Sleeping on the floor

and the story of the futon I sold after just two hours.

At the beginning of the year, I started sleeping on the floor. After months (well, okay, years...) of neck pain, lower back pain, and sleeping issues, I had tried everything. My evening routine was impeccable. My sleep hygiene was inscrutable. I tried every pillow you can think of—yes, including a fancy water pillow. I tried going to bed earlier. I tried going to bed later. I tried getting up earlier. I tried not setting an alarm and sleeping for as long as my body wanted me to. I tried it all.

I transitioned to natural methods in a lot of places over the past few years. I went no-poo while in New Zealand (no, I'm not currently no-poo, see this video). I phased out make-up and am now down to my last lipsticks. I don't think I'll be buying new lipsticks after they run out. Maybe, I'll make some myself. I hear raspberries are a great stain. We'll see.

For some reason, my bedroom seemed to be out of bounds for this transition. I worked on my kitchen. I worked on my bathroom. I worked on our laundry room. Sure, I had heard about floor-sleeping while in New Zealand and spent a few hours on the carpet before giving up on the idea. Similarly, giving up my pillow was an "experiment" of a few hours one night before I pulled my beloved pillow under my head again. No, these ideas were stupid. It was so much more comfortable to be, well, comfortable. Why would I give that up?

Well, because comfortable doesn't mean that something is good for us.

As innovation and change began to spike in the Holocene (which constituted less than 0.5 percent of our history), we have repeatedly mistaken what is comfortable with what is best for us, what is ideal for that which is quickest or easiest, and what feels good for what is good for us. And as the transformations, inventions, comforts and technological solutions pile up around us, it seems that a digger’s claws have opened above our heads and showered them down on us – our bodies are struggling to keep pace with the changes we have made and are continuing to make. (Location 991) - Vybarr Cregan-Reid in Primate Change (yes, it's also available on Amazon, but I'd rather link almost anywhere else.

My attempt to find the right pillow was nothing other than the attempt to cure an illness with a quick pill. I didn't want to discomfort. I didn't want to change my habits. I wanted a fix.

The problem is that an issue that takes years and years to take root is barely every fixed in a night. Hours and hours and hours in front of my computer on chairs that are killing and deforming my spine, shortening my ham strings, and putting way too much pressure on my lower back are not cured with a new chair or a new gadget. Evenings spent on a saggy soft couch in front of the TV are not undone by a new couch or another layer of cushions. Night after night spend on a "firm" mattress that is still softer enough to make me not want to leave the bed in the morning are not evened out by a new damn pillow. Just like the gut damage that years of eating the wrong foods are not cured taking supplements or probiotics, these things need time and quite a bit of change in habits.

When I found out that my stomach was sensitive to almost any food, I did the hard work of figuring out what I could still eat, what was good for me, and slowly worked my way to better gut health. I eat a diet full of unprocessed foods, fruit, vegetables, grass-fed organic meats (from a small butcher who raises the animals sustainably), and healthy fats. Why could I not imagine the same for the rest of my life?

Why could I get over my "comfortable" eating habits and feel and see the results within a very short period of time, but not admit that I needed to change in other areas? After a few weeks of eating the way I eat, I no longer craved processed, sugary foods full of empty calories. I had seen my body thrive. And yet, I didn't even consider the same for my body.

At the end of last year, when all else failed, I stumbled upon a Youtube video about sleeping on the floor and went down one of my beloved Youtube rabbit holes. Is floor sleeping good for you? Why should I sleep on the floor? What kind of setup should I sleep on?

There are hardwood floors in my apartment, so sleeping on the floor couldn't mean just lying down on the floor (or at the very least not immediately). So, that night, I didn't put away my yoga mat. Instead, I spread out my yoga blanket on top of it, threw my comfortable blanket on top and crawled under the covers. I didn't last long. Around 1 am, I shouldered my heavy two-people blanket (yes, I do love comfort!) and crawled into my loft bed. The next night, I didn't even last an hour. That night, I was convinced, floor sleeping wasn't for me. No, this is stupid, I told myself. The next morning, my neck hurt and I decided to give the idea a real try. I dedicated to sleeping on the floor for seven nights, no matter how much I hated it, before giving up. After all, I can do almost anything for seven days. So, the next evening, I added two folded throw blankets for hip support and gave it another try.

I slept through the night.

Yes, you read that right. I slept through the damn night. After years and years of tossing and turning, restless night after restless night, trouble falling asleep, waking frequently through the night, and mornings with bad hangover like fatigue, I slept through the fucking night.

I was convinced this was just exhaustion. I had slept through individual nights before. Also, my hip was pretty sore. I wasn't ready to call it a success yet.

And then I slept through another night, and another one. My hips were still pretty sore in the mornings, but I could feel my spine loosen and I felt more refreshed in the morning than I ever had. Yeah, I know, it sounds like a miracle cure.

