Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
1 Jul

Does It Matter How Grok Slept?

Since you’ve gone Primal all sorts of strange questions pop into your head. And since you’ve gone Primal life has definitely changed. You wore Vibrams to your last shareholder meeting. The idea of skipping two, or heck, three consecutive meals, seems perfectly reasonable, and your idea of a frozen treat is that local, pastured lamb you’ve got sitting in your chest freezer, deconstructed. You’re even toying with the idea of ditching shampoo. Sheesh. To outsiders, you’re that weird caveman guy who eats steak for lunch and keeps a jar of coconut oil at his desk and thinks he’s living in the Paleolithic, but really, you’re just someone who’s discovered that keeping an ear, an eye, and a foot in our ancestral past makes living in the present that much more fulfilling – and healthy.

But how far do you go? What about sleeping? (Here come those questions…) Should we care how and upon what type of bedding Grok slumbered?

Primal is often about correcting a deficiency, or righting a “wrong.” Heart disease, diabetes, obesity are real, pressing issues for modern man that are not being addressed by our modern diets, so it makes sense to look at the lifestyles of populations (of any era) that did not suffer from these afflictions. If we can establish that modern patterns of sleep are giving us fits – that there is indeed a modern wrong that needs righting – perhaps it makes sense to look to traditional methods of sleeping for relief. So, is sleep an issue for us? Does modern sleep need correcting?

Probably. If you ask Wikipedia, we’ve identified at least seventeen common medical sleep disorders. These are real medical afflictions with fancy polysyllabic names, which make me think that sleep, at least for a significant portion of the population, is dysfunctional. Besides, we’ve all heard the complaints that people have about sleep. They toss and turn, they wake up in the middle of the night, they can’t find a comfortable position, they snore, they wake up with aches and pains. If you ask your coworkers or a random acquaintance how they sleep, I’ll bet half will reply, “Badly.” Why is this?

It’s tough to pin down a single cause for our collective sleep woes. Is it the chronic stress disrupting our hormonal balance, or the SAD? Are thoughts of work weighing heavily on our minds and preventing sleep from taking hold? Or have we forgotten how to position our bodies atop unsuitable bedding? Is it all of the above?

I’m sure it all has an effect, and I’m all about eating the right foods, managing stress, and enjoying life, but today I’m interested in the effects of modern sleep posture and modern bedding. It’s the (seemingly common) tossing and turning that really sets off a red flag, for me, because that seems like the manifestation of your subconscious self actively and vociferously searching for a comfortable position in bed. For the sweet spot. You know what I mean – that perfect position in bed, where your joints align and your spine feels right as you slip effortlessly off into the dream world. Why don’t we find that all the time?

As I’m writing this post, my dog – happy, lazy hound that he is – sleeps. He’s been sleeping for the past two hours without moving. He looks a bit like this. Same position, in fact. But he hasn’t moved at all. Oh, his paws have twitched a few times and his tail has mysteriously wagged, but he’s the picture of comfort. This dude is sleeping well. He found the sweet spot. He always seems to find the sweet spot, no matter where or when he sleeps. Dog bed, hardwood floor, backseat – it doesn’t matter. He makes it work.

I wonder how it comes so easily for animals.

In her book on posture, Esther Gokhale (I’m always tempted to type “Grokhale”) discusses the right way to lie down. Whether you’re in bed, on a cot, or on the floor, the key is to lengthen your spine. You touch ground with your sacrum, lay your palms on the ground, and slowly lower yourself back, taking care to actively lengthen your spine – vertebrae by vertebrae – by pushing through your hands. The result is an oddly awkward feeling; you really do feel longer than normal. It takes a few minutes to get used to it, but it’s an incredibly comfortable way to lie down. The first time I tried it, I fell asleep (inadvertently) in ten minutes. In fact, her method of “stretch lying” was my biggest takeaway from the book, simply because I wasn’t expecting to learn how to lie down. Posture? Yeah, I see how modern posture is dysfunctional, but I figured lying down was pretty basic stuff that no one could mess up. My sleep is better than ever since adopting her method of lying down. I no longer have to find the sweet spot to get my joints aligned and my spine supported. I am the sweet spot.

Dogs don’t need the Gokhale method, of course. They don’t need to pay attention to spine lengthening or support. They just do it naturally. Look at that canine in the picture again and note how everything lines up effortlessly. Babies and tots are able to sleep just as easily because their ideas of posture aren’t tainted (they don’t even have “ideas” of posture; like dogs, they just lie there… it’s very Zen).

