Bedding: Do We Really Need It?

The massive, California king body-molding Tempurpedic mattress that can balance a glass of Cab even as the red-faced TV pitchman hops up and down on it on his way to the next infarction, is a recent invention. Our ancestors were not hauling these massive things from kill site to kill site. They made do with mats, or piles of leaves, or animal skins, or even just the bare ground, and they – by and large – managed to avoid the musculoskeletal disorders that plague modern sedentary man. Should we follow suit, ditching our sumptuous sleeping setups for something more Spartan? Are health benefits conferred by slumbering on something Grok would recognize? Or put another way, are our beloved pillow-topped mattresses doing more harm than good?

To make a long story short, I don’t think contemporary Western beds are all that important in the development of back and shoulder pain and think this is one of many areas where a modern convenience is a plus. In fact, I feel for Grok. Who wants to sleep on the ground!? We prefer softer beds because they’re… well, softer. Who doesn’t feel spoiled in high-thread count, Egyptian cotton sheets and surrounded by a plethora of pillows? There aren’t many things more comfortable and relaxing. With all that said let me add this caveat. I also see them as a reaction to our sedentary lifestyle. We prefer softer beds in part because our backs hurt, and our backs hurt because we sit in chairs instead of squat, plod around in shoes instead of prowl around in bare feet or barely-there moccasins, and obtain our food by placing it neatly into a grocery cart instead of hunting or gathering it. Modern bedding is like cholesterol; it’s the smoke, not the fire. Sleeping on softer and softer beds might exacerbate our pain or make recovery that much harder, but from what I can gather it doesn’t seem to be the original cause of our back pain.

Still, if you’re making good progress (making the barefoot transition, minimizing time spent hunched over a computer or sitting improperly, exercising regularly), you might want to experiment with different sleeping surfaces. After all, most ancestral beds were little more than mats or planks, and many modern cultures still prefer firm beds with nearly nonexistent mattresses (like most of Asia, for example; just try finding an affordable hotel or hostel with big plush Western-style bedding).

No support (mats, ground, palm fronds, stiff board) should work fine, provided you’re working from a solid healthy base. If you look at the folks who’ve traditionally slept on not much at all (PDF), they’ve got all their bases covered. The Ache of Paraguay, who sleep on mats, are active hunters, getting around 80% of their energy from animals or insects, and far from sedentary. I doubt the average Ache has even seen an office chair. Then there’s the !Kung, who sleep on blankets or “nothing at all,” or the Efe people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who sleep on leaves strewn on the ground. These are all active groups who do not sit in chairs or lead sedentary lives. They tend toward physical fitness as a necessity of survival, and lying on the ground with minimal support is a perfectly natural way to sleep. I’m reminded of Maba’s account of her grandmother, who went barefoot her entire life, slept on the ground, and remained “healthy and active until 2 days before she died.” I’m not entirely sure that your average IT guy could sleep on his studio floor and get a good night’s sleep like she evidently could. In that same thread, Erwan le Corre of MovNat is described as a floor-sleeper; the guy goes barefoot trekking through rain, sleet, snow, and jungle for a living, so he’s definitely wired and prepped for minimal bedding.

I personally lean toward the firmer side of things. In the last couple of sleep posts, commenters praised latex mattresses. Since I’m inclined to trust my readership, especially when they reach a consensus, I would suggest checking out latex mattresses if you need a change.

What about pillows, for that matter?

No, we weren’t born with pillows, but they sure do improve my sleep quality – and that’s enough reason for me to keep on using them. Besides, even if we haven’t always had access to goose down pillows, we’re using forearms and shoulders to support our big heads. The traditional Chinese “pillow” consists of a wooden block that rests under the head; certain hunter-gatherers use a “wad of clothing” or a bunch of leaves bound together. I had a college buddy who always stretched (passed) out on the floor and refused to use a pillow, instead preferring his fist. The guy never failed to fall asleep, so I guess it worked for him.

