What is floor-sleeping, and how does it relate to moving more (or minimal footwear, for that matter?). In this episode, Katy breaks down “sleeping movements” — the movements that get us to and from our sleep surfaces, the amount a sleep surface presses on our body, our sleep positions, etc. She and a special guest (her husband) outline some furniture-free lifestyle steps to transitioning your body to less supportive sleep surfaces and also how to get more sleeping movements without going mattress-free or pillow-free.
(time codes are approximate)
03:00 - Why sleep this way? ( Jump to section)
06:00- Your Questions About Sleep ( Jump to section)
11:50 - Floor Sleeping and Sickness ( Jump to section)
15:30 - Katy's Current Bed Setup - Sheepskin ( Jump to section)
21:15 - Travel and Floor Sleeping ( Jump to section)
28:00 - Keeping it Clean and the Benefit of Hanging up the Bed ( Jump to section)
40:00 - Floor Sleeping when it is Cold and Bugs/Critters ( Jump to section)
49:00 - The Pillow is an Orthotic and Snoring ( Jump to section)
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW
This is the Move Your DNA podcast, a show where movement science meets your everyday life. I’m Katy Bowman – biomechanist, author, and early riser. All bodies are welcome here. Let’s get moving.
So, there’s an economic and public health model that organizes how everyone spends their time into five domains: Sleep, Leisure, Occupation, Transportation, and Home. Meaning you can sort the time you spend into these categories–Sleep, Leisure, Occupation, Transportation, and Home. This is also known as the SLOTH model. S.L.O.T.H.
So, I’ve been using this model a lot in some of the work that I’ve been doing lately - mostly more academic writing geared towards showing where movement fits into those categories. So,I flesh out leisure movement - that would be most exercise we do, occupation movements: that would be jobs that keep us physically active or adding a standing desk at work for more movement on the clock. I mention transportation and how that’s a really great domain to add more movement - in traveling to and from places on foot or wheels versus a car, and then home movement: that’s picking the more active version of household or yard work to increase one’s daily actions or physical activity.
But what about sleep? I never talk about sleep or movement in these papers, because, frankly – the idea of adding movement as transportation, or sweeping instead of using a robot vacuum - which are super straight-forward examples, - those are often mind-blowing. So, other health researchers leave off sleep as a place for movement, because OBVIOUSLY you cannot move while sleeping. Except you can move more while sleeping, as I’ve noted a bit in Move Your DNA and in many other articles that I've written.
So, what are the sleeping movements? That’s what we’re talking about today. But first, let’s hear a bit from our new sponsor, the “perfect fit” mattress company.
Uh, just kidding. This episode is not brought to you by a mattress company, or a pillow company, for that matter. In fact, I’m mostly going to be talking about why, and how, I sleep on the floor - that is without a mattress or pillow.
So, why do I sleep this way? For the movement, in short. So here’s where we begin. What are the movements that go into bedtime? Well, there are the movements that get us to and from our sleep surfaces, the amount a sleep surface presses our body (or pressure), our sleep positions, and then there are the movements associated with the making of the bed.
So let me go through those. Most of you listening sleep on a bed with a surface that’s roughly the same height as the seat of a chair. Why are all the mattresses this height? Well, beds this height don’t require much leg use to get in and out of. One of the challenges to getting onto the floor is that the hinges in the ankles, knees, hips, and spine have to articulate. These parts need to be mobile. And not only mobile but strong, to get to and from the floor with ease. Sleeping on something closer to the ground gets you moving all the parts that get you to and from the ground at least twice a day.
Pressure-related movements are the smaller movements of the skin and what’s just beneath. So take your thumb right now and push it into one of your thighs. What’s happening beneath the thumb is a type of movement. The tissue you’re pressing into has to change position when it’s pressed on, and the amount it changes is based on how firm your thumb is, how hard you push, and also the state of that which you’re pushing into. So, when you lie on something hard, it pushes into you more than when you lie on something softer. And also the stiffer your body is, the harder anything pushing into your body feels, even if it’s not pushing that hard.
Sleep positions are a little simpler - they’re the movements you hold while sleeping, and I guess the movements you also make shifting between positions. And bed-making movements are probably not that important to this conversation, except. that in many cultures that do floor-sleep, set up and then put up their bedding each day. And the fact that we, at one time, had to set up and then break down our bedding regularly is perhaps why we came to fixed beds over time. Right? It was simply easier. It was less movement to have to do all this hassle.
But here in my home, we also put down and pick up our beds each day to deal with moisture issues. But also to maximize the space in our home, so that we don’t have to dedicate so much of a floorplan - think about how much infrastructure you have in your house that is dedicated to house empty beds that nobody is using. So these are not physical benefits, per se, but they're part of the larger container that movement fits in and maybe some of these other reasons are why movement has gone away. So I always consider those as well.
Ok, now that you have a sense of the movements that we’ll be talking about, I’m going to answer some of your questions on sleep moves or sleep moveZzz (Right, so imagine the work move but with a bunch of zzzs in it at the end). I get a lot of questions about this, obviously, because we are not by large a floor-sleeping culture. So, yeah, it's odd. You want to know about it. So I'm here to answer your questions. But I'm not here alone.