What about bedding?

Research tends to show mixed results when looking at people’s preferences for bed firmness, with some experiencing more pain with firmer beds and less with “medium-firm”. Conventional wisdom (for millennia, in fact) holds that firmer beds are best for back pain (think ascetic monks lying on mats), but the recent research mars that assumption.

Honestly, from my investigation I don’t think the bedding matters too much as long as you’ve got the right sleep posture. I may risk belaboring my analogy further, but I’m going to look at the dog again. He sleeps anywhere and on any surface. He seems to show a preference for lying on something (whether it be a random towel or his fluffy dog bed), but he sleeps just as well on the hardwood floor. Maintaining that perfect sleep posture seems to be key to his success.

I’ve had similar experiences. As long as I’m mindful of the length of my spine, I can stretch out just about anywhere and be comfortable. I figure we were born without beds, so we probably come naturally equipped to flop down and sleep on the ground. At the same time, I prefer sleeping in my bed above hunkering down on the cold hard floor (although the company might have something to do with it), and I suffer no ill effects from it.

Still, I know you guys love to hack just about anything you can, so tomorrow I’ll discuss some alternative sleep postures (and maybe some bedding options).

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Man the first few lines of this post made me laugh – you basically described me to the T, everything: Lamb in the freezer, barefooting it and ditching the shampoo!

    Great post, I fortunately sleep like a baby everywhere and anywhere, but I will try the spine lengthening tip.

    My tip for falling asleep is to clear all thoughts from your mind, when you realise you’ve gone off and started thinking about the pile of papers at work or your meals for tomorrow – gently stop yourself and again release all thoughts, gets me everytime – asleep in minutes.

    Barefoot Baney wrote on July 1st, 2010
  2. *sigh* If only my 2 year old would cooperate, I’d get plenty of sleep! Alas, he’s up at 6am and I work till 10:30pm…mmm…time to change jobs!

    Katie wrote on July 1st, 2010
  3. Peaceful rest is definitely “primal” for wellness. Our bodies need the time to rejuvenate and energize for the next day. Improper rest not only affects our body function but our minds and ultimately the spirit. So…savor it when you can.

    Alicia Kirschenheiter wrote on July 1st, 2010
  4. Enjoyed the post. The intro really hit home. I’m a fireman in Central Florida and I am that weird caveman guy around the station and becoming more so everyday. But I have got a few other folks to read BP and they are experiencing the inevitable benefits along with ever increasing enthusiasm.

    On the topic of sleep, I like to fall asleep with my arm/arms above my head. But I regularly wake up in the middle of the night with my arm completely inoperable numb and stone cold. After manipulating it with my good arm into a position to allow blood flow, full function is regained with in a minute or two. Frequently I wonder if there are any significant detriments to this, such as tissue wastage or blood clots.

    Anyone else experience this? Any thoughts?

    C. Rauth wrote on July 1st, 2010
    • I totally agree with you about hands above the head. I do that pretty regularly, too, especially in the summer. It feels great, but I have the same problem with waking up and having to literally move my asleep arm with the other one… which is a really weird feeling, isn’t it? Especially when half asleep. Heh.

      Rachel wrote on July 1st, 2010
    • Chris, maybe you shouldn’t fall asleep with your arms over your head. You’re probably cutting off circulation somewhere at the shoulder joint. To cut to the chase, “DON’T DO THAT!”

      Bill Frisch wrote on July 1st, 2010
      • Brilliant, and you may refer to me by my tribe given name… Paleoman…. Sassy Paleoman.

        C. Rauth wrote on July 1st, 2010
  5. Hmmm, this is really fascinating. Recently, I’ve talked to a lot of people who have temperpedic or even plasma beds. They claim that they sleep all night without moving. I’ll admit that I’ve been thinking of buying one for our next mattress purchase. I’m curious to read tomorrow’s post! In the meantime, though, I’m going to sleep long tonight and see how that feels. :)

    Rachel wrote on July 1st, 2010
  6. I gave up sugar for you, Mark. But my queen-sized Simmons Beautyrest Pillowtop with 600-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets? Not a chance. I gotta draw the line somewhere.

    Jamie wrote on July 1st, 2010
  7. I tried the method describe in this article for lying this afternoon for a nap. Actually, I tried it on my hardwood floor in my living room. It actually felt amazing when I got up. So I’m going to try it again when I go to bed tonight. Sweet dreams everyone.

