So I have a tricky back.
It plays up every time I have to sleep in a hotel bed or at a friend’s place.
I struggled for years to find a solution to getting a good nights sleep and finally found the traditional Japanese futon. This seems counterintuitive – Japanese futons are thin and have no springs – how can they possibly be better for your back? The secret is in how you move or (more likely) don’t move while you sleep. It turns out the soft comfy mattresses that we in ‘Western’ nations love are not ideal. They encourage us to remain in the same sleep position for longer and this, it seems, causes aches and pains to set in. By contrast, when we sleep on a thin, cotton, Japanese-style futon, we move around a lot more – it’s like getting an extra workout in your sleep and those achy spots don’t have a chance to get started.
My Light-Bulb Moment
I love camping – we get outdoors as often as we can and for as long as we can in our gorgeous Kodiak tent (seriously, they are the best tent). I noticed that the first few nights each camping trip I would toss and turn and sleep really poorly, aches and pains everywhere. Then things would improve and the rest of the trip I would sleep like a log. I also noticed that my darling husband wasn’t snoring in his sleep while camping. What was happening here?
Then a friend recommended the book Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman (along with some of her excellent blog posts about floor sleeping) and realised that the thin camping mats were promoting extra movement during the night. My husband wasn’t getting so deeply still which may explain the lack of snoring. For me, the longer I slept out on those camp mats, the better my sleep was. No waking up to an achy back!
So how could I do this at home? I remembered our experience of living in Japan and sleeping only on a thin futon, straight onto a hard floor (we didn’t have tatami mats in our little apartment). I wondered if I could just mimic that camping experience at home with a cotton Japanese futon instead of a camp mat. In the end, I splashed out on one of these lovely, simple, made-in-Japan futons by Emoor. And I haven’t looked back. We now use the twin size as a guest bed and got ourselves a beautiful queen-size version. A little rearranging of the bedroom was needed – traditional bedside tables don’t really suit floor sleeping – but we now have a comfortable space to match our comfortable sleep.
For a really interesting look at how people used to sleep before we decided beds were essential, look here. Humans evolved without plush mattresses – maybe this is how we were designed to sleep.
When starting out with floor sleeping, you’ll probably find that the extra movement will disturb your sleep. You’ll wake up every time you turn, especially if you have been used to a plush, springy mattress. Don’t worry. This is transitional. Give yourself a month (it probably won’t take this long) and you’ll find that you will turn without disturbing yourself and you will wake up feeling much more relaxed and less achy. The great thing is that futons are pretty cheap and can fold up into a closet – so even if this experiment doesn’t work for you (after all, we are all so different) you can use it for guests.
Here is a great post on the benefits of perseverance with this style of sleeping from Alignment Rescue.
Just remember that the thin nature of the Japanese style futon is important. If you double them up to get a softer feel, you may lose the many benefits of floor sleeping.
Japanese floor futons need special care, different to a regular mattress. Take at look at my guide to futon care for tips gained from my personal experience.
Still Not Sure?
Don’t want to commit to a month? Try ten days. Borrow a futon, buy a cheap one or simply make yourself a nest of blankets on the floor. Then, if you can see the benefits, you can go looking for your ultimate Japanese style sleeping mat. When you are ready, my latest buying guide has info on some great futons you can consider for your home.
Give it a try – your body will thank you!
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