To help me answer them, I’m gonna bring in someone who also floor-sleeps, in my house (that's kinda weird except that it’s my husband, Michael). He's gonna help me t do some chatting about this sort of strange thing we do.
KATY: Well, I thought it would be nice because you and I sleep in the same situation - which is floor sleeping - but we're both different sleepers. We have different sleep styles- different sleep needs, I would say.
MICHAEL: Um-hmm, very different.
KATY: How would you describe the difference?
MICHAEL: I'm a very hard, deep, coma-like sleeper and you are whatever the opposite of that is - a butterfly sleeper.
KATY: Right. Do we know how butterflies sleep?
MICHAEL: Yeah. Butterflies sleep very lightly. You can ask any butterfly-ologist.
KATY: And also you sleep more than I sleep.
MICHAEL: Yeah. I need at least 9 to 9 and a half hours to make me feel good.
KATY: And need like 7. Any more than 7 actually make me chipping away at how good I feel. So anyway, we're a sample or two but at least there's a broader range. And we also have different physical needs a little bit. There's a lot of questions I got about snoring.
KATY: That falls in your domain.
MICHAEL: I don't think anyone in our family snores - that I have heard.
KATY: That's true. You have not heard anyone in this family snoring. So first question, I'll let you answer this. I guess we can both answer it. When and why did you start sleeping on the ground?
MICHAEL: It goes back to when I lived in Japan, that was the first time. I lived in Japan for a while when I was young and it's normal there for people to sleep on what they call a futon but really it's a thin mat on top of tatami - a sort of soft flooring. So that was really where I started, although years before that, again because I'm a very deep sleeper, I noticed that I can sleep on sort of any surface.
KATY: It's unbelievable.
MICHAEL: Yeah. That was really where I suppose I sort of perfected the art and understood how to position my body and all that kind of thing.
KATY: But when we - our first homes together had beds. So we were a bed-sleeping family even when we first had kids we were still in a bed. So I would say, I did not have, besides camping, a lot of experience sleeping on the floor. Sleepovers with friends, you always kind of sleep... but I always did feel uncomfortable. It was too brief. I would be more achy from sleeping on the floor. So it never would be something that would be my preference. But just from a more scientific perspective, I stumbled on a paper when I was researching pelvic pain. That was my work when I was in graduate school. And there was this paper that someone had written on Instinctive Sleeping and Resting Postures. And it was done by a physiotherapist, Michael Tetley, and he was trying to explain a lot of back pain - back pain's a normal thing for animals, but the phenomenon of sleeping on the ground sort of works it out - keeps it at bay. Which coming from the background that I was coming from, seemed opposite. Don't you need a lot of cushion and support and ergonomics and the right mattress and the right pillow to avoid back pain? So he was sort of saying something the opposite which was pressure that is created by you being on the ground is sort of - he had very simple language for it. I understand it now differently. I do'nt think he's fleshed out his argument very well, but the paper he was writing that was showing the different sleeping positions - and I was like "oh yeah, right, ok." And I also was always - if I had one thing that was my health nemesis it's headaches. And then I was like - I would do some stretches to keep those headaches at bay but I would just slowly realize that the pillow that I was using was keeping my head in a position that when I was doing my stretches I was trying to get my head and neck out of. And so I just slowly got rid of a pillow over months and months. I think it took me like a year going down in height and allowing my neck to sort of get the same stretches I was trying to do correctively at the end of a long night of sleeping on a pillow to stave off a headache. I was like, I'm just gonna get rid of this pillow. And that made such a difference and I think that that's why I was so keen on trying sleeping on the floor. It was like, ok, pillowless actually adds more movement to my neck. Maybe mattress-less will do that too.
MICHAEL: I find that I use a pillow, sort of, as a bolster depending on my situation. Right now I've got a lot of hay fever happening. Yesterday I woke up with a completely clogged ear related to the hay fever. So last night I wadded up the pillow so that my head was quite elevated to support the drainage. And I feel a lot better this morning. So I feel like sort of not throwing away the pillow, but having it handy...
MICHAEL: ... on a per night or per need kind of basis.
KATY: Or per person.
MICHAEL: Or per person.
KATY: That was one of the questions that was here: Ok, the question is, I would be curious what it's like sleeping on the floor during sickness, such as congestion, which you were just talking about. We switch up between sleeping on the floor and the bed regularly mixing it up, but during times we are congested we seem to find sleeping on the floor uncomfortable as opposed to sleeping propped up on a cushy surface. Just curious if this is something others have experienced and what they do to make things more comfortable, especially for younger children. And I would say, our whole family, has been floor/ground sleepers but definitely when there's coughing or sickness, I don't think the cushy surface is what we need - and we'll talk in a second about the surface we actually sleep on - but I do think elevation of the head over the shoulders is something that we would definitely employ just using blankets or pillows. I feel like a lot of our house is just cushions that we drag around. It's like we're still building forts.
KATY: Our furniture, if you will, is just forts and blankets to suit our needs. Which is nice because then they can go in any room.
MICHAEL: I also think that another way of framing the floor sleeping thing is it's more like interchangeable sleeping or super changeable or mobile - non-committal sleeping. We end up sleeping over any span, any season, we'll employ a lot of different sleeping areas.
