No Magic Pill

Knowledge + effort + time = success

Enter Sandman

Posted by Ben on Saturday, April 11, 2009

From the beginning of this blog, I’ve maintained an active disdain for traditional footwear, whether it’s sneakers, loafers, flip-flops, or (especially) high-heels. I’ve offered my own anecdotal experiences as well as links to various stories and articles trying to explain in every conceivable manner why 99.9% of shoes out there just plain suck and put your long-term health and mobility at serious risk. I will continue to fight that fight as long and as well as I can, but it’s time to take up an additional cause for the sake of our well-being, a cause I’ve long held suspicions about and experimented with yet continued to ignore for some reason, but some recent additional experience has finally gotten me over the hump, and I’m embarking on another lifestyle tweak to improve my posture, my performance, and my sleep.

I’ve spent the past few nights sleeping at the foot of my bed on the hardwood floor with nothing for padding except my sleeping bag. No, I’m not in trouble, at least not that I know of, nor am I hobo-ing around crashing at friends’ places (though with the way I’m banking vacation time at work, I might go for a week or four on a LOOOOONG Harley ride sometime this summer/autumn; check your calendars). This is nothing new for me—I went to college, after all—and without fail, every time I’ve slept on a very hard surface, I’ve experienced deeper and more restful sleep, less soreness or stiffness (in general as well as after exercise), fewer back and hip and shoulder issues (this latest round of sleeping on the floor has, so far, all but fully relaxed some rather painful trigger points in my shoulders without additional self-therapy), and a general readiness to wake up and move immediately rather than needing upwards of a half-hour to fully get my bearings, both physically and mentally. In fact, while I’m not ready to fully ascribe this development to my sleep changes, I’ve been dealing with what I thought was a stress fracture in my left foot for a couple months now, and after a few nights on the floor, there is significantly less pain in the area, much less than I’ve felt since the initial injury. I’ll report more after giving this thing more time to shake out.

Well, you might say, I just need to get a firmer mattress. Let me assure you that I have one of the firmest mattresses I’ve ever slept on, yet my sleep had become increasingly fitful (I’m talking over the course of several months, not just recently). Well, you might say, you should try some kind of stiff memory foam that’ll support you better. Okay, are you going to spend the hundreds or thousands of dollars to set me up? Besides, foam forms to your body’s weight as well as shape, and since most of our weight is—well, should be around our hips (meaning musculature, not fat), foam ends up sagging as much as a regular mattress. Well, you might say, maybe you need one of those adjustable air- or water-filled beds? I’ll iterate the cost comment and add the question: have you ever slept on an air mattress, especially for several nights in a row? There’s practically no way to keep those things from sagging during each night, let alone over the long term. Well, you might say, you just need a firmer bedding surface. Um, I have one. It’s called the floor, which is cheaper/free and better suited for our bodies. But, but, but how can you NOT sleep on a mattress, you ask? Well, aside from the potential toxins within, the question really should be: how have humans slept on mattresses for so long without countless cases and reports of neck pain, back pain, knee and hip pain, insomnia, excess ingestion of sleep aids, excess ingestion of stimulants—oh, wait, that’s already happening at a skyrocketing rate.

When it comes to all things “primal,” as many or most people would probably classify sleeping on the floor, a cruise around Mark’s Daily Apple is generally a good starting (and usually stopping) point; however, aside from a few articles on ideas for getting better sleep (all focused on diet, exercise, and a couple lifestyle tweaks) and one article that briefly mentioned the chemical hazards of mattresses, I was somewhat surprised that I didn’t find anything about bedding (that’s not to say it’s not there, but I just didn’t find it; hopefully Mark can set me straight if something’s been written about it). In pulling out to a wider Google search, I ran across an article by Patrick Clark—who that is, I have no clue—that hit on a lot of ideas I’ve mused over for years but never fully put together. (Note: the Bruce Bower article link in the Clark story is broken; the article can be found here.)

Bottom line: America, and most of the world that uses Westernized sleep habits (read: mattresses, artificial lighting, stimulants, etc), suffers from all manner of sleep disorders and subsequent physical and mental ailments that, for some reason, just don’t seem to improve; in fact, as our society as advanced, so to speak, our sleep has regressed, and don’t you know that there is a HYOOGE financial incentive to keep it that way. Every time you see an article with tips and tricks to getting better sleep, invariably it focuses on every thing in the world—from food to feng shui—except the surface on which you sleep, and isn’t that one of, if not the, most influential element of sleep? Of course it is; otherwise, how could all these bedding companies be charging—and getting—hundreds and thousands of dollars PER BED and seeing their bottom lines remain healthy? People are desperate for sleep, which is blamed for everything from bodily pains and poor test scores to hypertension and even death; yet for all the money and technology poured into sleep, we’re getting less of it. Yes, there are extenuating issues to address, such as diet and exercise, yet I’m willing to bet that even the most puritan of health nuts suffers from stretches of sleeplessness.