I’m thinking our reliance on mattresses is a bit like our reliance on protective footwear; we’ve grown soft and coddled, and switching to a firmer (or nonexistent) mattress results in some growing pains as we adjust, just like new barefooters, with their underused foot and calf muscles, need to ease into the new way of moving. But the comparison stops there. Barefooting confers considerable benefits over shoefooting, provided you master the transition, and I’m convinced that nearly everyone should try to ditch the shoes whenever possible. I’m just not convinced that ditching the bed and hunkering down on the ground is necessary. Sure, there may be some benefits – you’d have to give it a shot to see just how evident they are – but I, for one, continue to get fantastic sleep and wake up with zero pain on my standard (albeit firm) mattress. It may be a case of “you don’t know until you give it up,” like with grains and sugar, but I doubt it. At any rate, I gave up the grains and sugar because their deleterious effects on my body were tangible. If you’re tossing and turning and waking up with terrible back and shoulder pain because of your mattress, it might be worth it to tinker with your sleep posture (first) and bedding choices. There does appear to be evidence that in the presence of lower back pain, switching from your old bed (more than five years old, firmness not specified) to a brand-new “medium firm bed” improves sleep quality and reduces discomfort. If you don’t have back pain or sleep discomfort, keeping doing what you’re doing.

Would Maba’s grandmother have enjoyed such robust health and vitality if she slept on a mattress? It’s difficult to say, but I think her lack of footwear and tendency toward staying active were bigger players. Lock those down, stop sitting so much, improve your recumbent and upright posture, and then think about playing with your bedding.

Let me know what you think. What are your bedding preferences and experiences? Thanks for reading, everyone, and Grok on!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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76 thoughts on “Bedding: Do We Really Need It?”

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  1. “Stay tuned for today’s regularly scheduled post in which we’ll be exploring another hormone: estrogen.”
    Wow, who knew estrogen was so comfy… 😛
    just kidding, great post!

  2. I need it! But that’s just cause I life to be comfy and cozy! Thanks for the article, I love sharing your info with my clients!

  3. I’m not parting with my comfy bed, pillows, flannel winter sheets and soft summer sheets. Grok can have the ground, I’ll take the mattress, or even the couch for that matter.

  4. Like I have said in your other posts about sleeping, I have been sleeping in my same bed for 22 years. Well, except for 3 months. But, it is a twin bed and it is a cheap mattress set I am sure. But, I sleep like a baby every night.

    For one who struggles with sleep, they should first look at posture and any distractions that effect them before and during sleep time. Buying an expensive mattress set may do nothing where as simply avoiding the TV before bedtime or sleeping in a different position could do wonders… for FREE.

  5. Doing without my tempurpedic? Oh Man!

    Seriously though I have noticed that while my overall comfort level is down when sleeping on foreign mattresses or other surfaces, one can still get quality sleep.

  6. I found some of my problems have been my sleeping posture…I corrected a shoulder issue just by stopping the habit of tucking my hands between my knees while laying on my side….I was surprised that it was causing my actual shoulder/rotater cuff pain.
    We are getting ready to get a queen size bed…we have been in a full size since we got married and I find it way too small! 🙁

  7. I’ve had the opposite experience. I had a bad back for years, which I assume to be related to chronically sitting at work all day, which lead to poor thoracic mobility. And because of this, I absolutely had to sleep on a hard surface – sometimes the floor. A soft bed was literally painful. Since correcting my thoracic and hip mobility problems, my back feels much better, and only now can I sleep on a soft mattress (if I choose to).

  8. My wife and I have been sleeping “minimally” for the past 8 or so months. There is, as you ably note, an adjustment period. But post-transition, we are doing great!

    We started with a cheap trial of sleeping on the floor. When we decided that super-firm was for us, we purchased a bed and set of tatami mats. Perfect!

    I have coupled this with transition to a standing desk, and all kinds of alignment issues have resolved themselves.

    1. Ditto here! I’ve been sleeping minimally for about 6 months and love it.

      I sleep on a 3″ shikibuton (traditional Japanese shiki futon) directly on a carpeted floor. It’s cotton/wool and hand made – no off gassing and what not, very comfortable. I would have liked to use tatami mats but I ended up foregoing them and just adding another layer using an old blanket. I highly recommend this as an option for folks who enjoy a firm bed. This, in addition to transitioning to sleeping on my back had improved some minor back pains I’d had.