KATY: Yeah, right.
MICHAEL: Our baseline is our floor beds. But there is a lot of times somebody is on the - well we have a couch right now because we had a family reunion so...
MICHAEL: ... sometimes you're on the couch because of some certain need or sometimes you're using a different part of the house or a different type of bedding. It's almost like just having the idea of just get what you need without this idea that it's gotta be this particular way every single night. I think it's sort of a bigger theme than even just floor sleeping. Sleep in the place that serves you best.
KATY: Yeah. It's flexible.
KATY: It's flexible bedding. It's the same thing as flexible seating in schools - this idea that maybe a chair for 8 hours in this way doesn't work for every single body. So insisting that everyone keep adopting that same model... and yeah, we sleep in different rooms of the house. Our needs vary.
MICHAEL: And with the kids as well.
MICHAEL: Their emotional needs vary. Sometimes they want to sleep closer to us. And sometimes they want to be very independent. So they have that as well. How they feel emotionally can guide their preference for where they're sleeping.
KATY: I love talking with you. You have such great insights. But yeah, it's flexible. It's more than about the surface. It's about the malleability...
KATY: ... that we can offer because we just don't feel so compartmentalized in the label of the bedroom and where you sleep.
MICHAEL: And it's nice to have the baseline that is minimal.
MICHAEL: Then you build from there. As opposed to a baseline that is a whole bunch of cushions or things or needs and then it's harder to move from that baseline to other things.
KATY: So that also goes for other traditional bed activities.
MICHAEL: Like what?
KATY: I'm not gonna say. So you can take the thing that we were just talking about and I think sometimes that we get into the "there is a place and a time and a situation" and so how could we co-sleep, you know because you just gotta be flexible. I'm gonna stop talking because I'm embarrassed.
MICHAEL: I don't even know what you're talking about.
What is Katy’s Current Bed Setup
KATY: I know exactly. Ok, next question let's talk about our actual bed setup. So the question was, "as a New Zealander I'm really intrigued by your sleeping on a sheepskin," because we sleep on sheepskins. "I know you learned about it here in New Zealand, but I've never come across it." I do'nt know if that's true, but anyway... "Can you give some specifics on how it works? Do you put a bedsheet on top of the sheepskin or sleep directly on it?" So, I don't know if we learned about sleeping on a sheepskin in New Zealand, as much as that when we were there we found how easy it was to source sheepskins well so that we could sleep on them coming home. Once we left New Zealand because we were there for a few months, but anyway...
MICHAEL: I think we learned that at a garage sale.
KATY: I had bought a sheepskin at a garage sale the year before.
MICHAEL: We realized how comfortable it was.
KATY: Yeah. So here's what our bedding looks like now. Now we've had many iterations of sleeping - getting lower over time. All of that is written on my website. I will link to all those articles in the show notes. Because you can see the documentation starting over the last 10 years of just how we have been working on sleep hygiene including the structures upon which we sleep. So I'll not spend a lot of time, I'll just go to where we are now. So the sheepskins go onto the floor and yes, we just put a bottom sheet right on top of those, and then our bodies, and then a top sheet, and then whatever blankets you will need. And then we went to sheepskins because we live in the pacific northwest and some of our more synthetic materials, like foam that we were sleeping on, and even non-synthetic like even a wool mattress - it was too much heat-trapping and heat generated when we were sleeping to avoid mold from growing underneath. So we really needed to be able to lift our bedding to let all the fresh air be underneath the bed every night so that we didn't have a mold problem. So that's how we came to it because like I said because we've done, like I said, many iterations. Then someone asked what is the care/maintenance/cleaning protocol for sheepskin bedding. And I don't know if we're the right people to ask because we're not really obsessed with clean...is that the right way to describe it?
MICHAEL: Well that's certainly true.
KATY: Have we ever cleaned them? I feel like they've been brushed.
MICHAEL: They've been brushed. They get a regular shaking and beating outside.
KATY: Yeah. And they're hung outside a lot.
MICHAEL: And they're hung outside.
KATY: In the sunshine.
MICHAEL: Yeah, there's nothing intense beyond that. And my limited understanding of sheepskin is that it tends to be pretty anti-microbial, to begin with. It doesn't tend to be real friendly housing to microbes is what I understand. I could be completely wrong. And I think hanging it every day and moving it and not letting it sit in the same place goes a long way towards not accumulating germs.
KATY: Well and that's interesting because our understanding of how bedding works is a really sedentary bed model. I mean, mattresses themselves can get pretty gross because they just sit in one space. But yes, there's a lot of agitation. They're constantly being drug around. When we camp we'll even take them with us when we're car camping instead of using camping mats. We'll just roll those out and put them across the floor of the bed. So they live a very dynamic life.
MICHAEL: They do.
KATY: Our sheepskin - as far as bedding goes. And we've had them for years now. I mean, they've held up. They're very durable. They're clean and they don't smell. The sheet, the top sheet, maybe helps. They're not really coming into contact with anything biological.
MICHAEL: No. As much as it is really nice to lie down naked on a fresh sheepskin, we don't do that. And they're not that fresh anymore.