Of course, I can’t say any of this definitively since, as the Clark article mentions, “embarrassingly” few studies have been done when it comes to sleeping surfaces, and most anything supportive of non-mattressed sleeping is anecdotal—in my own experiences, I’ve slept on hardwood floors, low- and medium-pile carpet, and even asphalt (buffetted by thin wooden slats used to separate layers of bricks formed into cubes—I worked in a brickyard during the summer preceding my senior year of high school), all with great results, yet I went back to mattresses because, well, that’s just where you sleep, right? I mean, why WOULDN’T you sleep on a mattress? It’d just be weird not to. In fact, I mentioned this development on Twitter, in my training log, and to a co-worker, and all provided the expected responses: oh, you just need to try/change this, that, or the other; what kind of mattress/box springs/linens are you using?; doesn’t it hurt to try to sleep like that?; how do you sleep being that uncomfortable? Folks, I’m here to tell you, to preach, to pound, to proclaim, to proselytize about mattresses the same way I do about shoes—actually, think about the parallels. Both shoes and mattresses (and even food products, to a large extent) are ubiquitous and considered normal in our society. Both claim (rightfully so) vast technological attributes. Both continue research, development, and marketing to further develop those technologies under the guise of improving support and overall health (yet, oddly, this never seems to happen; otherwise, these companies would go out of business). Both command mind-bogglingly vast industrial complexes and financial structures that benefit from car maker-like product development (read: regular, predictable “new” models touted as superior to last week/month/year, so toss out what they swore was the end product of their efforts for this latest end product). Anyone starting to see some problems here? I sure as hell am.

This next step to weirdness isn’t a big deal for me since I already get a lot of comments on my Vibrams (speaking of which, I just ordered my “summer” pair a few minutes ago), but what if you want to try this out for yourself and wonder what other people might think? If you read my recent serial post on gymless fitness, the same mental hurdles must be addressed, but if you want a quick-and-dirty answer to people who ask, simply say that it’s where/how YOU sleep, not them, that they can think what they want, but they don’t have to do it unless they want to. Just because something isn’t “normal” doesn’t mean it isn’t ideal (I’ll refrain from saying “right”). Enjoy getting better sleep, having more energy, having fewer aches and pains, thinking more clearly, and generally living a more fulfilling life. Show those who poo-poo mattress-less sleep just how much better YOUR life is. A bold claim? Sure, but I’m not trying to sell you anything, though if I readily find the parts to a Japanese-style futon, I’ll be sure to pass along the source in case you want to go in that direction.

P.S. I couldn’t let a post with this title go by without its namesake.

P.P.S. ABC Financial, my former gym’s financial company, can kiss my pearly white, hairy ass. I just found out that they’re sending collection letters and making collection calls (to the wrong number) claiming that my account with them is past due (no shit, it’s cancelled and just paid the second of two termination payments, meaning it’s closed). This is the third billing issue I’ve had with them, each due to error on their part, yet I still have to deal with their crap. I swear, I think Comcast is running this outfit. At any rate, I have the emails we exchanged making this last transaction crystal clear, so I sent them a nastily-worded email demanding a cease-and-desist and included the text, senders, and dates of those emails as well as a thinly-veiled threat of filing a formal complaint with the BBB. I’m sure that part won’t do any good, but seriously, if you can help it at all, never get involved with ABC Financial. Mmmm… Sandman… dirt naps… yeah, that’s the good stuff.

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8 Responses to “Enter Sandman”

  1. These past two years, I’ve been sleeping more and more poorly, and waking up more and more uncomfortable in the body. This is despite our newer, fairly firm matress.

    I’ve never slept as well as when I slept on a very firm futon (let’s make it primal: about as soft as an animal hide on the dirt ground, or perhaps a pile of leaves. I assume primitive and ancient man was a bit creative). Of course, I was 20 years younger back then. Even now, however, although it may feel very hard when needing to sleep on the floor or the ground, I do feel that I generally get a good night’s sleep and my body feels OK upon waking.

    Maybe I’ll have to see if my wife is open to making a change back to a futon (or spend a ton of money on a sleep number bed, and I can set my side to “rock hard.”) lol

  2. Ben said

    Chris, I don’t remember exactly which article I read this in, but leaves were mentioned, not so much for padding as for ventilation and temperature regulation, similar to how tatami mats are used. I know I could benefit from that since I get way too hot on/in my sleeping bag.

    That being said, I’d think our bodies would be more receptive to this kind of sleeping arrangement the older we get, considering the alleged therapeutic benefits. Good luck convincing the wife, though. My current other half isn’t thrilled with me sleeping on the floor, but honestly, if it comes down to choosing between a simple preference of hers and my short- and long-term vitality, the floor wins.

    But that’s just me :)

  3. Redlefty said

    I’m with you on the sleeping thing, but have to say nay to your criticism of high heels.

    Of course, I don’t require that she actually walk in them…

  4. Mich said

    Agree entirely regarding sleeping on the floor. I’ve been sleeping on a standard blue foam pad (the type that REI sells for camping) for almost three years and find it more comfortable than a bed. When I travel I reluctantly use the hotel bed, but only because I’m skeptical about how well hotels clean their room carpets…

  5. Ben said

    Red, the high-heels thing is just my opinion. You’re more than welcome to keep wearing them if you like. They do make for some great ankle stability, though the calf/Achilles foreshortening requires some extra p/rehab work ;)

    Mich, how is the temperature regulation with the foam pad you mentioned? That’s my biggest challenge right now, and I don’t want to shell out for a full Japanese futon setup just yet.

  6. Redlefty said

    Me in heels? That’s a scary thought… I’m already 6’3″ in flats!

  7. Ben said

    …and a dude.

  8. Mich said

    Ben, I haven’t noticed any temperature reg issues. I’d say try it and see whether it works for you. I think the pad is about $17 at your local REI/camping store.

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