Much like other college students, I love my bed. It is always there for me when I need to catch a quick nap, and it always supports me through my toughest times. I love being able to snuggle under the covers when it drops below freezing and sleeping on freshly washed sheets after I do laundry. It's never done anything to wrong me, and I have no reason to hate it. However, despite the close relationship my mattress and I share, I've discovered that, maybe, sinking into one every night isn't the best thing I could be doing for my back.
In an interview with Quartz, Dr. Jeffrey Golden, a spinal surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, explains that a restful night's sleep relies heavily on evenly-distributed support. When we sleep on a rigid surface, like our floor, the small muscles in our back distribute our body weight evenly. This also promotes natural movements in our sleep. When we lay on a mattress, our bodies are cushioned and the middle of the mattress tends to dip. This prevents us from moving as we naturally would, unevenly distributes our weight, and leads to stiffness or soreness in our back and neck.
Wait, I should sleep on my floor?
When we lay on a firm surface, our spine realigns to its natural position. This helps us improve our posture. People slouch when standing up straight because of a bad mattress or poor sleeping habits. When the pressure on our backs is properly distributed, it is less likely for this to happen.
Alas, sleeping on a hard surface isn't anything new. In the past, the Japanese used to sleep on tatami mats, a type of flooring made from rice straw that covered the floors of homes. Traditional Chinese beds used to emphasize firmness and were made of clay with an oven to warm the material underneath. Our ancestors used to sleep on the ground as hunters and gatherers. Personally, the adults around me have always suggested laying on the ground in order to fix neck/back pain.
So... what do I do with this information?
Of course, not everyone should start sleeping on their floors. Dr. Langmeier, a chiropractor from All Chiropractic, LLC, states that everyone has different anatomy; in an interview with Well and Good, she states that what may work for some may not work for all. As the support for a person's spine varies from individual to individual, we need "to take into consideration [our] body's comfort, conformation, and structure."
Maybe you should flip your mattress over if it is starting to dip or change the height of your pillow to find a more beneficial angle for your neck. Whether you choose to sleep on the floor or on your mattress tonight, we should all be more cognizant of what changes we can make — big and small — to improve our sleeping habits.