KATY: That we would admit.
MICHAEL: That's right. But they're years old now. But I think they still have a lot of years in front of them. The integrity and the support and the cushion. They're really holding up after a lot, or several years - like 4...
MICHAEL: I did see a comment on your Instagram post - your last one - about the sheepskin. Somebody had mentioned felting wool instead of using a sheepskin. To use a felted wool pad. And...
KATY: You love that idea.
MICHAEL: I love that idea especially since we have sheep and a lot of wool.
MICHAEL: It's just a nice idea. If an animal could be spared its life, I think that would be pretty cool. That's a whole different conversation.
KATY: Well and I think it would be more portable. Because the sheepskins can be heavy. But I do think if you had a felt pad, you could just roll it and put it on your backpack. Someone else had asked about - one of these questions here - traveling: How do you do floor sleeping traveling? So I do think having some sort of pad that's comfortable for you that gives you a little bit of support and have it be lighter would make a big difference for people who are on the move and trying to floor sleep.
MICHAEL: Yeah. For sure. But also with the question on traveling, again I see it as being a flexible bedding family.
KATY: Yeah. Sure.
MICHAEL: It's like traveling is made super easy because...
KATY: We can sleep anywhere.
MICHAEL: ...you can adjust to any situation. It's like, oh you're in, I don't know, Tokyo, for example, where we've never traveled but you know somewhere with a very small amount of space, you just call the hotel desk and say, "we'd like a few sheets" and you throw them down on the ground and you're just very flexible to sleep anywhere.
KATY: And we have.
MICHAEL: And we have.
KATY: I feel like we are often, people are like, "you could stay here but we only have one bed and there's 4 of you" and I'm like, "we're totally fine. We just need a sheet and a blanket."
MICHAEL: And often we are not sleeping in the overly cushy bed. Nobody sleeps on the bed in the hotel room because it's so soft that it doesn't serve any of us and all four of us are sleeping on the floor.
KATY: Yeah. The firmness really does feel so much better to my body. I mean, I feel like if we went to a hotel the super cushy bed - our kids would want to be in it. They like the novelty of it. But they both also notice that as far as regular sleep - it's like dessert. Dessert is amazing and great but you feel kind of crappy if you eat it all the time and you can feel the difference the less sort of dessertlike all of your food is. And it's the same thing with sleeping. You just go, "I just feel more refreshed when I wake up." Ok, this is another question. "I've ditched my pillow[00:22:34], inspired by your blog but I won't persuade my partner to ditch our shared mattress. What other sleep moves can I do solo without giving up the very real comfort of sleeping with my favorite human?"
MICHAEL: That's very sweet.
KATY: I know. Very sweet. So one thing I talked about the different types of sleep moves. You don't have to ditch a mattress, you could make it lower. Right? That would get you get you more movement getting in and out of the bed. I wrote an article a long time ago, I think it was actually in Men's Health, I will look for it and if I can find it I'll put it in the show notes, but it had these steps where - what you're essentially going for is more challenge to the pressure. So in your mattress that you sleep in regularly, it sort of molds to your body. So every time you get into bed, it's already been, you have moved the mattress to suit your shape or to best work with your shape. So you just sleeping on a different mattress, you know, or to sleep on the side that your partner normally sleeps on, is often enough to start that push on your body in a different way. Sort of makes you feel uncomfortable, right? Because it's moving you differently. If you can sleep together but you have a guest bedroom maybe be like "let's sleep in the guest bedroom." Completely different mattress. So those are some ways where you can still be together in a bed, or something with a little more cushion that's not the floor but be challenging yourself in these ways - physical ways. When you start sleeping on something that's firmer, it tends to hurt if you're not used to pressing on your body, right? If you think about all the things - you put your feet into cushioned shoes and everything you put your butt on has a layer of cushion on it. And everything you lie on has all of this cushion on it. And so it's no wonder our bodies can't really tolerate being pushed firmly by something like the earth. That's why going barefoot is uncomfortable. That's why sitting on the ground is uncomfortable - one of the reasons. Not just the getting to and from discomfort. But the fact is our bodies have been conditioned to minimal pressure. And I did an interview on this, I think it was for the BBC, talking about this idea of pressure application has now become a therapy. People will go get therapeutic pressure applied to their body. That's bodywork but it can also be for some people who have really become really sensitive to pressure. It registers as lots of pain for them. They have to apply pressure regularly to sort of reprogram the hyperreactivity they're having to low levels of pressure. So it's just like that. Floor sleeping. So just getting on the ground before you go to bed and rolling your body on the floor - thinking like tenderizing yourself. The more you tenderize yourself throughout the day, even if it's for one or two minutes, is a way to get the sleep moves in maybe a non-sleep scenario. Sleep moves are hard because you're trying to do a new thing for 8 hours. That's hard. You wouldn't just start running and go out and run 7 miles. Right? You'd go a little bit at a time. So if you can get your sleep moves just by roll your body all over the ground. "I'm gonna do my body tenderizing for 20 minutes" then 30 minutes. And it can be exercising other things at the same time. But when you get down on the floor and roll around especially your tender bits, the points, your hip bones, and your elbows, that's a way of getting the same type of movements that we're talking about here. Because I guess sleep moves are just ground/floor moves. But we're just not a ground/floor culture at all. So we just have to go slowly. And if - this is just a little shout-out for people who are like, " could never get down on the ground and roll around, it'd be too tender" - put a comforter on the ground and then roll around on top of the comforter. Give yourself some way to reduce the pressure a little bit but, I'm trying to explain the principle of what's going on. You have to tenderize.