    Trevor wrote on July 1st, 2010
  8. I moved to the floor (well a 4 inch memory foam mattress topper on the carpet) about a year ago and it was the best decision I ever made. Cleared up a ton of neck/lower back issues and only took a couple days to get use to.

    I always thought sleeping on a large platform has to prevent a good night’s sleep. Your body has to constantly be aware of it’s surroundings and I would assume, is trying to prevent itself from falling off the edge of the bed down to the floor. With the floor that subconscious thought is not there. Anyway, just my theory.

    Brandon wrote on July 1st, 2010
    • I fell off the top bunk of my bunk bed when I was little, so I can see how your hypothesis would be valid.

      John wrote on July 1st, 2010
    • I second that. When I was a kid, I was always waking up on the floor, back on the floor, legs on the bed, upside down, sideways…you name it, I probably achieved it.

      Bunk beds have always terrified me for that reason (also got a concussion from falling WITH a ladder off a loft in college), and these days I stick to a mattress and boxspring on the floor. I still like to be able to stick my foot or arm over the edge unsupported, but it’s not too high, probably about 16in up.

      Padding on the ground also rocks, it’s just not viable where I am at the moment.

      Ginger wrote on July 4th, 2010
  9. For the first half of my life I had the most difficult time falling asleep (good bed, big fluffy pillow, and standard sleeping schedule); then I found a job working overnights, and found that I slept much better during the day.
    I normally fall asleep within about 10 minutes of laying down, once I’m down I will use my feet and hands to stretch me out; I use a very thin firm pillow, no blankets or sheets on me, and I can sleep almost anywhere (though water-beds kill me).

    John wrote on July 1st, 2010
  10. I have that same prob with sometimes numbing out an arm or hand. I go to sleep normally on my back but sometimes during the night I will roll over on to an arm or stick a hand behind my head and later wake up with a numbed out body part. I have wondered the same thing, ie is this really bad for the body part? But then again, short of tieing myself down to the bed, I see no obvious solution.

    And yeah, I have in the past looked for research on what type of bedding was the best for the body, but all I found were adverts for people trying to sell their wares. I would not be surprised though if health issues and stress were the main probs. Spinal alignment might also be good but what bedding yields that might depend a lot of the proportions of the individual. Laying out a certain way may well help relax muscles and align the spine. Also, ritual behaviors done before certain activities will usually better prefer the body for what it should be preparing for next. Also, there may be good old placebo effect at work.

    Grok would surely have layed out in whatever way felt most comfy given available resources. Even most dogs seem to prefer pillows, especially as they get older. I think often, a dog will eschew a pillow to be closer to the master or to have a better view, but as age sets in, I usually see them change their priorities. I suspect the same happens with humans but we live longer and have more time to build up creaky bones and joints.

    Eva wrote on July 1st, 2010
  11. I am another HUGE fan of 100% natural latex mattresses! We have had ours for about 3 years now. It looks brand new. It is the firmest latex that was deemed “comfortable” by the company that made it, so it is pretty firm. I always tell people that if my house was on fire I’d get my kids out, the dogs, and then the mattress. It’s that great. We had ours made with a polyester fire barrier (fire retardent is required in mattresses, at least in CA) instead of chemical fire retardent, so it is pretty much toxin free, which also makes me sleep better. The company that made ours is Square Deal Mattress Factory in Chico, CA. They are a small family owned company.

    Katie wrote on July 1st, 2010
  12. I gave up my pillow a few months ago. I’ve been sleeping fantastic ever since.

    I also gave up all lights at night and installed f.lux on my computer. Since I made those changes I’ve been able to go to bed and fall asleep hours earlier than what had been my normal bedtime.

    JT wrote on July 1st, 2010
    • Just downloaded F.lux, thanks for the tip!

      Uncephalized wrote on July 2nd, 2010
  13. My bed is one of my most prized possessions! I figured since I’m going to spend so much time in it that I’d get a really solid one with comfortable bedding a few years ago.

    That being said, I end up falling asleep (and sleeping the night away) on my tiny couch on a regular basis as well.

    One habit I want to break is that I am a “belly sleeper.” For one thing, I’ve heard this is the worst position to sleep in.

    But the worst thing for me is that, due to the position, I end up putting my arms to sleep. And waking up in the middle of the night, completely disoriented, with no sensation in your arms whatsoever is a truly scary experience!

    Darrin wrote on July 1st, 2010
    • I, too, sleep on my stomach. It is horrible for my lower back, but I can’t seem to break the habit. I tend to toss and turn, and go through long periods when I wake in the middle of the night (after sleeping for a couple hours) and can’t get back to sleep. I just can’t shut my mind off. Sometimes I think I’d be better off just getting up for a couple of hours, getting something done, and then going back to bed.

