Is Sleeping On The Floor Good For Back Pain? An Investigation.

July 26, 2022

My current home is the uppermost level of an old Victorian mansion, located in a bustling neighborhood full of tall trees, local eateries, and bars. Moving requires adapting to many changes, many of which we are not fully capable of reckoning with until, well, we are forced to. For me, one of those changes was switching from central air to window AC units.

Personally, I love the heat. And since I love to be warm, I did not consider the implications of attic-living-in-summer. I did not even know what the summer would be like at my new location. The winter seemed to last forever, as I was still wearing my Patagonia coats well into May. But then, in the second week of June, the temperatures here skyrocketed up to 110°F. Even with my window units blowing full blast, my home was still 92°F at night.

Privileged problems, right? Many people live without ACs at all. Recognizing that, I decided my animals and I can rise to the occasion. No complaining. We can get through this.

Despite loving the warmth, it is difficult to slow down and find sleep in a hot environment. So, I paced around my apartment and tuned into my senses. There is one AC unit in the bathroom, on one side of the home. The other AC unit is on the opposite side of the home, in the kitchen. There is a living space, a hallway with a bedroom and an office, and a small entryway between the two AC units, which largely rely on the kitchen AC for cooling. Ultimately, I decided the coolest room was the bathroom.

And lucky for me, my bathroom is abnormally large. There is plenty of room for me, my 50 lb. dog, and my two cats to comfortably stretch out on the floor while still being sanitary and mindful of not kissing the porcelain toilet seat while asleep. I decided me and my animals will hunker down in the bathroom until the heat wave passes.

Yeah, a weird and large bathroom.

I rolled out my yoga mat and grabbed one pillow from my bedroom. I grabbed my animal’s food and water bowls, my dog’s “cooling mat” and bed, and my cats’ beds. My sweet babies seemed a little confused, but they largely occupy whatever space I am in, anyway. I hopped into an ice-cold shower and welcomed the goosebumps that soon covered my body. I stayed under the running water for as long as tolerable, and then dressed for sleep, not bothering to dry my hair.

And then I fell asleep within minutes.

The next morning, I awoke proud that we persevered. We all managed to sleep soundly through the night. And as I awoke and started moving around, I realized that my body felt fantastic.

Unfortunately, I manage chronic low back/hip pain. For me, yoga and proper furniture are critical components of my pain management. So, when I moved, I used it as an opportunity to invest in a new mattress for the first time in my adult life. I am pleased with the “medium-firm” selection I made, but yoga-mat-sleeping had me thinking, “Was the new mattress even necessary?”

The second night was equally restful, and again I awoke pain-free the following morning. The same is true of the third and fourth nights. But the fifth night was a bit rough, although I believe that night of restless sleep is overdetermined. After one more night, the heatwave broke and it rained for days. My animals and I reclaimed our home. And my body still felt fantastic.

Interestingly, a week or so later I saw Paige’s discussion of the pain-reducing benefits of a Japanese futon. I thought, “Wow, okay. It isn’t just me.”

Indeed, 75% of orthopedic surgeons in the United States agree that sleeping on firm surfaces is better for back pain. While research results vary, one meta-analysis of 24 studies found that medium-firm mattresses consistently provide more pain relief, sleep quality and spinal alignment than other mattresses.

Of course, we should note that sleeping on a medium-firm mattress is still much softer than sleeping on the floor. But as I returned to sleeping on my own medium-firm mattress, my pain levels slowly crept back up.

To be sure, I’m not here to tell everyone to ditch their beds. Everyone’s body is different, and we have to honor what our own bodies communicate to us.

But for me, personally, I will sleep on my yoga mat when I need to reduce my pain or cool down enough to sleep. In the future, I may consider a Japanese futon or some other firm sleeping surface, but for now having a new mattress and a quality yoga-mat will do just fine.

What do you think, will you try a night of sleeping on your yoga-mat to reduce back pain?

Related: How Better Posture Gives You Clearer Skin

4 Easy Inversions To Banish Back Pain

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Photo: R. Coker

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