      I’m a bit interested in a buckwheat pillow also, anyone have any comments on those?

      1. Yes, my husband uses a buckwheat pillow ( He took some of the hulls out of it when it was new, and added some back in after they compressed. I didn’t like it, though, because it shifts during sleep, so it loses support. I prefer to slip a rolled hand towel into a standard pillow for neck support. Works great in hotel rooms, too.

      2. Where did you get your shiki futon? Looking for one too. I am in New York. Thanks.

    2. Where did you get the mats? I went to Japan last year and had the best sleep ever on these. I wish I could get one!

  9. Great write up! After going thru two very expensive bed sets, backaches and night sweats, we finally have a happy ending with a (cheap) IKEA bed that consists only of wooden slats and a mattress that is only 3 7/8″ thick. Best sleep we’ve had in 12 years! Check it out: 1) Mattress: 2) Slats: 3) Frame:

    Thanks for a great subject! Simple/basic is always better! Sweet dreams!

  10. I’ve owned a traditional spring mattress, Tempurpedic, foam rubber, and select comfort air mattress.

    So far the select comfort air mattress (my current mattress) has been most successful at preventing bumps or dips. Does need the occasional inflating–especially in the wintertime.

    My foam rubber mattress was actually worse than a spring mattress. Created a huge crater near my lower back after only 6 months.

    Tempurpedic was inconsistent. Be careful of using fitted sheets as they compress the mattress and may restrict the natural contours that mold to your body as you lay in it. Also, on hot days it becomes way too soft.

    My bigger issue is finding the right pillow. 🙂

  11. Looking for a good pillow, one that doesn’t go flat in a couple of weeks. Any good recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

    1. I’m all over the bed and start sleeping on my sinde and when I wake up I’m on my stomach. I used to have issues with too fluffy pillows then if I bought stomach sleeper pillows they were too flat and uncomfortable for me to relax and fall asleep. Go to Ikea. They have down pillows that are also stomach sleeper friendly. They are a little stiff but you can squish them down if you push on it a bit. Best part, when you make your bed in the morning all you need to do is give them a little fluffing and ta da! They are back to normal. I have had these pillows for over a year now and they are like new still. I will say they were 50 bucks each but well worth it.

    2. I’d recommend a tempurpedic pillow – ever since I got mine, I’ve hardly had any neck problems whatsover.

      (We’ve also got one of those tempurpedic-style “topper pads” for on top of the mattress, but I’m not so sold on it anymore… but my pillow is pure gold.)

      1. Did it take any time to adjust to the tempurpedic pillow? I have the side-sleeper one and just used it last night for the first time. A lot of my joints are cracking today. I’m wondering if this is a good thing!? 🙂

  12. I’m still wondering about the toxin side of bedding. Flame retardants, off-gassing of memory foam mattresses and toppers, etc. Is this a big issue or not? What are the alternatives?

    Lastly, what sort of firm options are people using aside from traditional mattresses? I would consider a mat of some sort, but don’t know where to begin. I am just tired of spending $1000+ for a “good” mattress that sags after only a few years of my 190ish pound body.

  13. “No support (mats, ground, palm fronds, stiff board) should work fine, provided you’re working from a solid healthy base…” finally struck home for me! In my teens & 20’s when I couldn’t sleep, I’d chuck everything on the floor & sleep there. In the summer I’d go sleep outside on the lawn in my bag. duh, I was fitter then & unspoiled by desk jobs. Now I have a “marker” to judge when I’ve reached my fitness goal!
    Thanks Mark (& worker bees), is there no end to your thought-provoking info?

  14. I hate springs. I can’t sleep on a bed that has them. I lie awake for hours and finally just lie down on the floor.
    This is when I’m stuck in a motel or something.

    At home I sleep on egg crate foam with a memory foam topper. I got the memory foam when I had a shoulder injury, and it helped.

    I started sleeping on the floor when I noticed that I often fell asleep on the floor in yoga class, during savasana.

  15. PS
    another advantage of floor sleeping: sleeping with kids is safer, as they don’t hurt themselves if they roll off the bed.