      Jenny wrote on July 2nd, 2010
  14. Well I sleep well all night 8-9 hours .

    I sleep alone in a twinbed with latex
    cotton sheets and goose down duvet
    I sleep on my side – cant sleep on my back.
    I´ve got broad shoulders so I need 2 soft pillows.
    My room is dark and cool with the the window open most of the year even in the cold danish winter 😉

    I just don´t understand why Grok shouldn´t have used pillows ? who says so ?
    I am an archeologist and we have found pillows from later periods in DK so i don´t think we can say for sure that Grok didn´t make something out of furs etc to support his head.

    My kid never could sleep on her back- evn though that was the recommended position to avoid SIDS – she always slept on the side -much like Marks dog

    Henriette wrote on July 2nd, 2010
  15. Once upon a time I ran across an old book of health advice for young men, penned in about 1902 by a then venerable US MD. One of the bees in his bonnet was artificial electric light which was just taking off. He said that it would surely derange our natural bodily rhythms tied to the primordial cycles of light and dark. He predicted pandemics of nervous disorders!

    So, now we indeed have pandemics of nervous diseases and sleep disorders.

    I am not good at it, myself (says she still online at 1:27 am local time) but I agree with those who say we need to limit our exposure to artificial light if we want to reclaim a decent sleep cycle. One also needs to let the temperature decline a little and avoid excess EMF exposure.

    Some people speak highly of hammocks. I don’t know what to think about those.

    slacker wrote on July 2nd, 2010
  16. Hi Mark. I’m assuming that’s not actually your dog as something tells me your dog gets enough exercise to keep his claws at a healthy length! This poor guy needs a trip to the doggy podiatrist!

    Will wrote on July 2nd, 2010
  17. Great suggestions – many thanks.

    But your dog? He’s partly benefitting from the fact that his protector and provider is around, promising him a limitless supply of food. Most humans have more legitimate worries than your dog. I doubt animals in the wild sleep as soundly as house pets…

    Glenn wrote on July 2nd, 2010
  18. Cool. Sorry i am going to drift off posture…
    Some thoughts, air conditioning doesn’t help, it sucks the moisture out of your sleeping environment, if you must, keep a large bowl of water in your room overnight or if in a hotel room 1/4 fill the bath with water before you go to bed to moisturize the room overnight. Get rid of the heavy doona that won’t help your skin breath either. I’ll check in more often you have great posts and awesome followers.

    Troy wrote on July 2nd, 2010
  19. For me, I think the biggest obstacle to sleep is my sedentary lifestyle. I simply don’t get enough exercise to be properly tired by the end of the day.

    My best 2 weeks of sleep ever? On vacation in Hawaii, getting lots of fresh air and tropical sunshine [okay, it was December, there was also a lot of rain!], and walking everywhere. I was sleeping on an air mattress on the floor and I did not care! I went out like a light and woke refreshed 6 hours later like clockwork. :)

    Diane C wrote on July 2nd, 2010
  20. I tried the spine-lengthening lie-down procedure last night and it worked great! I spent a few minutes doing my relaxation routine (I visualize my body slowly dissolving, completely relaxing whichever body part I am thinking about), and I was out like a light. I slept without moving until 5AM–even my hands were in the same position I started in–when I got to use the bathroom, then back to bed for 3 more hours, and woke up feeling fantastic. No pillow for the first stretch either.

    Uncephalized wrote on July 2nd, 2010
  21. Iremember looking at the Tempuredic beds when they first came out–the smell nearly knocked me out! Too many chemicals! We have a wonderful latex mattress on a slat frame –we also have a fluffy wool topper on top of the latex. I will never go back to anything else–it is horrible when we have to sleep on a regular bed when visiting. In fact, we now take an air mattress with us rather than sleep on an innerspring mattress. My husband and I are also working on the Gokhale method and it is making a huge difference. I am sure that early humans found sushiony materials to sleep on. We took our grandkids to a festival last weekend–there was a diplay of historical stuff. A Native American group had a buffalo hide that we could feel–it was surprisingly thick and soft–I think I could sleep on that on the ground–especially if it was thick grass or leaves underneath.I need to not sag or bounce–so something firm like the latex on frame but something soft to cushion the shoulders and hips(I prefer the stretch side sleeping). Also just a side note–latex with wool is much better for other activites on the bed than an innerspring!