MICHAEL: Going back to the question that was asked. If I were in that position where my partner wanted not to ditch the mattress situation that they have, I would do similar to what I did in our Ford truck with its overly cushy for me bottom. In the truck, I found a foam sled and I cut it to size and put it underneath to give it an extra firmness underneath me. So I would do something like that. I would find some kind of a mat that makes things firmer on my side of the bed and kind of firm up that way.
KATY: Yeah. I guess that's why those sleep number beds were to get a different firmness
KATY: I guess do it in analog. I guess the other one was analog too. You can do it DIY. Put a bed of nails under your side because you're tough. So alright - some people are concerned about dampness both from below wooden floors and moisture around sleeping. They try to convince me that air circulation under the bed is necessary for health. Can you comment on this and I think we did.
KATY: Yeah. You do.
MICHAEL: Having a big moldy underneath your bed is not fun, especially the day that you discover that it's there.
KATY: Yeah. So yes, I agree. I just think that you don't necessarily need air flowing under the bed while you're sleeping on it. But your sleep surface in general needs to be ventilated well. So picking it up is pretty ...
MICHAEL: Certainly in damp climates.
KATY: And one of the great things about floor sleeping and picking up your bed is, and again, as radical as this may seem, this would be a much more common global experience than it is for the United States or even most of European countries. This is a very common thing. The idea that you would have so many rooms that you are not in most of the time is just very unique outlying behavior. And so when we roll up our beds, we get a whole other floor. You get a whole other free room for stuff, which is efficient. It's another way that I just like to keep harping on what we view is as minimalism is more maximalism just depending on the point of view.
MICHAEL: And when our kids were small, when the beds went up and there's the big empty room, I mean there's nothing that attracts young children more than a big empty space to fill up with their imagination and toys.
KATY: And cartwheels.
MICHAEL: And cartwheels.
KATY: It's a safe room, right? You're not trying to move around anything. Just very minimal. Any presleep moves to help transition to restful sleep?[00:29:24] I mean, this all depends on what you consider a presleep move. Certainly tenderizing yourself a little bit before. Think about you've been fixed in a position the bulk of the day. And you've been in that position most days of most years of your life. That's why we like cushioned surfaces is the surface then allows us to take that position that we're sort of becoming and it lets us continue to be it. Something flat and firm forces you to get out of that position and that's why it feels uncomfortable. So I wouldn't recommend floor sleeping as where you start body mobilizing, body strengthening journey. I think it's farther along. Because you want to - it's all about distribution. You don't want to not move your parts most hours of the day and then go right into having them challenged all night long. All of them. Going from imagine a chair position to a lying out flat position is a significant challenge. For those people who have ever tried the My Happy Feet alignment toe socks - these are socks that you slip on that have this portion that fits in between each toe that pushes the toes apart - and people put them on and they're fine. "This is a great stretch." And then they go to bed wearing them and they're like 90 minutes into the sleep you wake up and yelling because you've been slowly pushing all of your toes apart for 90 minutes. Sleeping in a more challenging dynamically - sleeping on a surface that moves you more especially when you're not conscious to make small adjustments - is gonna be exasperating. It's gonna feel overwhelming. So the presleep moves can be thought of as start working on your general mobility and strength first. Start floor sitting first. Where you're used to having the ground push against your buttock flesh or your hamstring flesh. Or lie down on the floor. You'll be like my hips are - the hips have these bony points in them. That's gonna be a higher point of pressure and do that for a long period of time before you move onto something where you're sort of stuck in it for 7 to 9 hours.
MICHAEL: You might also find that you might have ideas of how you're supposed to be lying down that... like what if you just took it like a child or an amoeba and just sort of sprawled yourself on the ground in weird ways that might actually be more comfortable.
MICHAEL: Because you may have never utilized such ways of lying down because you've never been in that kind of on-the-floor position. I think, also, if you happen to have the opportunities in your life to take naps, that's a good time to do it, especially on a day that you feel like taking a nap, usually, you're so ready to sleep on a time that you're like, "I gotta take a nap" that that's a good time to just put a sheet out on your rug or whatever and go do it there. And then you're not even worried about if you get fully asleep or anything like that but just try to be as relaxed as you can on the floor for that half-hour or hour or whatever you do.
