How to transition out of a mattress

This post was updated October 2018 to share my ongoing sleep-environment journey and to add a few more transitioning steps.

I sleep on the floor. I didn’t always do this, I started in a bed like most of you reading this did too. But, over the last five years I’ve been trying to move more of my body as well as need less corrective exercises for movement I haven’t been doing. Thus, I’m putting more getting up and down into my life. I’m putting more pressure-deforming movements into my life. I’m doing more to be less uncomfortable (i.e. more comfortable) without heaps and heaps of cushions everywhere because if I’m only comfortable in my house, sleeping in my bed, then it means I’m not very resilient or able to spend long stretches out in nature which is our overarching goal as a family.

Changing your sleeping surface doesn’t seem like it needs a training program, but I’d say otherwise. You’re pretty great at anything you’ve been doing for 40 years so why not approach this just as you’d approach any other physical feat. P.S. This one you physical challenge you can actually take lying down.

Here are some steps to take with your body:

Step 1: Dose matters. Sleeping on the ground is really just being on the ground, the ground pushing firmly into you, for 6-10 hours (lawyers-teenagers, obvs). Why not start by getting on the ground and reaching your arms overhead. Take a few breaths there a few times. Then roll onto your right side and get into a sleeping position there for a few breaths. Then repeat the other side a few breaths. Then to your stomach, then repeat the cycle a few times. All you’re doing here is giving yourself a low dose of pressure-related movements that you can stop whenever you’d like

Step 2: Start sitting on the ground more when you’re not sleeping. Again, while “sitting” might be the whole-body state, you’re actually mushing your parts into the ground the same as you’d be doing if you were rolling out on foam or balls.

Step 3: Speaking of rolling out, being able to adapt to unique pressure is huge when it comes to physical resiliency. There are balls and rollers and books and videos and programs that are all about exposing your body parts big and small, to pressure (and the movements that pressure and shape create). If you’re uncomfortable with pressure, then start a program to make your body better able to tolerate the change in shape that interacting with a firm, various-shaped environment requires.

Step 4: All corrective exercises in my books and videos are to make your parts more mobile head-to-toe. Immobility will be challenged by gradually changing what you’re sleeping on, but the more you work on your mobility in the form of specific exercises, moving more, and changing your sleep environment, the more each facilitates the others.

Here are some steps to take with your sleeping gear:

Step 1: Start transitioning out of your mattress by staying on it. BUT, change something. Sleep on the other side than you usually do. Flip the mattress over. Flip it over and sleep on the other side’s other side. Why? Your mattress has a particular shape created by how you (and anyone else) have slept on it over time. If you put your body on it differently, that alone will change the loads to your body. (And consider swapping sides weekly, no matter what you’ve been sleeping on.) #crosstrain

Step 2: If you have foam over the top of your mattress or a bulky mattress pad, get rid of it and sleep on your de-cushioned bed.

 Step 3: If you have a guest bed, de-cushion that one too (sorry guests), and log some nights on this different surface. Mattresses are so different, just sleeping on one that’s not your regular bed will change the loads to your body. (If you don’t believe me, just poll your friends about who threw their back out sleeping on somebody’s guest bed/a different pillow that one time.)

 Step 4: Put your mattress on the ground and list your box springs and bed frame on Craigslist for $200.00.

photo-110

Step 5: Answer three emails from those responding to your Craigslist ad. Surprisingly, they’re all college students moving in to your area from Kansas who want to put money directly into your bank account because they’re currently awaiting their financial aid package of $35,000, but only have their parents’ money to pay you with today, if you can just send your bank account information.

Step 6: DO NOT send them your account information.

Step 7: Meet with the one person who answered your ad on Craigslist to let them see the frame and box springs, only to have them offer you $25.00 because they wanted something larger (than the Queen size you listed in your ad).

Step 8: Sleep on your mattress (both sides of it) on the ground for awhile.

Step 9: Create a bedroll with sleeping bags, blankets, sheets, on the ground, and sleep on that for a while.

