Could Sleeping on the Floor Help Your Aching Back? We Investigate
Your back is killing you. You’ve tried ice, heat, massage and stretching, but nothing seems to work. And, oddly enough, it’s even more stiff and painful when you wake up. Should you ditch your soft bed for something a bit firmer? Believe it or not, some people swear that sleeping on the floor is the answer to their back pain. But does it really work? We checked in with the pros to find out.
Wait, Is Sleeping on the Floor Really a Thing People Do?
In some cultures, sleeping on the floor is the norm. In 16th-century Japan, nobility and samurai would sleep on straw mats called tatami, or woven goza mats—these mats became more popular in Japanese homes throughout the 17th century, and some people still use them today. While this bedding is much firmer than a pillow-top mattress, it still contains some padding, thanks to a thin, firm futon placed on top of the tatami mat.
But do cultures who regularly sleep on the floor tend to have fewer back issues? A study conducted by physiotherapist Michael Tetley observes the sleeping habits of forest dwellers and nomads throughout the world. And those who sleep on the floor were found to naturally adopt positions that help keep the musculoskeletal system aligned. (His research also determined that pillows are completely unnecessary, suggesting that we should be paying closer attention to our animal friends: “Has anyone ever seen a gorilla shinning up a tree with a pillow?” Good point.)
What Does a Physical Therapist Say?
We asked Jaclyn Fulop, board certified physical therapist and founder of Exchange Physical Therapy Group to weigh in. Her advice? If your back pain is severe and sleeping on the floor relieves some discomfort, it’s OK to try, but it’s not a long-term solution.
“There is little to no research that supports the fact that sleeping on the floor is beneficial for your spine; however, some people with acute back pain swear by sleeping on a hard, flat surface like the floor,” she tells us. “Sleeping on a flat surface keeps the spine in a neutral posture position taking pressure off the stabilizer muscles that support body weight. If you are experiencing pain and the floor can alleviate the discomfort, then it could be a good short-term option to allow to you have a more restful sleep, which also promotes healing and tissue repair.”
But sleeping on the floor shouldn’t become a habit, Fulop warns. “The ground does not support the curvature in the back.” So it might be a better idea to seek out a firmer mattress than camp out on your bedroom floor permanently.
Is a Firm Sleeping Space Always Better Than a Softer One?
Nope, not necessarily. “In the past, doctors often recommended very firm mattresses,” the Harvard Medical School reports. “But one survey of 268 people with low back pain found that those who slept on very hard mattresses had the poorest sleep quality. There was no difference in sleep quality between those who used medium-firm and firm mattresses.
What gives? The experts say that it’s all a matter of preference, and what works best with your body type. For some people, a softer sleeping space can help conform to the body’s curves, while for others, that can throw the back out of alignment. The best solution? Trying a variety of different sleeping surfaces to find out which one feels the best.
What About Putting My Mattress on the Floor?
There’s an idea. Harvard Medical School says that plopping your mattress down on the hardwood is actually a smart way to see if you could benefit from buying a firmer mattress before making the investment. Remove your mattress from the bedframe and place it directly on the floor, then sleep on it for a week to see if you notice any difference in your back. You could also place a plywood board underneath your mattress to see if your back improves by reducing the movement from the box springs.
But if you’re thinking of buying a new mattress, don’t assume you can get an impression of how it will feel on your back by lying on a few at the store for five minutes. “A more reliable test is to observe how you feel after sleeping on different types of mattresses while away from home—for example, at a hotel or a friend or relative's house,” says HMS.
Anything Else I Need to Know?
If you’re elderly, have limited mobility, a chronic illness or suffer from allergies (that carpet can get dusty), sleeping on the floor probably isn’t the best idea, and you should check in with your doctor before trying it. Remember, do what feels good for you—and just because it feels good tonight doesn’t mean it necessarily will for the long term. Now get some z’s.
3 Hybrid Mattresses We Love
If you’re looking for a mattress that’s a bit firmer than your current model but not too firm, give a hybrid mattress a whirl. A hybrid mattress features multiple forms of support, usually combining memory foam, gel and innerspring coil technology (a new type of coil that’s individually wrapped to retain its tension and create more balance). No matter what kind of sleeper you are—starfish, fetal, stomach—you’ll get the pressure-relieving benefits of memory foam with the bounce and support of a traditional spring mattress.
1. Most Popular: Casper Sleep Hybrid Mattress – QUEEN 12-INCH
As the bed-in-a-box brand that started the craze, it’s no wonder Casper remains the most popular option. To create this hybrid, the mattress geniuses added springs to its signature foam design for even more support. Yep, it still comes in a convenient box and works with all the other Casper products (like the adjustable bed frame or original foundation).
2. Best Flippable Mattress: Layla Hybrid Mattress – Queen
Can’t decide if you want something more firm or something that feels cushiony to the touch? This mattress provides both with different firmness levels on either side. And the integrated handles make flipping this guy a total breeze. It’s also made with antimicrobial copper infused foam to transfer heat away from your body faster for a cooler sleeping experience and less odor-causing bacteria.
3. Best Latex Mattress: Winkbeds EcoCloud – Queen
Not only is this mattress made of premium natural Talalay latex, it also features individually wrapped innersprings made from recycled steel. The outer cover is eco-engineered with 100 percent organic cotton and sustainable New Zealand wool, which appeals to both eco-minded shoppers and those who need a cooler mattress (it’s super breathable). The brand also offers monthly payments so you won’t lose sleep over that price tag.