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Is It Good for You to Sleep on a Hard Surface?

Updated December 23, 2019

This question nags many people, yours truly included. And that’s because the evidence that suggests sleeping on a hard surface is beneficial is actually circumstantial. The tricky thing about sleeping on hard surfaces is that people have correlated existing evidence of sleeping on a firm mattress and assumed that the benefits are multiplied when sleeping on the floor. But the situation isn’t all that simple.

What Research Says

In order to answer such a delicate question, it’s important to look at the scientific evidence and draw conclusions for there. But first, it’s important to determine what exactly represents a “hard surface” because a Japanese floor futon might be hard to some, but soft for others, for example. If this surface is the floor, then there is no direct evidence to support the idea that sleeping on it might provide long-term benefits, but rather short-term ones. However, if the hard surface is actually a firm mattress, then evidence says you should go for it.

Okay, does sleeping on a hard floor lower back pain or what? First of all, there is no scientific evidence that suggests there are benefits of sleeping on the floor or if it can help cure back pain for all eternity. However, mattress-related evidence has a different conclusion.  A study conducted on people who had lower back pain showed that sleeping on a hard mattress doesn’t improve sleep quality over time, but sleeping on a medium-firm or firm mattress did the trick. So, you want a firm sleeping surface, but not a hard one.

Another common belief is that sleeping on a hard surface will help with sciatic pain. The sciatic nerve is the one that travels from the lower side of your back to the hips, and then further to each leg. Sciatica pain is usually taken away by sleeping on a hard surface, which is good news if you were planning on sleeping on the floor. However, if you extend this sleeping period over time, it can stress out the joints and cause unnecessary pain.

There is also the matter of sleeping on a hard surface in order to improve your posture. That’s because sleeping on a soft bed causes the body to sink into the surface, which means that the spine will not maintain its natural position. On the other hand, a firm surface as the floor might help in that aspect. Sadly, there is no evidence to support this idea, which is why it’s best to talk to your doctor if you were planning to use a hard surface for posture improvement.

Should You Do It? How to Sleep on a Hard Surface

Should you sleep on a hard surface? Because there are no real advantages or disadvantages sof sleeping on the floor, the answer to this question is neither yes nor no. Instead, you can experiment. Since most of the evidence that supports sleeping on the hard floor is anecdotal, it means that it’s based on the individual experience of people who have done this in the past and witness good results.

Even if plenty of experts advise against the idea of long-term sleeping on a really hard surface, they are also the ones who will tell you that hard surfaces will promote neutral posture for the back. In other words, since there is no pressure on the spine, it will stay in a natural position. But the tricky this is that hard surface also compress joints over time because the floor has no give. What this basically means is that heavy body parts with push hard against the surface you’re sleeping on a surface that might not have a response if it’s too firm.

Think about what happens when you lie down on your side on a mattress. Your shoulders push into the surface of the bed because they are heavier and more prominent compared to, let’s say, your knees. When your shoulders push down, the layers that are located on the top side of the mattress will contour to the shape of your body, so that they can mimic a cradling-like effect. Your mattress basically takes the shape of your body. The firmer the mattress is, the less contouring you’ll get. And when you sleep on the floor, there’s no contouring at all.

But if you want to do it, there’s really no solid evidence to suggest that this won’t work for you. However, if you decide to sleep on a hard surface such as the floor, remember that you will need a couple of things to still ensure some level of comfort and try to combat some of those negative effects we keep hearing about.

Instead of just putting a blanket down for floor sleeping, consider investing in something like a sleeping bag or a mattress topper. These will give you at least some padding, not to mention the fact that they provide insulation and create a more sanitary sleeping environment. Be careful, though, if you buy a really thick topper, you are basically negating the positive effects that sleeping on the floor might bring.

When you’re looking for the right products that will create a comfortable sleeping environment, keep in mind that the end result should be a surface that’s harder compared to what you’re used to, but not as hard as to create immediate discomfort.

Is a Soft Surface Better?

Well, yes and no. A soft surface might be useful if you’re a side sleeper and you want your shoulders and hips to be properly sunk into the mattress, but the softness of the bed brings others disadvantages of sleeping on the floor.

For example, when your body sinks way too deep into the mattress, you will find it harder to switch from one sleeping position to another. And you want to be able to move freely in bed because that’s how your muscles stay flexible and you maintain a deep sleep.

Conclusion

Sleeping on a hard surface is something that might have its ups and downs, but it’s still something that you should try. Note that if you have a medical condition (such as arthritis or problems with your sciatic nerve), you should consult with your doctor before stressing your body by exposing it to hours of sleep on a hard surface. But if you eventually do try it, we’d love to hear if you’ve noticed any improvements.