Step 10: List your mattress, box springs, and bedframe on Craigslist for $400.00 (as you paid $1000 three years ago…).

Step 11: Repeat Steps 4 through 7.

Step 12: Keep it all in your garage for 3 years and then list in on Free! section of Craigslist and have someone text you 3 minutes after you’ve listed it. Load it into their truck 25 minutes after you listed it.

Step 13: Stop using Craigslist with the exception of reading “Missed Connections” for entertainment. And, because, you never know.

Step 14: Sleep well.

In case you were thinking of trying this for a week like one reported did, bear this in mind: it took me eighteen months to go from my mattress of five years to a 3″ foam mattress pad I got from Costco. Once that turned out to be too moldy of an option in our home in the Pacific Northwest, we built some platforms to raise the bed for airflow’s sake. We also upgraded to less toxic material. Alas, we still had mold and realized that to be free of the materials we wanted to be free of, as well as rich in movement, we’d have to roll out and pick up our bed every day. So, that’s what we do now, over six years into this movement-journey.

Foreseeable questions:

Q: Why the heck would I want to not sleep on a mattress?

A: It’s about natural loads and reducing repetitive/unnatural loading to (i.e. deforming of) your cellular bodies. Read Move Your DNA for a more detailed explanation or at least start by reading “Instinctive sleeping and resting postures: an anthropological and zoological approach to treatment of low back and joint pain from the British Medical Journal.

Q: What about pillows? Should I get rid of my pillow? Do you use a pillow?

A: I use my pillows as headboards (see pic) to reduce the coldness of our heads, and they’re also fun for reading in bed and pillow fights. I don’t use one under my head, but my husband still does. To read a similar “how to transition out of a pillow” (which implies that you’re currently inside of one, but you get what I mean), read Your Pillow is an Orthotic.

Q: I don’t see myself sleeping on the floor any time soon. Any hope for me?

A: Of course. Start with the first steps in body and gear prep. Boom, you’re experiencing new loads. Sleep on your guest bed sometimes. This is not about perfection, it’s about moving more in the ways that you can.

Are you still interested in learning more on this?

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47 thoughts on “How to transition out of a mattress

  1. You totally left out the biggest foreseeable question: How do I convince my spouse that this a great idea? He’s a good sport, but apparently not quite this good…. yet……………….. And now that I’ve transitioned my kids out of my bedspace, I’d love to actually be able to sleep in the same bedspace as my spouse. On the floor. sigh. Patience, grasshopper. 🙂

  2. we’re working on this transition too, but for me the biggest struggle was what to do with all the stuff i keep under the bed? the thing is, it’s useful stuff: wool fleeces for spinning, extra blankets, and our suitcases. we live in a small space, and that stuff has to go somewhere. plus, it’s boston: our home is drafty in the winter and the floors are awfully chilly.
    but, our bed is just a dense futon mattress on a platform so instead, we decided to keep the bed platform, and just transition to no mattress on the platform: might as well be the floor to our bodies, but i still get to keep the suitcases tidily tucked away.

    1. Answer to both the wife that whose husband doesn’t agree and about under-the-bed space: platform bed?

  3. Thanks, Katy – brilliant as usual. The best thing is your posts always leave me laughing. And better informed about something than I was five minutes ago. Now: to talk ‘himself’ (a.k.a the guy on the other side of the bed) into this: got any tips for that challange?

  4. I started experimenting with the way I sleep when I would always wake up hurting. I can sleep on the floor but that’s just not realistic if you have a partner who isn’t into it.

    So my solution was to get a sleep number bed and turn it up to between 90% and 100% which makes it so firm it feels like you’re laying on a hard surface with padding.

  5. I’m so excited that you’re addressing this topic! My husband and I have been trying to find something to sleep on that isn’t a mattress but isn’t the carpet in our room either. We were getting stuck at either thin pads meant for only one person or expensive Japanese style futons. Thanks!