    Also, you can accomodate any number of guests with your infinite number of egg crate foam single size “mattresses.” These are very cheap at Walmart. You can stack them for more cushioning. Dogs like them too. Giant beds for three or four or more people, kids, and dogs are possible.

    If you get bedbugs or any other parasites in the bed, you can simply take the foam pieces outside for a good airing, or throw them away.

  16. Just an FYI: Using your arms, hands, or fists as a pillow can cause stress on your ulnar nerve (at your elbow) and can cause numbness and nerve issues in your pinky and ring fingers. I learned this the hard way and couldn’t figure out what was causing it (my guess was my knitting). Which it was, but it was also because I rest my hands on my chest when I sleep kind of mummy-style which was putting lots of stress on my ulnar nerve. Sleeping with your hands outstretched and arms flat is best!

  17. Hi there Mark —

    You mentioned that “They made do with mats, or piles of leaves, or animal skins, or even just the bare ground, and they – by and large – managed to avoid the musculoskeletal disorders that plague modern sedentary man. ”

    I’ve often wondered about this and whether or not it was actually the case. Do you have research or know anyone who has investigated it? I have been looking for quite a long time and haven’t been able to come up with any stories, anecdotes, or any data collected suggesting that pre-modern
    peoples had fewer musculoskeletal complaints.

    I would be fascinated if you could point me in the right direction —

  18. I’m more than willing to give up all the bad starchy foods, the bad oils, the processed grains and anything I might ingest that would be considered harmful. But, I wholeheartedly refuse to give up sleeping in a bed.

    I don’t think we need to get carried away in our “Grokkiness”.

    We have evolved in some areas for good reason!!

  19. I’ve never been a fan of bedding apparently. My mother always tells me how i started out in bed as a child, but more often than not woke up on the floor or some spread out laundry.
    even today, i would love it if i could talk my wife into getting rid of our bed. the best…sleeping vessel i can remember having is a beat up futon mattress just tossed on the floor.

  20. It’s about time! In the past I’ve slept for many months in a sleeping bag on a bare floor, and loved it. But it’s not that easy to keep a sleeping bag clean with daily use. Now I pamper myself in a bag liner (different weights for different seasons) on a bare futon–with a pillow. Once a week the bag and pillowcase go in the wash.

    My friends have huge soft expensive beds with giant mattresses, layers of bedclothes that take an afternoon to strip and wash, and bad backs, and they think I’M crazy.

  21. I would personally stir clear of anything latex.

    I know people that have been around latex (usually a hospital environment) for years and then suddenly developed aserious life threatening response. So much they can’t even walk past the florist in the grocery store where latex balloons have been blown up.

    The interesting thing is the slow and gradual development of the allergy in the people I’ve seen. 15 years or so of snapping on gloves. Then one day, “What’s that rash? Usually on the hands, and attributed to things like new soap, etc.” Then sadly, severe asthma attacks requiring hospitalization in a, you guessed it, rooms FULL of latex. Finally a DX, and then finding a new latex free job… good luck with that!

  22. I have no trouble sleeping on my comfy mattress – and no trouble on my thin camping mat either. I’d be just fine giving up the comfy bed as a trial – then I wondered…. what about sex? It’s a totally different ballgame on a hard surface. I like having the variety – and with a comfy mattress, hard floor and a variety of furniture, well, it’s all the variety I need! I sure would hate to give up that comfy mattress…

    1. Paleo sex—now there’s an article I’m looking forward to on MDA!

  23. Has anybody here tried a wool mattress? Its basically like a fluffy wool pad on a wood slat bed frame. This is what we are thinking of getting for our next bed…here is a link to get an idea of what I am talking about:

  24. I used to think that soft beds were the way to go because softer was supposed to be comfier. But my husband really wanted a firm mattress, so we ended up buying the extra-super firm Sealy Posturpedic from someone on Craigslist and never looked back. Then I got rid of my pillow and never looked back. But after reading this post, it all made sense. When I lived by myself, my favorite place to take a midday nap was in the middle of the living room floor.

  25. I posted on another of the threads, but had to say again that I love, love, love my natural latex mattress. We had ours custom made so no chemical fire barrier was used. There was no off gassing for this reason. It is pretty firm, but less firm versions do feel like memory foam in many respects.

