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How do Primates Sleep?

An odd question to ask perhaps, however, after waking up with a sore back more often than now, that was the question I asked myself.

I “Googled” this exact question. And the article that caught my attention was that by Michael Tetley, a physiotherapist, titled “Instinctive sleeping and resting postures: an anthropological and zoological approach to treatment of low back and joint pain”.

As well as primate sleep, the article looks at sleep of African soldiers, who sleep in a similar style as primates. I read, and looked at the photographs, and decided to try them out. The arguments seemed sound to me. But I could hardly get to sleep. At some point in the night, I got up of the floor and climbed into my bed.

And there I continued to sleep. The result: I continued to wake with a sore back, neck, shoulders, etc. most mornings.

Some months later, while going through de-cluttering/downsizing process, I revisited this idea, deciding that I would rid myself of this bed (I gave it away). The first few nights I struggled to find a comfortable position. I would wake up sore, numb, or with pins and needles in whichever arm I had been sleeping on because it had been put into a position it wasn't used to: natural alignment. But I stuck with it. I had no bed to return to after all.

Searching for (and reading) other articles, Sleepover: Experiments in sleeping on the floor, sleep ergonomics benefits of sleeping on hard surface soft beds bad for back and Sleeping on the Floor, only gave me more impetus. Yes, I did read some not-so-positive articles, and comments to articles, but I was not swayed.

Where I sleep

That was over six months ago. I'm still on the floor. I had started with a pillow, but it soon became apparent that a pillow was not necessary, and in fact was detrimental to sleeping on the floor. It was binned after about a week.

I have not been able to master the art of sleeping in the positions shown in figure 1 or 2 of the aforementioned article. The position in figure 4, and something similar to that of figure 5 are often how I end up. Simply put, laterally rotating my arm just doesn't work. It is better than it was, but it is not a position I can maintain all night.

As Winter ends and Spring takes hold, the positions I sleep in will likely change: from a neat little heat-maintaining ball in Winter to an open, heat radiating floor rug in the Summer.

Through all this one thing has been constant: My back, neck, shoulders, everything, is much freer. Even if I have had a sore something or other when going to sleep, more often than not, that soreness is not present in the morning. Coupled with exercise (which I was doing even when in my old-fashioned “civilised” bed), I am freer than ever.

I have no plans to ever return to sleeping in what I formally called a bed with thick mattress and multiple pillows. My bed now can be rolled up in the morning and put away out of sight until it is needed again. I no longer need a “bedroom”. All I need is a “room”. This could have flow-on affects in terms of what I need in the future in terms of “housing” (my de-clutter/downsize helped with that too).

photo credit: Newest Addition by FrankGuido (license)

A baby/young children (I have noted from pictures) are note laid to rest on a giant mattress with pillows to support their posture. Their body is subtle still, they sleep naturally. Why then, do we grow-up to need such things?

I have only positive things to say about this. I feel everyone should try it, for a week or two.