    1. Do everything Katy Says re walking, standing, squatting (in a way that doesn’t hurt knees) lots of posts and 3 books!

  6. We’ve slept on a futon on the floor for 26 years because my spouse is 6’5″ so there’s less space for his feet to hang over.
    Between that and my lack of furniture in my living room (due to being frugal and also picky about furniture), I find I’m living your ideal inadvertently. So glad!
    On another topic, how can I build my butt? Seven months after an injury that prevented me from strenuous bike riding and jogging, and as I get closer to 50, I see my butt flattening out and perhaps lowering. (This is also somewhat inherited.) My knees hate deep squats and lunges, but I’m working on that. What else?

    1. Hi Carol, to build your butt a great exercise is hip thrusts. Lie on your back as if you were about to do a sit up (feet 6-9 inches from your butt) but instead of doing a sit up, squeeze your butt and push your hips to the roof as hard as you can (otherwise called a glute bridge). Be sure to keep your ribs down tight (ie don’t let your ribcage flare up). Pause at the top for a second before lowering. When you can do heaps you can switch to a single leg version or weighted ones holding whatever heavy implement you can find in the crease of your hips. These work wonders, sorry for the giant post haha

  7. Love this! I am visiting family in Brazil and was recently forced to stop sleeping on a mattress out of necessity and am now sleeping on a 4 inch foam pad (the guest bed). It took about 3 weeks until I started to feel comfortable at night. I want to continue with my new habits, but I live in Mexico and sleeping on the ground means sleeping with cockroaches, tarantulas and scorpions. Would box spring with plywood on top and then a foam pad be too soft? I just want to keep away from the creepy crawlers…

    1. Good question. I think you could put the thin mattress on a raised platform for a similar effect. It doesn’t have to be on the ground 🙂

  8. I put a chipboard under the foam mattress in our bed. This way I can still sleep next to my very skeptical husband. The first night was bad but after a week I was fine. Now I love it and have gotten rid of the pillow as well.

  9. This is awesome and makes sense, but what would you say to someone who already spent a hefty chunk of money on a tempurpedic mattress? Is it comparable to your 3in memory foam in terms of loads? Would we ruin the expensive memory foam tempurpedic if we moved it to the floor? Thanks!

    1. I don’t know what that is, exactly. But changing what’s underneath it would affect “how it felt,” yes?

    2. We’ve had our tempurpedic mattress on the wood floor of our bedroom for six months. Haven’t had any problems with it. Trying to figure out what to do with the box springs. Steps 4-7 I guess.

  10. I love this! I am soooo going to start this process tonight – aka flip my matress. I bet this will make sleeping on the ground while camping that much easier! My roommates are going to think I’m crazy & that I’ve finally gone off the hippy dippy deep end that I’ve been treading closer and closer to the past few years… but thats okay 🙂

  11. I have been taking naps, an hour or two long on my yoga mat, its actually proven to be quite comfortable. I am using a pillow though. Not quite to using my arms as pillows yet.

  12. Instead of getting rid of the box spring (assuming you had wood like mine) rip cover off, lightly reinforce and secure to porch as climbing fun for children.

  13. I’d love to read the post about pillows (I’m having a crazy time finding something that works) but the link isn’t bringing up a live page. Help?
    Thanks!

  14. I set my sleep number bed to the maximum firmness level and got rid of the pillow. How close is this to where I need to be? Thanks.

  15. I love this article. I also read Move your DNA a few months ago so forgive me if I forgot anything, but one question though, what about if I sleep with a pillow under my knees? It seems to agree more with my body currently, also is prevents me from moving around so much at night and into strange and possibly bad sleeping positions.

    Does needing a stiffer (or softer) sleeping surface depend on the person and their body? For example, if someone experiences flexion-based lower back issues, then a stiffer surface to put them in more extension could theoretically be better for them. Conversely, someone who is in extension a lot (maybe an athlete) may want a softer surface.

    I found a video by Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD who talks about this exact thing: http://www.mobilitywod.com/2012/03/adaptation-error-dont-sleep-on-your-stomach-the-right-bed/

    Thoughts?