  26. I used to have tatami mats under my futon, but I found that they harbored bugs too much.

  27. The only times I slept without back pain is when I’ve slept on tanned sheep hides directly on wood or dirt. I can’t achieve deep sleep on other surfaces (I currently sleep on a king sized mattress and this is the case right now), and futons give me back pain within one night.

    I go with Grok on this one. However, finding a partner to share space on some hides is harder than you may think.

  28. We tossed our two-year-old TempurPedic after two years of aches and pains. We disassembled the layers and parted it out to our kids. What’d we use instead? The old cotton/foam futon from our guest room. Life got even better when we traded in our memory foam pillows for a buckwheat hull pillow (him) and two flat pillows, one with a rolled hand towel for neck support (her). We’re sleeping much better now.

  29. Lately, I’ve started taking my lunch break outside on a big flat rock under some partial shade with grass in the parking lot at work. I figured a bit of grass and sunlight would provide not only relaxation but also Vitamin D. Sometimes I even lay out flat on the rock and take a little nap. At first, the hard rock felt somewhat uncomfortable, but after a few times, my body adjusted and now I really like it. Recently, some of my friends drove by and happened to spy me napping on the rock and now I have the nickname of ‘the girl who sleeps on rocks.’

  30. Whew.

    And here I was worried you were going to advocate ditching the bed altogether for a yoga mat!

    I love my bed and am unlikely to get rid of it any time soon. (I even hauled it halfway across the country when I just moved.)

    I can speak firsthand that the physical and emotional benefits of having a cozy haven to collapse in every night easily bests any slight detriments it may have.

  31. You could say the same thing about indoors and out. Do we really need to sleep indoors?

    Interestingly, someone in one of the North American 18th or 19th century “captivity narratives” mentions difficulty in re-adjusting to sleeping in a bed and indoors after escaping from the Indians. I can’t remember which one, but it’s in Frederick Drimmer’s excellent collection:

    I think you get used to whatever you habitually do, and if you do change you then get used to that. That’s a phenomenon I’ve often noticed in the past. It’s just the way habit works – and a very good thing to remember, if there’s a habit you think you need to change.

    I expect the bed should be firm, as has been said.

    If you do kip on the floor, best to sleep on your back and use something to raise your head slightly. Otherwise, your spine will be out of alignment.

    Then again, if you’re going to get your breathing down there, what’s in the carpet?

  32. My bed is its own ‘institution’.
    Just need to make sure I rotate the matress every 6 months and it lasts for a long time. I can’t stand a squishy bed either. Medium to firm is the go.

    I only just trained myself to sleep with a pillow and NOT on my stomach in the last year 🙂

  33. In the past years i got trouble to get enough sleeping because of sudden wake ups in the night. I tried different mattress types but no succeed. So i remembered the younger years when i slept on festivals – i slept on the ground in a tent. And in a strange matter i was fitter than on normal work days. So i started to sleep on the ground and my sleep problems are gone. So i can fully support Marks opinion -> get out of bed and start sleeping on ground.

  34. This morning when I went to get my dog out of his kennel, I saw that he had shoved his sleeping pad up against the side & was laying on the cardboard…
    (for a pic of him in his all-out relaxed mode, go to the “our primal pets” group)

  35. Hammock = primal-light.

    I love my hammock.

    A “real” hammock is great to sleep in (nylon or woven – just not the American rope thing with a cross bar – this will not do). Great on the back and joints, inexpensive, saves space. Pretty great all in all. You just absolutely need an underquilt in cold wintery nights.

    See also:
    (read that first line!)

    Grok on!

  36. Thanks for the post , Mark. Although I agree with the idea of ridding the shoes as much as possible, which I have practiced most of my life by wearing moccissans of some sort. I on the otherhand believe that my transition from a regular old spring mattress to a temperpedic has drastically changed my sleep and my day. I have had the mattress for 2 years now and I have yet to toss and torn or wake up during the night once. At one point , on my old mattress, I could not stay asleep longer than 2 hours without tossing.

