Why Are Paleo Advocates So Obsessed With Sleeping On The Floor?

Photographed by Bianca Valle.
To some individuals on the internet, it's not enough to simply eat Paleo, they also have to sleep Paleo. And "going full caveman" usually means getting rid of your mattress in favor of spending your nights curled up on the hard floor, perhaps with a light yoga mat or sleeping bag. Even Goop is on board with the idea of communing with your bare-ass floor for a better night's sleep.
To most of us, sleeping on the floor sounds about as comfortable as sleeping on the floor. But Paleo peeps claim that it's perfectly tolerable, can correct your posture, improve circulation, help you sleep more deeply, and get rid of aches and pains. Given how wacky and promising this sounds, you have to wonder if sleeping on the floor is actually the answer to all your sleep problems.
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But, like so many other Paleo-inspired trends, it's simply not good for you, says Milton Marvin Ang Chua, MD, a faculty member in the Division of Sleep Medicine at the University of Utah, Department of Medicine. The quality of your sleep — how fast you fall asleep and how much time you're actually sleeping — is the most important aspect of sleep, Dr. Chua says. And you have to be comfortable in order to have good quality sleep. We all have different bodies, so we find different sleeping positions and conditions comfortable. However, just because some people are comfortable sleeping on the floor doesn't mean that it's healthy for them.
When you're lying down to sleep, your spine should ideally be aligned almost as it is when you're standing up, meaning it's pretty much straight but with a slight curve. "Too soft of a mattress will make your back sag and slouch, or too firm of a mattress might straighten it out," Dr. Chua says. Sleeping on a mattress that's overly soft can cause back pain, he says. In fact, lying on a super-soft mattress can be equivalent to slouching for six to eight hours a day.
On the other hand, some people find that "sleeping on a firmer mattress takes care of their back pain," Dr. Chua says. But a firm mattress is not the same thing as a hard floor.
Doctors would probably never tell someone to sleep on the floor to treat their back pain, and it could actually make things worse. "The hardness of the floor can hit certain pressure points of the body, such as the tailbone, heels, and shoulder blades," Dr. Chua says. In some cases, lying on the hard floor for long periods of time could eventually cause muscle degradation, he says.
Plus, the floor can also be very dirty. Indeed, one reason why people started using beds was to escape pests and dirt on the floor, Dr. Chua explains. "It's just the evolution of our society, and because we were smarter, we needed to be above [the ground]," he says. The whole Paleo argument that sleeping on the floor is "what our ancestors did" is one of Dr. Chua's biggest pet peeves.
"Evolutionarily speaking, we needed less comfort. If we were too comfortable, we would become dinner," he says. In fact, there was a period when people slept on a slanted bed, so that they could quickly jump out of bed to fight. "It was to prevent them from sleeping too soundly," he says. This might have been logical in Paleolithic times, but today we don't need to be ready to fight at all times or worried about saber-toothed tigers coming to get us.
So, not only is sleeping on the floor totally unnecessary, it could also make your problems worse. Luckily, when it comes to picking the perfect mattress, your choices are pretty wide open. There's really no right mattress or sleeping position for the whole population because we all have unique preferences, Dr. Chua says. But, in general, "too soft of a mattress is bad, and too hard of a surface like the floor is bad," he says. So you're just going to have to Goldilocks the situation and remember that, as long as you have a mattress, you're just right.
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