Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Paleo Sleep

When I interviewed Erwan Le Corre a couple of years ago, one of the things I asked about was sleep.  I was expecting an answer about the importance of sleep to health and recovery but while that was there, he also talked about where and how to sleep:

Sleeping enough, resting frequently, going to bed early, leave a window open to make sure air is renewed, avoiding synthetic fabrics.

I personally like to sleep on the floor, not in a bed, not even on a real mattress. To me it's more comfortable this way, and this way I can sleep about anywhere without experiencing discomfort whenever I'm travelling.

I thought of Erwan's answer today when I was on Facebook and saw that Mark Reifkind had posted a link to a really interesting study of how hunter gatherers sleep.  The paper is a few years old but it is fascinating:

Instinctive sleeping and resting postures: an anthropological and zoological approach to treatment of low back and joint pain

The whole paper is there and is worth reading.  This is the summary

  • Forest dwellers and nomads suffer fewer musculoskeletal lesions than “civilised” people
  • Nature's automatic manipulator during sleep is the kickback against the vertebrae by the ribs when the chest is prevented from movement by the forest floor
  • Various resting postures correct different joints
  • Pillows are not necessary

 Largely anecdotal evidence has been collected by “old timers” for over 50 years from non-Western societies that low back pain and joint stiffness is markedly reduced by adopting natural sleeping and resting postures. This observation must be recorded to allow further research in this direction as these primitive societies no longer exist and the great apes living in the wild are heading for extinction. All we have to do is to be good primates and use these preventive techniques.


Chuck said...

very interesting. i have been sleeping on the floor of my bedroom about 4-8 nights a month for a year now. it is weird. it doesn't seem that i get a good night sleep but when i get up in the morning, i feel more rested and my body feels better than most other mornings.

i am a belly sleeper and something that i cannot seem to overcome is the ridiculous pain i can get when my knee cap is straight down for hours at a time while sleeping. it is excruciating to wake up and slowly move my leg. also, sleeping on the floor is something my wife won't do thus it is not great for the marriage.

all in all, the sleeping on the floor experience has been very positive for me.

Erik van Gilder said...

On the subject of pre-industrial sleep, you may want to read Roger Ekrich's "At Day's CLose: Night in Times Past". Ekrich points out that segmented sleep is the evolutionary norm as opposed to the unbroken eight-hour sleep of modern life. See

Anonymous said...

My experience is much like Chuck's. I've returned to sleeping on the floor after experiencing back spasms. Prior to that, I had been sleeping in bed for approx. 1 year. Prior to that, I would go stretches of alternating between the floor and bed.
I have found that I tend to sleep uninterrupted while sleeping in bed, yet when I wake I feel sore, stiff and not refreshed. Sleeping on the floor, I will wake several times during the night, but when I do get up, I feel more refreshed without the aches or pains. My back spasms have also eased.

N Matheson said...

I slept on the floor for years, I really want to now, but my wife simply won't do it so I'm stuck in a bed.
Window open, under reindeer skins or cotton sure.
I have found the paleo worlds's insistence on a full nights rest does not match up with anthropological reports of extant or near extant HG people who frequently stay up well into the night and hunt early in the dawn.

Steve Parker, M.D. said...

Good post, Chris.
Brief and to the point.
I don't know where else I'd get this info; that's why your on me RSS feeds.


Patty said...

Very interesting. I may relegate the pillows to the closet for a while, just to see. I currently sleep with the window cracked open right by my head, and I fix the rare kinks in my neck by taking pillows off the bed. I've been sleeping on a futon on a platform for years, which others consider a torture rack.