  37. Before going on a 6-month hike in 2006, I “practiced” sleeping on a lightweight camping mat for a few weeks. My first few nights on the trail were hard on my hips, until I found an old discarded compressed foam pad to add to the sleep system. I gave it up after a few weeks, because I didn’t need it any more. At the time I thought my hips just needed to get used to the camping mattress instead of a bed, but I sometimes wonder if it wasn’t the added strength in my legs, hips, and buttocks from all the hiking that made my sleep on a thin mattress better. Nothing like hiking all day and squatting in the woods to get you a good nights sleep!

  38. I’ve often noticed that, once I CAN fall asleep, sleeping on the ground is almost alarmingly sound, more like anaesthesia than regular sleep. And when I wake I’m really ready to get up.

    Here’s the weird thing. Though the tempurpedic feels almost completely opposite when you lie down, it’s rather simlar in the morning. I sometimes even wake stiff, because you don’t roll around much on it. Once I’m conscious enough to move, I don’t feel like hunkering under the covers (if I’ve gotten my primal Zzz’s, that is).

    I wonder if the pressure-less tempurpedic simulates the effect of good aligned sleep, without actually realigning your back?

  39. Yeah, sorry Mark buy I’m not giving up my shampoo, nor my comfy bedding. Hell, Grok didn’t have an iPod either but I hardly think all of these things have to have a negative connotation. I think we can safely integrate many of our modern amenities into a Primal lifestyle as long as we listen carefully to our bodies and take care not to make physical ease our primary goal.

  40. I can do without the pillow…but I need my wooby! There is nothing like being wrapped in a comforter to sleep. It’s my way of shutting off the world a bit.

  41. I sleep on a memory foam topper on the floor. The learning curve from the floor to the backpacking tent is zero. Plus I never have to worry about falling out of bed.

  42. I slept in my tent last week with my son in our backyard. We didn’t use poly pads and all I had between us and the grass was the bottom of the tent and a sleeping bag. I could tell how accustomed I’d become to sleeping on a plush mattress. It was probably the worst night of sleep I’d ever gotten. I kept waking up and trying to get comfortable. I tended to sleep better on my side when I did sleep. My son, who’s 5, slept very well. We go camping next week and I’m going with the poly pad.

    1. Ray Jardine, a backpacking expert, recommends pitching your tent on a soft place with leaves and things underneath. The hard ground of a back yard or campground is, well, hard, whereas the soil in the woods is frequently softer.

      He uses a closed cell foam pad, and that’s what I use when I go camping. These are very cheap and you can even cut them down to half size for ultra lightweight backpacking.

  43. I’m new to this whole “primal living” thing – and I’m interested. But this sleep issue is confusing to me. I have a big, soft, old, memory-foam bed at home. There is a giant hole where I sleep – and a not-so-giant one where my wife sleeps. We both agree that when we go anywhere else, we don’t sleep as well, and we can’t wait to get back to our bed.

    Perhaps it’s because I’m big and out of shape. I weight about 250 – and should weigh closer to 200-210. But away from my bed, I always wake up with aches and pains.

    Any thoughts?

  44. I spent a good part of 3 years sleeping on a 3/4 thermarest when in Africa and it was sound as a pound.

    I’ve been eating ‘this way’ for 15 years and more by serendipity than by design i lived a very minimal existence for 10 of those years as compared to 99% of Westerners.
    Suppose i feel that whenever a new lifestyle is embraced one seems to have a natural zeal..perhaps as it makes one feel so much better than one did hitherto and thus one then ‘goes off’ like a preacher until that newness becomes the steady state i.e if you like sleeping on the floor and feel it to be far better then do it of course but if after having tried it for however long a period and it feels less good then for phuqs sake don’t do it out of some adherence to what might be perceived as paleolithic principles..
    We might have the biology of our ancestors with our sensibilities fashioned 150000 yrs ago but we don’t live in that environment externally even though we might not know that iternally.
    That environment isn’t coming back and if it was it’d likely be because we or the earth had done something pretty orrific and then it might not be as nostalgic as it seems we can make believe it would be.
    I’ve seen the !San up close and personal and its a fecking hard life for the few that live mod trad lives.
    Mr Le Corre and such like might kip on the floor and he might like it muchly but he’s a guru, self appointed or not is immaterial, and so thats his ‘schtick’ his persona.
    Of course am not a believer but i have always adore Chestertons ‘Angels fly because they take themselves lightly’ and i say that there’s an air of taking all this paleo stuff ways too seriously to the point of it becoming like a religious fervour

  45. I have been hanging out on the earth for a pretty long time and have never slept in a hammock. Will have to put that on my bucket list.

