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Can You Sleep On a Tatami Mat Safely? (Pros v Cons)

Stephanie-Abi-Zeid.
  • This article has been compiled, researched, and medically reviewed by Stephanie Abi Zeid (Embryologist, Andrologist, B.S, MSc) for factual accuracy.

A tatami mat is a mat that’s traditionally made from rice straw and used as a flooring material in Japan.

But can you sleep on a tatami mat safely?

You can sleep on a tatami mat safely if you have no pre-existing medical conditions (like deformities of the spine – including kyphosis and scoliosis) that may be worsened by sleeping on the firm mat surface, and/or you do not have any mobility issues that require a high profile bed.

The rest of this article weighs the pros and cons of sleeping on a tatami mat, and explains in more detail how to sleep comfortably on a tatami mat.  

Related: is sleeping on just a mattress on the floor bad for you?

Should You Sleep On a Tatami Mat?

So should you sleep on a tatami mat or not?

You should sleep on a tatami mat to save space, potentially improve your posture, alleviate back pain, improve breathing and circulation, regulate your temperature, combat insomnia, and save money. You should avoid sleeping on a tatami mat if you’re a side sleeper, have allergies, poor mobility, or other health contraindications.

The exact benefits and drawbacks of sleeping on a tatami mat are discussed in more detail below to help you decide if this is the right sleeping surface for you:

8 Benefits of Sleeping on a Tatami Mat

Below is a list of 8 potential benefits of sleeping on a tatami mat:

1: A Tatami Mat Can Save Space

A tatami mat is light and portable – meaning that it can be folded and stored away so that the room can be used for other purposes during the day. 

So rather than permanently setting up a bed inside a small room, you can opt for a tatami mat to gain more floor space. 

Alternatively, if you don’t want to use a tatami mat to sleep on, you can instead buy a fold-up Murphy bed to free up the room during the day.

2: A Tatami Mat Can Help Maintain Good Posture

Some individuals may find that sleeping on a medium-firm or firmer surface – like a tatami mat placed on the floor – may help to maintain better posture which may lead to a more comfortable night’s rest [1].

However, this is not a guarantee since different body types, body weights, and sleeping positions will interact with a harder sleeping surface with varying results – with side sleepers and sleepers with more prominent bones and joints typically experiencing greater discomfort due to the increase in pressure points on the body.

3: A Tatami Mat May Help to Alleviate Back Pain

For some individuals, sleeping on a tatami mat on the floor may help to alleviate back pain because the flat surface of a tatami mat can ensure an even weight distribution which may help to maintain proper spinal alignment.

However, lighter weighted sleepers under 150 lbs and sleepers that prefer a softer sleeping surface may not experience such pain-relieving benefits and may actually experience greater discomfort due to the increase in pressure points.

Therefore, if back pain at night is an issue for you, you should go and see your doctor so that they can provide an appropriate solution for your particular case.

And if it’s advised that you purchase a new mattress or bed, then have a look at my medically reviewed list of the best mattresses and adjustable beds for back pain here.

4: A Tatami Mat May Improve Your Breathing and Blood Circulation

Sleeping on a tatami mat may help to improve your circulation and breathing quality because the harder sleeping surface can help to maintain good posture which allows for clear breathing, proper expansion of the diaphragm, and better blood flow.

Conversely, sleeping in poor posture can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, as well as hinder your breathing – especially when your neck is placed at an awkward angle [2].

5: A Tatami Mat Can Regulate Your Temperature

A Tatami mat can help to regulate your temperature at night by allowing you to sleep cool in warmer weather due to your proximity to cooler airflow nearer the floor, whilst also providing the potential for increased warmth when required via the insulation properties of the cushioned material.

6: A Tatami Mat May Combat Insomnia

A tatami mat may help you to get to sleep faster due to the therapeutic smell released from the materials – potentially soothing your nervous system (much like aromatherapy) to help you relax and combat insomnia [3].

7: A Tatami Mat is Cheaper Than Regular Beds

A good quality tatami mat only costs a few $100s at the most and doesn’t require a bed frame – meaning that you can potentially save $1,000s when setting up your sleeping space.

And should you require extra comfort, you can pick up a mattress topper or even a futon mattress to place on top of your tatami mat for the fraction of the price of a regular mattress.

8: A Tatami Mat Provides a Safe Sleeping Environment for Toddlers

A tatami mat allows you to co-sleep safely with your children without worrying about SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

Sleeping close to the ground minimizes the risk of children getting injured from falling out of their toddler beds or cribs while sleeping [4]. 