  16. hi,
    since my bedroom is a little cold on the floor (the non – heated basement directly underneath) and I definetely want to be warm while sleeping I decided to buy a Tatami mattress. Put a thin wool blanket between the mattress and the bed sheet, that’ all. this is wonderful. hard, but not stiff. and warm! I love to go to my tatami every night. ilona.
    p.s.: wouldn’t have done that in years if it weren’t for you, katy. thank you for all what you do!!

  17. About 6 years ago we needed a new mattress and went looking all over for one that wasn’t made with toxic materials. We found nothing in our local stores, the only environmentally friendly ones we found were really squishy and contained latex.

    Researching online I found a company in California that makes mattresses out of organic wool. They are very much like a futon mattress with no springs. We also bought their platform bed and did not pad the slats. I imagine after the initial (natural) compression (and regular recommended rotation), this mattress is very similar to Katy’s in terms of thickness. We love it and will never go back to a “regular” bed.

    Company is Shepherd’s Dream: http://shepherdsdream.com/

  18. Thanks for the nitty-gritty posts about how-to-do-it-sensibly!

    I am someone who throws themselves into new stuff, and now I realise, “tries a bit too hard” rather than not enough. The day I read about mattress-less sleeping I removed the single mattress from our temporary spare bed to sleep on the divan box bit it sits on, with a couple of camping mats and a fleece blanket. I lasted until 4am, when I had to fumble about putting the mattress back on the base.I was certainly awake after that. And yet it really surprised me in a way, as last year I became aware that I could not sleep anywhere other than my own bed at home. This becomes quite limiting when visiting family, going on courses that are away from home etc. And I had completely given up on camping, which I used to love. Now I’m doing it (transitioning, not camping. Yet) at a slower pace, swapping to a thinner and thinner pillow, (now I have a towel folded into a pillow slip), and planning to try a 2″ memory foam mattress topper (which I hated on top of the mattress, so it got put in the attic) on the base. It’s too cold here in Cumbria to sleep in the draughts on the floor. I used to turn our mattress frequently, to preserve the life of the mattress!! Are we coming full circle from why our mothers used to do stuff like that? But working 4-5 days a week now puts all those “little” jobs almost permanently on hold. This is the impetus, and new motive, I needed.

    Partner issue – my husband and I have had to sleep in separate beds for quite a while, A. because as he falls asleep he does great “twitches” that either stop me falling asleep, or wake me up, and B. his snoring has become unbearable. So my thinking is that a non-bouncy sleeping surface may lead to sleeping together again, if the snoring issue can be fixed too.

    Katy – does problem snoring come into your corrective alignment programme?? Or rather is snoring an alignment issue, and what can help?

    The other day I also thought to myself that very thing, why would I want to not sleep on a “proper” mattress? But I’ve caught the “cross-training” bug now. I used to suffer terribly with dust mite allergy, had to cover EVERYTHING with expensive dust-mite proof covers, there’s an end to all those with less mattress about. And, I don’t want to end up as a coddled old woman only fit for a hospital bed. Full stop. Oh sorry, I think you guys say… Period. But you’ll have to put up with the British spelling.

    Thanks Katy!

  19. I’m with you on this Katy. Been doing it for years but now instead of the foam I use a Cabela’s 4″ self inflating pad that’s 39″ wide. Firm with lots of support. And thanks for the Craigslist laughs.

  20. I sleep on a DIY shikibuton made from a wool mattress topper laid on the floor. No pillow. I did it for the combined reasons of minimalism and comfort, but after reading your books I’m glad it’s good for my health too 🙂

  21. Pillow, bed, shoes, couch, chairs…every time I come in contact with your blog, book, or podcast something gets hauled off or given away!

    Anyway, over the course of many months I have slowly transitioned out my pillow and bed…I just sleep on top of a sleeping bag now.

    My question is this: Minus the support of a pillow and mattress, I find it impossible to sleep on my back…usually I end up in sort of a kyphotic fetal position–the exact rounded over position I’ve been trying to avoid. I LIKE sleeping this way, it is comfortable but feel like it may reinforcing some kyphosis. Any suggestions?? I’ve tried forcing myself to stay out of these rounded sleeping positions but I end up just not being able to fall asleep until I roll over on my side.

