uncomfortable, report in to the brain, and eventually, you move. He says: “It’s your body’s way of responding to pain signals telling you a certain part of your body isn’t getting the water it needs and that the cells are stressed.” This movement helps hydrate and loosen fascia, the thin sheath of tissues surrounding the muscles. On a larger scale, that’s what foam rolling and massage do.

The harder the bed, the more you move, and the more hydrated your fascia becomes. And rolling over, he notes, doesn’t always wake you up. Soft beds on the other hand, inhibit movement by allowing you to stay in one position for a long time without discomfort. There’s very little pressure to stress the cells and send those ‘move’ signals,’ he explains. In turn, this stiffens and dehydrates fascia. “You might sleep all night in the same position,” notes Myers. “When you get up, you're more likely to be achy and stiff.”

Of course, minimalist beds and floor sleeping aren’t new or novel entities. They’re far more common cultural (or, sometimes necessary) practices in Asian countries such as Japan and Korea.

Myers is not a doctor recommending this as a treatment for a particular condition, but he notes that if you suffer from sore or stiff muscles in the morning, then you could try a harder mattress or even ditching your bed entirely for a month to see if it helps. “As with many things, you just have to put up with a couple of days of discomfort and then your body adapts and you'll have a lot more comfort,” notes Myers. If you sleep on your back or stomach, you can go pillow-free, though use a firm pillow when side-lying.

While he doesn’t recommend sleeping on the floor to his patients, W. Christopher Winter, MD, medical director of the Martha Jefferson Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, doesn’t object to the idea in general: “Whatever makes you feel good during the day,” he says, noting that a little padding—even something like a yoga mat—can go a long way for floor sleepers.

Just note, you don’t want to be so uncomfortable that you’re waking up multiple times a night. That can lead to sleep deprivation, says Myers. And if you have pre-existing back, shoulder, hip, or knee issues, stick to your bed, says Winter.