KATY: Well and that's a great suggestion for the person who asked about floor sleeping with a partner. Well just pick up your non-nighttime sleeping - your non-bedtime sleeping. You know, where you're giving yourself a smaller dose. So that paper I was talking about before, by that physiotherapist was called Instinctive Sleeping and Resting Postures - an anthropological and zoological approach to treatment of low back and joint pain. It was in the British Medical Journal in 2000 and I will link to that in the show notes because there's some cool pictures. But essentially that's what the point of that article was. So this person was, I think he was South African, I'm not sure but, he had grown up in the bush and knew of all the more traditional sleeping postures and he was demonstrating them in this paper to show how - if you go onto my website there's a tour of my house and I show briefly you might want something to prop up your head. I don't think you need anything to prop up your head. When you're lying on your side, letting your head drop down to the side (someone else asked another question about that) I do that all the time. I don't think there's anything wrong with longer extended stretches of your neck, depending on how stiff your neck is to being with. Right? Like if you want to see sort of what these different versions of sprawling out - I mean he's got versions where - how do I explain it - imagine side sleeping and then turning your torso face down. So your knees are pointing one way, your torso's down, and your head's going the opposite. It looks like what people would do in a yoga class. So I think that's his point. All these sort of stretches that we're doing to mimic all these ranges of motion when you have them, it makes sleeping on the ground easy because you can adapt your body to the shape that's under foot. Or under bod. It's exactly the same phenomenon of going from not wearing a minimal shoe - or wearing a conventional shoe - to being barefoot. Your foot does not accommodate what's beneath. You can't ... the foot isn't pliable enough. Or sometimes it's too pliable. Right? It can't hold itself well. There's not enough strength in the skin. But the more you do it, the more flexible you get, the more being in a unique position isn't the thing that sends your body into a frenzy. So, again, I think holistically floor sleeping is a part of a wider approach to keeping your body malleable and strong. It's another place in which that can happen. But just like you don't kick off your shoes and going barefoot, you need to transition over a period of time or scale. Maybe you never feel comfortable wearing barefoot, but you feel ok wearing a thin sandal. Maybe you're just gonna be on a lower mattress and maybe you need a pillow. Maybe you want that arch support if you will. It's all about finding a little bit more movement that works for you without exacerbating something else.
MICHAEL: I think a big part of the, I mean if you're going to make an instruction guide on how to be comfortable on the floor, I think a big part of it is just identifying "my pelvis is hitting the floor really hard". So then whether it's bolstering with another body part or a pillow or twisting - you know, it's like the equation is kind of like relieve the intense pressure parts. In whatever way that you can so that the pressure onto the floor gets distributed. And sometimes, for me it's often a folded arm under my head as a pillow or like you said a twisting the torso in a different direction than the hips. Or getting my knees sort of puzzling in with each other rather than stacked on each other. Like all these different ways to just relieve the... or spread the pressure across the body parts and off of the body parts that are talking a lot when you get on the floor at first.
KATY: I feel like Diana Hill - I did an episode with her not too long ago on Psychological Flexibility and I think that there's a psychological flexibility element to this. And you can see it from the questions that you get which is: I'm a side sleeper. I'm a back sleeper. I'm a stomach sleeper. And this idea that there's a single repetitive thing that we do and that is our sleep position. And to only be like well if I can't sleep on my side do I have to sleep on my back and what we're saying is you can sleep on your side and for people who are asking about hip points or whatever, maybe it's sleep on your side and a slightly twisted pelvis so that you're not on that pressure point.[00:38:08] Maybe there's more than three sleep positions. Maybe there's an almost infinite number of them. So yeah. Change up your sleep position that you feel comfortable in by just a few degrees, not by 90. Not by 180. And then also just know that it's like child-led everything. It's YOU-led sleeping. So if I have done a big hike, or if I carried a lot through the day or if I tweak my neck, I'm gonna have a t-shirt hand to prop under my head if need it. I don't need a pillow on a regular basis, but there are some times where I'm like ... or whenever the sleep situation is, the travel situation, I will just bolster myself. Just like I do during an exercise in a way that makes it more comfortable for me. And so just have the freedom. I don't think that we feel the freedom - I think it's about it's all about "well Katy said you did it like this." or "the manual says you do it like this." Manuals are limited by word count and writer fatigue. So the idea of this is a scaleable principle and you might have to tweak it to fit your body and that's part of how the whole thing works. So feel comfortable doing that. You can't do it wrong. You're just introducing a little bit more movement as it works for you.
Ok, this is sort of a practical question: The floor can get pretty cold in the winter if you live in an old wooden house without central heating - which we did.
MICHAEL: Yes we did.
KATY: For a really long time - how do you handle this?
MICHAEL: Although, in fairness, the winters here in the northwest are pretty mild.
KATY: Yeah I can hear my friend Heidi right now going "uh-huh. Sure." So yeah. So add more things on the bottom?
MICHAEL: Yeah. I mean we've taken the sheepskins out camping in literally freezing weather. And they have served us well. So I'm trying to imagine a coldness coming up from the floor that penetrates the sheepskins. I'm sure it's totally possible. But yeah, I would just put probably a foam layer - some kind of insulating layer underneath it. As I say it, the thing that I immediately think is whatever I put there, I want to have a place to put it when I pick up the bed at the end of the day. So something that is rollable or hangable or put away-able. But yeah just whatever is going to insulate you from the cold but not compromise what it is you're after.
KATY: Right the firmness.
MICHAEL: Which in my case was the firmness.
KATY; And this is - there's another question too that I'll just paraphrase: "What about spiders and bugs and things on the ground that you want to be up and away from?" I would say it depends on where you live. For us, I was reading all the questions and the kids wanted to hear all the questions about floor sleeping and I was getting their answers and they're like for spiders I don't necessarily think of being up higher or lower as being a big deterrent for spiders but then, of course, you remind me...