    Since I am always thinking about the things we use ending up in the waste stream, this subject made me think of all the mattresses that must end up there. Minimal sleeping mats or hammocks would certainly cut down on the resources used and add less to the waste stream.

    Maybe some get recycled? I have no idea.

    1. Sharon —

      One can make a hammock out of a bed sheet fairly easily. It just requires a little sewing. Technically you dont even need to do that if you just tie it up right – but I find that the length and width of the sheet need to be just right to be comfortable.

      Way, way less waste than buying a mattress!

  46. “I personally lean toward the firmer side of things. In the last couple of sleep posts, commenters praised latex mattresses. Since I’m inclined to trust my readership, especially when they reach a consensus, I would suggest checking out latex mattresses if you need a change.”

    I just ran across this article and wanted to let you know that I hate my latex mattress. I tried it for a year and have experienced nothing but shoulder and neck pain. I’ve ditched it all together and am now sleeping on the floor with a couple of blankets.

    I feel way better.

  47. Hey Mark, I’m glad you touched on this subject, I’ve been wondering about the supplemental parts of our modern lives lately and what impact they may be having. I find it interesting that for the last few months i’ve been sleeping on couches and, actually, I have been sleeping great! I don’t know if it is just having something to lean back on or if it has more to do with firmness and my own posture. I stayed with my girlfriend in her bed last night and woke with neck and shoulder joint pains that took a while to shrug off. Maybe she sleeps better with me because my body offers that same support that the back of the couch offers me? I don’t think I could sleep on the hardwood or tile any time soon but I think I will be playing with some sleep surfaces because I certainly have been wanting a firmer surface the older I get, and in getting primal, I think this may be another great change!…. Or at least I hope, but I’ve always slept pretty great anyways 😉

  48. On the topic of bedding, have any of you heard of or tried IBT (Inclined Bed Therapy)? I just read about it here:, also see video here: I’m going to try it to see if it affects blood pressure. Eliminating grains and sugars from diet have helped to some degree, have been able to cut hypetension medicine in half. Would be wondeful if this could take me the rest of the way to be free from medicine. Very cost effective too, just need some cinder blocks or some 2 by 4’s 🙂

  49. No bedding. No grains. No shoes. When are you giving up your computer?

  50. I recently started sleeping on the floor due to the heat. I’ve noticed how good it feels on my body to lay completely flat and stretch out. I wake up feeling better, no aches and pains and my allergies aren’t as bad. I’ve also noticed it has helped with digestive issues. I’m now selling my beautiful bed and going Japanese style.

  51. I’ve been sleeping on the floor with just a camping mat or folded comforter below me. I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I feel great!

  52. I have been sleeping on floor for about 5 years.

    I sleep directly on a rug, sheet with a feather duvet. It has taken me several attempts to find the right surface, stay warm and stay out of the draft, after initially getting severe torticollis. However I am now toying with the idea of just using my sleeping bag, as it seems a waste to only use it for camping trips.

    I am not so concerned about the physical temperature, but this being the UK; a duvet provides a certain psychological warmth and softness when its cold, damp and grey… Not sure I’m ready to give that up!

    Great site and enjoy reading about other peoples experiences

  53. I have to disagree with you, Mark. Great benefits can be reaped from switching to sleeping on a floor, but they don’t necessarily have to do with your sleep quality.

    During sleep, your body is essentially resetting itself. Dreams consolidate important memories while the volatile RAM is shut down. Your body is repairing and growing certain tissues. Your hormones are being balanced and primed for the new day… In addition, your musculoskeletal system is adapting to the position and stresses you are in.