So, I started looking into things more. Why was I feeling better? I got down a rabbit hole of natural movement, furniture-free living, floor desks, and so on. I haven't read the book yet, but the title "Civilized to death" seemed pretty appropriate as a headline for my titles. The book had been sitting on my TBR for a while. I moved it to the third position on the list. Primate change, digital minimalism, civilized to death. Getting there.

After one week, I didn't even consider going back to my bed. Instead, I looked into taking things further. I didn't change anything just yet, but looked into the whole pillow thing again. My humpback would make it impossible to just ditch the pillow and get used to things. No, that would probably not be smart. I waited until the rest of my body was used to the floor sleeping, until my hips were no longer sore. And then I had to go to the hospital for my nose operation.

I didn't even think about sleep, as I wasn't supposed to stay over night. Due to pretty bad miscommunication, I ended up spending two nights there. The bed was moderately comfortable and thanks to a pretty strong pain killer the first night and a sleeping pill the second night, I actually slept a bit. I mean, I was sedated a bit, because sleep on sleeping pills has nothing to do with actual sleep. I finally got to go home on Sunday evening but had to keep my head elevated for another week. I spent that week on the couch and after just a couple of days, I could barely move my neck. I spent the day sitting on the couch, the night sleeping almost as upright. I had refused pain killers from the second day onward but the pain in my neck was getting so bad, that I took a few paracetamol. Fast forward a few more days and I had to go to the emergency room to get my neck checked out to make sure it was really just a tension headache and neck ache. I wasn't allowed to put heat on things to avoid bleeding from the nose, so I was back on pain killers—and pretty strong ones at that.

The next night, I was finally allowed to sleep level again. I couldn't wait. I missed my floor. That night, I didn't get much sleep and felt like shit the next morning. My nose was stuffy and hurt and I wasn't in good shape, but at least my neck was getting better. After just one night on the floor, I stopped the pain killers. After a few more nights, my neck pain was gone.

My body not only got used to the hard surface at night but actually started to crave it. I gave myself another week to recover, just to be sure that my nose wouldn't be any trouble. The slight elevation on the pillow made sure that the mucus didn't accumulate in my throat too much and I wanted that situation to be a bit better before messing with anything.

When my doctor cleared me for yoga halfway through the second week, I finally got to start moving again. Twenty minutes of morning practice, twenty minutes of evening practice. Slowly, my body felt better.

It was time to start the whole pillow transition. That night, before going to bed, I removed about a third of the stuffing from my pillow. I just made a tiny cut along one side, removed the stuffing, stored it in an empty drawer, and used a hairband to close the cut. Did I mention I'm not the most crafty person?

It was still a pretty fluffy pillow, but it was no longer elevating my head as much. Over the next nights, I kept removing small amounts of stuffing. I now have an entire drawer full of the stupid stuff. Maybe I should knit a stuffed animal or something?

By now, I'm down to a very thin layer of filler material. Depending on how the filling lies, I feel the floor through the pillow. It doesn't offer much more support than my yoga mat. When I roll on my side, I instinctively use my arm to support my head. Sometimes, the pillow goes on top of my arm (between arm and head), sometimes underneath my arm as shoulder padding. I'll stay at this level until my body get used to things. A few nights in, I started to wake up a few times each night, feeling the discomfort. My body wasn't used to things. I needed to give it time.

January 12, 2021 was my first full night on the floor. Today is February 25, so it's been six weeks already.

A few weeks ago, I bought a futon. I thought I'd treat myself to the luxury of floor sleeping. I told myself I didn't want to wear out my yoga mat by sleeping on it. I told myself it would be a more even firm sleep. I just wanted it. I had toyed with the idea when I first started sleeping on the floor. After weeks on the yoga-mat-and-blankets setup, I knew it was the best sleep setup I had ever had. And for some damn reason I felt the need to improve it. Why mess with a system that felt ideal? Consumerism. Want. So, after a few days, I found a futon. Six layers of cotton with a layer of coconut fiber. Fancy, right? I haggled with the seller, got the price down to the point where I could "afford" it and picked it up the next day. I needed help getting the damn thing up the stairs and into my room.

When my husband said, "And you want this lying around for a more minimal setup?" I got angry and defensive. But it gnawed on me. Ten minutes later, I posted the damn thing back on the platform where I had bought it. I sold it for 15 EUR more than I had gotten it for which barely covers the gas and effort to pick it up and to get it to the post office for shipping. I got out with no loss which is more than idiot me could have hoped for.

Instead, I got myself a used wool yoga mat and have now created my ideal setup: regular yoga mat, wool yoga mat, bed sheet, me, heavy duvet. It's working pretty well. It goes to show that less is more in a lot of cases.

If you are curious to see what my setup looks like or want to hear me babble about floor sleeping, check out the latest video or podcast episode.

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand is the writer behind the essays here, author of fiction novels, the creator of the Kate Hildenbrand podcast, and a student of marine ecology. At least, that's her on the surface.