MICHAEL: Some places have very large spiders who are able to climb a lot...
KATY: I've been in a lot of places, I've slept in countries that have snakes and other things that you definitely, that the people there bring themselves away from the ground. I think that's where a lot of hammocks come in to play. If that's a concern for you then you can build a raised platform and then still just put down everything on top of this raised platform. And then someone also asked about dust. I know that there's people who have a lot of allergies and how we deal with the cleaning of the floor. Anytime we get cleaning questions I think it's really funny.
MICHAEL: You're asking the wrong person.
KATY: "How do you deal with barefoot..." I was like, "I had a sheep in my house the other day." We're just not...we aren't ... it's just not our... we're not organized internally to be really - see a big barrier between outside and inside types of things. To me, it's all one big place that we live in.
MICHAEL: To answer that - to me the answer of that question is by picking up the sheepskin and shaking it out regularly, I'm creating a far less dusty, sleeping experience than having a bed sitting there all the time.
KATY: And I do make a point to really vacuum the area that our bed is often in or wherever the kids' beds are in. I have one kid that's more sensitive, I would say, to dust and the other kid doesn't she could sleep in a dust devil and she'd be fine. But I do'nt think it's that big of a difference - those 12 inches or those 20 inches. I guess if you're right up in a corner where all the dust bunnies are - regular vacuuming or if you want an air filter to be close to that, but in general, it's just the same cleaning I do for anything else. I definitely vacuum once or twice a week. We have a dog. So I just feel like there's dog hair. No one's allergic to dogs but the same thing. You're just trying to keep, I guess it's a different type of sleep hygiene. Like the literal hygiene.
MICHAEL: And it's just doing what you need to do…
MICHAEL: Like the person whose husband is on the other side of the bed. If your bed needs to be raised up off the floor, by all means, have it be raised off the floor. But that doesn't mean that you have to then go to a super cushy mattress. But I don't want large east Asian-style spiders crawling into my bed with me.
KATY: As far as someone was asking about how we hang the rack. You created a rack which is a closet rack.
MICHAEL: Yeah, I can see them right here in the closet. I just got some closet rack hanger which extends out from the wall a good 12 inches or so. And put a, just attach them to some studs in the wall. On the second go-round. The first time I didn't use studs and I learned about that. The whole thing came ripping out of the wall when one of our children's friends tried to use it as a ballet ...
KATY: like a gymnastics or parallel bar...
MICHAEL: ... put her leg on it and the whole thing came crashing down. But yeah, just extended the racks out wide to accommodate for the length of the sheepskin and hung them up. It's not the most beautiful thing in the world. I'm sure if beauty is what you're after you can adjust my method and make it look a bit nicer.
MICHAEL: Make it Pinterest-worthy.
KATY: I think before we go we should probably talk about snoring. There's a lot of different questions but in general, they seem to be whether it's help with snoring, what are the mechanics of snoring, which are fascinating. Maybe I'll do a... I'm in no way a sleep or snoring expert but there are spacing issues, alignment issues that have to do with sleep apnea and snoring. Maybe you're the person to talk about snoring.
MICHAEL: I probably am. If I sleep by myself, I am a snorer because I like to go to sleep on my back and that's the most comfortable. That's the way that I get most relaxed when I go to sleep. But the tradeoff when I'm not sleeping with myself is that's also the position where I snore the most. So I've learned - really I've learned that just through the feedback from my family at 1 and 2 am. Sort of what position I'm in at the time that they tell me to stop being so loud. And then I turn to another position. So for me, it really came to understanding the kyphosis happening in my upper back and my neck and sort of adjusting myself so that I'm not kinking my neck which, if I'm on my back, my neck is being kinked. And that's leading to the snoring. So again, it comes down to just using the pillow in a bolstering sort of way. And for me, it'll be sort of curled, not exactly fetal, but moving into that style of position. And just bolstering my head so that my neck has the least amount of kinking happening. But I find that easiest to do not on a cushy mattress. Where the weight of my head will start pushing down on all the soft parts. But to have a firm floor to put, then, a firm pillow between my head is how I make it so that I am not snoring.
KATY: Well, and I'll just explain the mechanics. So if you think of the extra curve of the upper back, that's called hyperkyphosis. Too much curve of the upper back where your upper back really rounds excessively forward. When you have that, you also paired with it, tend to have a lot of lordosis. Excessive lordosis. And that's the curve that goes in the opposite direction of the neck. So if you imagine sort of the cartoon older person folded with that dowager's hump on the upper back, you get one curve ... what makes that curve is that one curve really going forward and then just above it a big curve going back. So if you just imagine the air that needs to get through your throat when you're breathing instead of your air sort of moving up and down this straight tube between your mouth and your chest or your lungs, it's got now two curves in it that it has to go through. There's a kink in it. So when you lie on your back, if you're head's out in front of you, when you lie on your back your head drops back. And lying on your back exaggerates that curve even more.
MICHAEL: Of the neck.