    Debrah wrote on July 2nd, 2010
  22. Hi Mark and fellow Gorkers,
    I’ve been lurking about for the past couple of months; started reading The Primal Blueprint and have embarked on my “Primal Journey”. I have suffered with sporadic bouts of insomnia for many years. Organic Bedding and using Grounding Sheets have helped tremendously; along with adding extra house plants to clean the inside air of your bedroom and home and eliminating as many toxic (store bought) cleaners as possible from my home environment. . For all interested check out

    Augie wrote on July 2nd, 2010
  23. Hi, Mark.
    One thing I’ve noticed is that I am most uncomfortable in complete darkness. I have to have the TV on, only for the light it provides (although I don’t like hearing the sound from the TV). Maybe that is primal, like the light from a fireplace, or the Moon….I simply can’t sleep in complete darkness. I start to see hallucinate even with my eyes closed. nothing psych ward worthy, but shapes, colors, stuff like that.

    Stancel wrote on July 2nd, 2010
    • Check about sleep issues and methods on Mercola’s site – esp. regarding the effects of ambient light. I discovered that removing all light (even teh alarm clock) helps me sleep better. The TV (sound and light) is incredibly detrimental to your healthy sleep. I have never had a TV in my bedroom and never will. After trying Mercola’s suggestions I don’t need and alarm clock anymore either. Good Luck !

      Doug wrote on July 10th, 2010
  24. I remember reading some research quite a few months back and they found that the firmer the surface you sleep on, the less deep you slept or the quality of sleep is reduced because you spend more time moving around in your sleep because of pressure build up or something like that.

    Dave wrote on July 2nd, 2010
  25. Interesting article! I have finally found my perfect combo for a great night sleep. Complete darkness(which I have read can be important for women in regulating cycles). A low carb- paleo diet and cod-liver oil (for the vit D). I have had years of insomnia but sleep great now and wake up well-rested even though I have a cosleeping baby that nurses some at night.

    amanda wrote on July 3rd, 2010
  26. I sleep on a $100 spring-loaded cot, with a World’s Most Perfect Pillow adjusted to cradle my head with minimal neck support. Better than any motel bed.

    mike wrote on July 4th, 2010
  27. Used to have to have my special pillow (buckwheat) for my head and a large down filled pillow to put between my knees. After reading the article on instinctual sleeping postures, I gave up my pillows completely and have not looked back. It has helped my occupational neck issues immensely !!

    neil wrote on July 4th, 2010
  28. Any idea to help Lady Grok’s sleep?

    I usually could fall asleep in 10 min. & sleep well if i’m sleepy.

    my problems:

    (1) i just don’t get sleepy until at least 0130. going to bed earlier is just a waste of time (tossing).

    (2) i also get up 2 times/night,
    if i drink less liquid in the night, i’d get up only once.


    (1) F.lux has done nothing for me.

    2) exercise also does not help. i did a boot camp (5 hr/day for a week), i still didn’t get sleepy any earlier.


    PHK wrote on July 4th, 2010
  29. Ha ha Grokhale! Good one!

    sangita wrote on July 6th, 2010
  30. hi there! i am non-english speaker, please help me get this:

    “You touch ground with your sacrum, lay your palms on the ground, and slowly lower yourself back, taking care to actively lengthen your spine – vertebrae by vertebrae – by pushing through your hands.”

    – is it just lying on the back basically? And hands lying next to it on the ground?

    thanks a lot for the help

    Mike wrote on July 6th, 2010
  31. Thanks for making me google “sacrum”…

    fixed gear wrote on July 7th, 2010
  32. I am a bit confused about the long lying — from what position am I putting my sacrum and palms on the ground?

    Heather wrote on July 7th, 2010
  33. I have been reading and following Mercola’s suggestions on light and sleep and am having much success. Just came back from a campout with the Cub Scout Pack (listened to all the parents complain about sleeping on the ground) Notice how young children can sleep anywhere with little discomfort. My Tai Chi friend advises me to watch animals and children for signs of how we should do many things. I think sleeping is one of them. This post digs into a big ongoing subject for me (as someone who camps alot with very little attention to cots and pads etc.) However the cot comment above makes me think about the absolutely wonderful sleep I have at week-long Scout Summer Camp in the miltary cots they provide. Most often I find that after the 2nd night (on the ground or in the cot) I seem to naturally adjust and start having great sleep. Sorry for the long post – Great subject.

    Doug wrote on July 10th, 2010

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