  22. I’ve been sleeping on the floor for 35 years now. It started b/c I noticed I was falling asleep on the floor in yoga classes, much faster than I fell asleep in bed! My son was an infant, and it was great b/c if he rolled off the bed it didn’t hurt him. I noticed I slept better and fell asleep faster. Also, the bed is modular: I can add a piece of foam next to my foam if I want to have a double bed. I keep extra pieces of foam in a large closet and I get them out if we have a lot of people sleeping over. Dogs like Costco foam too.

  23. Sorry, I am still not convinced. I would like more evidence that we should be sleeping on the floor, other than your own anecdotes, or reference to your own book or a short poorly written article about a comparison between civilized, indigenous people and primates.

    Sleeping outside on a soft forest floor or something similar is very different from an indoor environment. Outdoor terrain is rarely flat, and after a few days of sleeping on it, it starts to shape around your body.
    I don’t think that a mattress is so far off, at least as long as it isn’t too thick and bouncy.

  24. I just realized that my reply was perhaps a little badly written. What I meant to say was that I think indoor floors are too flat and hard in order to be able to sleep on it with very thin padding.

    Sleeping on a thinner mattress does makes sense, but I am thinking of perhaps some Japanese style wooden base and a tatame on top of it. The wooden base/bed would be raised a few inches off the floor, just to make the hard flatness of the floor less absolute.

  25. Just curious to know your thoughts on sleeping in a (Brazilian) hammock. I gave up the traditional bed 3 months ago and have had THE best sleeps in the hammock … zero pressure points, deeper sleep, no tossing/turning, … numerous benefits.

  26. Just listened to a pod cast today that you done with joe rogan(was told by partner that it was very interesting, and sure was, it was great,I thought he was mad the other night when he came to bed… Well the floor I should say, and then stated that it’s because he needed more movement during sleep, we are dairy farmers so out all day moving etc, so I thought he must have listened to a crazy person) turns out your not crazy your quite right. I’m now reading some of these comments and I think a lot of people are missing the point or just over thinking this movement thing, in my mind I always think what would be the best way for me to mimic what nature intended for me, so as for sleeping it dosnt matter if you are high or low or what ever if you were sleeping outside you would find the comfiest safest slightly soft spot and sleep (hopefully) and during sleep we would move, the idea is to get away from these over padded large mattresses that restrict sleep time movement (and cost a fortune) and replace it with something a little more natural. Thankyou though for bringing this to our attention, something that is so super obviously correct but I never really thought about, now just to make the transition….. P.s love the way you live!

  27. OMG! I have been waiting for you to write about this! Yay! I have been wondering for such a while how you did it. I have gotten my hubs to “cross train” and switch sides of the bed with me. We shall see how long it takes to get us close and closer to the ground, haha.

  28. OMG. I have been waiting for this post forever! I finally got my hubs to “cross train” and switch sides with me. We’ll see how long it takes us to get closer to the floor, haha. Thank you!

  29. Hi Katy,

    Been thinking of transitioning to a less thick mattress for a while. Still left with one big question mark though. I have read up on it and a lot of people have been saying how important it is to let the mattress breath and have natural materials to prevent allergies. So regardless of thickness what would be the ideal material to sleep on and how would you treat it?

    Would be great to get your thoughts on that. Thanks.

    Mark

    1. HI! After reading notes from many talking about possible mold, I lifted up my mattress and OOPS! MOLD! So, we have since been folding up rolls every day. We also just ordered some new cotton mattresses. Once I have everything up, I’ll post the problem and my solution. I’ll think on your other questions too! Thanks for posting! -KAB

  30. This is so Korean/Japanese. Love it! As a kid, the best place to hide was the closet where all the bedrolls were folded. You could climb to the top of them since they were fairly firm. Do you have a recommendation for finding natural material bedrolls in the U.S.?

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