KATY: Of the neck - of what's passing through. And so that is the one benefit of a pillow, right? If you have this excessive curvature, the pillow is like an orthotic. I think I've used those terms in some of the articles I've written. The pillow is an orthotic. That's its benefit. So I don't - I'm not a fan of stripping away the pillow in the bed as dealing with the hyperkyphosis and the hyperlordosis in a stepwise manner including looking at the behaviors that got you to hyperkyphosis and hyperlordosis. Which could even be sleeping with a pillow. Right? Which is why we didn't issue our kids these common cultural devices that then later you might have to wean yourself off of. Like shoes. Or really conventional stiff shoes that affect or change the shape of the body. So what I hear you saying is, when you're on your back the softness allows that curve to stay. The softness is allowing that same curve just sinking into the ground but you'll switch to your side where you are able to pull yourself out of such a deep curve and then you let the air come in and out a straighter tube.
MICHAEL: Yeah. I would say I have better control over how I place my body when the surface is firm.
KATY: Yeah. It'd be like trying to do yoga on top of a really cushiony mattress.
MICHAEL: Sounds hard and counterproductive.
KATY: Well and the thing in my mind is imagining doing yoga on a water bed sort of like stand-up paddle yoga. If you're conscious, it's fine. That scenario when you're conscious is what allows you to be like, "Wow I have all my weight on my right side because the right side's pushing down" so then you can correct it. But when you're sleeping you're not doing that, you're just sort of repeating the pattern of really pushing down hard through your right arm. So what we're trying to do is firm up the surface so that the surface is doing some of the work for you. The surface is pushing into you in a way that you need to be pushed in and adjust.
MICHAEL: And you can calibrate yourself. Even while sleeping you're learning from how you are relating against the ground rather than having the ground fall away from you.
KATY: And I actually think that that's another common question that's probably on this list here too. It is. Aren't I messing up my level of rest by doing more movement while I'm sleeping? And I think it's a fair question. But I think the point at which you're really disrupting your sleep is probably relating more to the work that you have done during the non-sleep period of time. Like if you are trying to make sleeping on a firm surface you're number one way of getting more movement, I do think you could be interfering with your rest. It's too much to be doing during your rest period of time. But, if you follow the steps of mobilizing yourself throughout the day, doing smaller - I love that nap suggestion, so great - sleeping on different mattresses, that are already in your home. That would help. But I do think the type of movement that we're talking about which are pressure-related movements. Sort of like slow readjustments to the body we are pushing into it. I don't think it's taking you out of that deep sleep. Because it's not big giant joint positions. People move while they're sleeping but there's a different degree. Some people move just a little bit. Some people move a lot. And they have actually identified a genetic component. If you have these particular genes you move a lot more frequently through the night than someone who doesn't have these particular genetic markers. So that's not so much the type of movement that I'm talking about. It's more about pressure and slow adjustment. I think it's like, the number that pops into my head is like 12 times an hour - the average. And you can still be in your resting state changing positions. And I do think I have a dog and the dog is changing positions throughout the night and moving around.
MICHAEL: And she's a well-exercised dog.
KATY: And I don't necessarily buy that that would be an indication of not getting a lot of sleep. I tend to think more from an evolutionary perspective that sleep as we think about it - 8 continuous hours in one to two positions in order to get into the deep rem state - is one version of sleep but I don't necessarily know if that would be the hallmark of human sleep. I think humans have, again, been sleeping outside in groups dealing with trying to be alert (that was the other thing that paper was talking about. You need to have somewhat an alertness. That would be a natural state for you to be aware of what's going on around you while you're sleeping). I don't think that's in our sleep models right now.
MICHAEL: And over the years I've read a lot of things about sleeping and the one statement I woudl say that I can generalize from all the things I've read is that it's really an individual thing. I'm sure there's generalziations can be made but I've really come to the conclusion that you really just tune in to what you need out of sleep. Out of your nightime sleep. Or whatever you sleep - what you need out of your sleep. And sort of don't be pushed around too much by what some expert says or something that you read that really, you do know what you need, generally speaking.
KATY: Right. Yeah.
MICHAEL: For my sleep I need - it took me a long time to accept it - I need like I said 9 to 9 and a half hours which most people would say that's too much. But I'm 46 years old now.
KATY: It's my sleep.
MICHAEL: I have enough experience to know that that's when I do best.
KATY: Yeah. Yeah. You just didn't like to trust your knowing.
KATY: All right. Well, anything else you want to say? This is, we've gone long enough for now? There are a lot more questions, I know, maybe we'll do another episode.
MICHAEL: No, I'm done.
KATY: Ok. All right. Well, thanks for coming in.
MICHAEL: Thanks for having me.
OK, that is all we have time for, peeps. We need to actually be done with this show and get our family and ourselves to bed. Michael. Thank you for talking with me. All of you out there, thank you for listening. Take it easy everybody. And rest well.
Hi! My name is Katie Lush from Kansas City. This has been Move Your DNA with Katy Bowman, a podcast about movement. Hopefully you find the information in this podcast informative and helpful but it is not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such. Our theme music was performed by Dan MacCormack. This podcast is produced by Brock Armstrong. And the transcripts are done by Annette Yen. Find out more about Katy, her books, and her movement programs at NutritiousMovement.com