\u200b\u200bI Tried Sleeping on a Hard Floor for a Week
I’ve never had a problem with beds. A bed has never physically harmed me, caused me undue mental stress, or conducted any disparaging act upon my character.
I’ve spent years of my life in beds—almost 11 years total, if I figure I’ve averaged eight hours of sleep a night. I have no regrets about those unconscious years (can’t say the same about college), and I’ve even been thinking about buying a better mattress to further improve my comfort.
Then along came Katy Bowman, M.S.
My wife, a longtime runner, told me about Bowman, whose specialization focuses on biomechanics and movement. Bowman’s written several books on pain relief and proper body alignment, such as Movement Matters and Move Your DNA. When you talk to her about sleeping, you begin to realize that maybe your relationship with beds isn’t so rosy.
Why You Should Sleep on the Floor
“We live an over-cushioned life,” Bowman says. “We sit in chairs at work, on sofas in front of the T.V., and we sleep on thick mattresses at night.” All this cushiness, she argues, makes us soft.
Sleeping without a mattress, on the floor, as Bowman has done for 3 ½ years, has numerous benefits. “You’ll sleep better, achieve a deeper quality of sleep, and wake up feeling good,” she says.
Wait, huh? How’s that?
Those super-pricey, memory-foam mattresses are movement restrictors, Bowman says. “They lock you into one position. This prohibits the natural turning your body undergoes overnight. The aches and pains most people suffer after waking up are due to not moving for hours,” she says.
“By sleeping without a mattress, you’ll strengthen tiny muscles that build over time. You’re putting pressure on your body parts. It’s like a massage all night.” Bowman calls this “dynamic rest” that, coupled with daily foam rolling, will lead to a “more robust muscle structures for athletic adventures.”
Though I was skeptical I decided to give Bowman’s suggestions a try. Recently, I’d been suffering from annoying muscle knots bestowed upon me by a weight-training program that includes bench pressing, squats, and overhead presses. Maybe a thorough massage-via-floor would work them out?
Bowman, mercifully, told me I wouldn’t have to jump immediately from the mattress to the mat. I could ease into it using the following steps. As soon as I felt comfortable and well rested during one phase, I could then progress to the next.
How to Sleep on the Floor
Step 1: Switch sides.
Do you sleep on the left-most portion of the mattress? Try a night on the right-most spot, says Bowman. “Over time, your mattress adapts to your shape. If you change positions, your body has to adapt.” So my wife and I switched spots. It felt strange the first two nights, but then I slept soundly on the third. Easy! What else you got, Bowman?
Step 2: Switch rooms.
After you’ve adapted to a different part of your usual mattress, adapt to a different mattress altogether. “Think of it as cross-training,” Bowman says. I slinked off to the guest room, feeling slightly as if I had committed some severe marital sin, to sleep for another three nights. This phase, too, was painless, if a touch lonely.
Step 3: Ditch padding.
The guest room’s bed has one of those egg crate foam toppers—more bedding that I always thought added a little extra comfort. After the first night without it, I couldn’t tell the difference. Either the egg crate foam topper cabal had me fooled all these years or I was crushing this experiment.
Step 4: Ditch the bed.
“Next, you want to cushion up the floor,” Bowman says. Ah, dammit. I took the egg crate foam topper and put it on the floor next to the bed. On top of that, I placed another foam camping topper and, fearing the following morning, a sleeping bag. I crawled on top of everything, drew a quilt over me, and tried to find a comfortable position amidst what it must feel like trying to sleep in the back seat of my 1997 Chrysler Cirrus.
The first night was not as horrendous as I thought. I woke up a few times, confused as to whether I was resting on the guest room floor or passed out in a Cambodian prison cell. And my relationship? “It’s going to be tough having you back,” my wife said. “Every night I’ve been sprawling out in our bed like a starfish.”
Step 5: Minimize the cushion.
The final stage in Bowman’s plan involves eliminating as many layers as possible. Up until this point, I had been sleeping well, but not necessarily feeling amazing. “When you wake up, you should feel like you had a workout,” she said. Instead, I felt like a posse of aggressive toddlers had spent the last eight hours pummeling me from head to foot.
Yet I pushed on. I removed the sleeping bag, leaving me with about an inch of foam padding separating my weary body from the thinly carpeted floor. Under these conditions, I slept for one week—not soundly, but not terribly.
Though I did not approach bedtime excitedly. Turning the corner into the guest room to see my wife-less, sorry excuse for a “bed,” sparked no joy within me. I had lost the excitement associated with ending the day among clean sheets, plush bedding, and an evening routine that doesn’t involve reading Steinbeck on my stomach until my neck starts throbbing.
All that said, the experiment was not in vain.
What You Learn Sleeping on the Floor
1. Maybe super-expensive, ultra-plush mattresses aren’t the answer?
All things relative, I slept fine on the floor. Did I have the deepest, most restful sleep of my existence? Nope. But did I function during the workweek without an overdependence on coffee? Sure did. What surprised me most was how little difference in sleep quality I noticed between the bed and floor. And the physical fears I had never manifested. My back didn’t hurt. My spine didn’t suffer. What the hell would I need a $1,000 Casper mattress for when two egg crates worked just fine?
2. How you feel after you sleep is just as important as how much you sleep.
Before Bowman, I thought relatively little about how I felt physically when I woke up. I’d take mental assessments, sure (“Welp, going to need another espresso this morning.”), but ignored how my body felt. Sleeping on the floor did help me feel less “knotty,” but it also wasn’t the cure-all for a day of heavy lifting.
One particularly grueling squat session during this experiment left me with three days of soreness—not all of which were associated with the weight I was hefting, I believe. Bowman reinforced the idea that it requires all types of pressure to recover from muscle soreness and I’ll admit that I wasn’t keeping up with my foam rolling.
3. You need more than a week to really adjust.
“The effects are compounded with time,” Bowman says. “A weeklong experience of healthy eating isn’t the same as six months of healthy eating.” My experiment was an acute experience. If you decide to sleep on the floor for longer you may experience more profound effects. As for me?
4. I still love beds.
You know how going a few days without a proper shower makes you appreciate a proper shower even more? Going a week without a bed elevates sleeping on a mattress, with your now somewhat-disappointed wife, an incredibly appreciative moment.
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