    If you’re on a comfy cozy bed, then your body will adapt to that set of stresses, and consequently, your bones will become weaker/brittle over time. Also, your body is likely to be in an unnatural position (falling into the beloved crater in the middle of your bed), so over time your posture will reflect that. Lastly, you are being supported by softer tissues, thus blood flow becomes somewhat impaired (this last bit is more speculative than scientific)

    Sleeping on the ground however, is the great equalizer. That flat surface will straighten out that skeleton night after night as well as provide the hard surface to keep some stress on the bones (keeping their density up). Lastly, blood flow through softer tissues is enhanced.

  54. I think it all depends on your back’s condition, and your conditioning, your back eventually takes shapes to it’s surroundings(as suggested in this post), people with bad backs or any injuries tend to get worse by submitting to it and find the most comfortable position, and it slowly gets worse causing more submission to the good side to get away from the painful position. I have mild scoliosis, and was sleeping on a soft bed for years, when I went to a firm mattress I started getting sciatic pain and numb feelings in my legs, after about a month of that I went back to a topper, and eventually a softer mattress. Would it have eventually corrected itself ? I didn’t want to pain through it, instead I submitted. Did anyone do a study and ask if people sleeping on hard ground have good night sleeps ? Maybe if you had never known anything different and/or had the muscle or body mass to not have it bother you.

    1. A note I forgot to add, I was told by a few foot experts over the years that arch supports are actually bad for most peoples feet because it makes the natural support of your feet muscles lazy and then when you have no support it sags, same with alot of peoples eye muscles and reading glasses, they don’t get exercised and we get stronger glasses to compensate, so I’m assuming with mattresses that if your spines curve is always supported, those muscles get weak too.

  55. I actually have slept horribly my whole life until I ditched various expensive mattresses for a firmer surface. I always used to awake feeling like I had been hit by a truck previous day. I remember when I was a kid, the best sleep I ever got was on a trip-fold foam couch folded out into a bed. So firm and nice (I did not make the connection until much later in life). I have experimented with blankets layered up and a few other beds. The firmest I have slept on besides the floor is a thicker yoga mat on carpet (this set up did not feel that comfortable, but I slept like a rock and sprung out of bed in the morning refreshed, it is not conducive to hitting the snooze button and lingering in bed). I must say there are some studies exploring why sleeping on harder surface than our western style mattress has benefits. All around the world they sleep on much firmer surfaces, not just because they cannot afford modern mattresses (they also have squatting toilets, which cost as much as sitting toilets, I assume). Now I cannot ever go back to a soft mattress even for a night.

    Based on my personal subjective experience, one argument I’ve heard that make the most sense to me (other than the simple fact that we evolved without springs and foam) is that our nervous system can relax more with a firmer sleep surface to react to, and our bones take more of the pressure than our soft tissue. This idea comes from looking the evolution of the development of bigger brains in primates. The apes that nest on the ground or in trees (building a safe secure nest in trees) grew much larger brains than the monkeys that slept on tree branches and were therefore constantly waking through the night feeling like they were falling or actually falling out of trees. The deeper sleep cycle (along with other factors) may have contributed to the development of larger brains, especially when we became nomadic and started sleeping on the ground instead of in trees.

    I know my body likes feeling my bed, I hate feeling like I’m on a cloud, nothing to connect to, nothing to feel secure in, I can tell you my nervous system does indeed stay tense, kind of freaks out all night. I also don’t really love softer futons I feel like I’m sleeping “in.” I like to feel like I’m sleeping “on” something.

    Anyway if anyone is interested, what I have landed on (inspired by sleeping on a foam camping pad on a bed of pine needles in the woods and dreaming like crazy and feeling awesome when I woke super early in the morning) I now sleep on a layer of latex-infused coconut bed mat (not expensive) and 4 layers of 1/2″ felted wool from Shepherd’s Dream or the Heartfelt Collective. Best bed I can imagine, I love it. Check it out, just looking at the felted wool on the website looks so comfortable. Also I sleep with a buckwheat hull pillow, it’s adjustable for side/back sleeping and nice and firm. I get neck/head aches from a soft pillow. It’s also weird if my body is on a firm surface and my head on a soft one. I slept like crap the first 23 years of my life. I have been sleeping very well for the past 7.