Furthermore, a tatami mat serves as both a sleeping surface and a playing area for children. 

3 Drawbacks of Sleeping On a Tatami Mat

Below is a list of 3 potential drawbacks of sleeping on a tatami mat:

1: A Tatami Mat May Increase the Risk of Allergic Reactions

Sleeping on a tatami mat on the floor may increase the chance of experiencing an allergic reaction because you are in closer proximity to potential triggers like dust mites, dust particles, mold spores, and other allergens.

A tatami mat may also have a unique smell that’s intolerable for some people – especially those who are prone to fragrance allergies. 

Keeping the floor and the mat clean can help to avoid respiratory problems like asthma attacks, skin irritations, and sneezing when sleeping on your tatami mat.

2: A Tatami Mat is Often Uncomfortable for Side Sleepers

Sleeping on a tatami mat may be uncomfortable for you if you’re a side sleeper because the thinner profile is unlikely to allow you to sink far enough into the materials to alleviate the increased pressure on your hips and shoulders.

More specifically, for some individuals, the firmer surface can cause your hip flexors, hamstrings, and upper body muscles to tighten over time, leading to stiffness and pain upon waking.

Side sleepers typically need a softer sleeping surface to cradle the pressure points along the hips and shoulders to relieve the pain whilst maintaining a neutral spinal alignment. 

Therefore, you might want to add a softer mattress topper to your tatami mat to help alleviate the discomfort on your hips and shoulders.

Alternatively, check out the best soft mattresses for side sleepers here for a more robust and comprehensive solution.

3: A Tatami Mat Can Impede Mobility

A tatami mat sits directly on the ground, which makes it unsuitable for people who need a high profile bed to get in and out easily – including pregnant women, those with hip pain, the elderly, and people with poor mobility. 

How to Sleep On a Tatami Mat Comfortably

So how do you sleep on a Tatami mat comfortably and get a good night’s sleep?

To sleep on a tatami mat comfortably, choose a high-quality mat, add cushioned layers for the first night – progressively working your way down to the bare mat over the first week – and make sure you keep the mat clean and well maintained.

More details below: 

1: Choose a High-Quality Mat

Choosing the right tatami mat for your needs is the crucial first step that you must take in order to be able to sleep comfortably on it at night.

Comfortable, high-quality tatami mats are designed with a strong wooden base and are intertwined with tightly woven rush grass. 

Look for authentic and traditional tatami mats that are manufactured under safe guidelines and that come in both folding sizes and larger sizes.

You can find a variety of sizes at different prices on many online websites.

Choose one with soft, flexible, and durable grass woven rush with eco-friendly materials to provide sufficient comfort and padding.

A tatami mat can be bordered by plain black cloth or a gold and black plum pattern. 

Bamboo floor mats are perfect tatami mat alternatives as they have a similar aesthetic to tatami mats.

2: Add and Progressively Remove Cushioned Layers

If you’re used to sleeping on a regular mattress then transitioning straight to sleeping on a tatami mat may be quite uncomfortable due to the much firmer feel.

This can lead to an increase in pressure points and discomfort due to your body being forced to sleep in a different posture (even switching from sleeping in bad posture to good posture can feel uncomfortable at first).

However, much of this discomfort is temporary and should pass after the first week once your body has adapted to sleeping on the firmer surface.

To ease the transition, you can add one or more items like a mattress topper, futon mattress, or even some folded up blankets or a yoga mat for the first night of sleeping on your new tatami mat.

Throughout the week, you should then start removing the thicker layers until you eventually are able to sleep on the bare tatami mat without any extra cushioning.

3: Clean and Maintain Your Tatami Mat

Cleaning your tatami mat, the floor, and your sleeping space at least once per week can help you to sleep comfortably on your mat because it will reduce the chance of you reacting to allergens that can build up when not removed regularly.

Simply use a vacuum and a dry floor mop to clean the mat and prevent the growth of mold. 

Don’t step on the mat in your shoes or slippers and don’t allow heavy furniture on the mat – as they can damage the fibers of the tatami. 

Try to air out your tatami mat regularly to let the material breathe again. 

Related: is it safe to sleep on an acupressure mat?

Sleeping On a Tatami Mat is a Personal Choice

Sleeping on a Tatami mat has many space-saving and health benefits.

For example, the firm surface of a tatami may be beneficial for toddlers and people with certain health conditions such as back pain, respiratory problems, and insomnia. 

However, sleeping on a tatami mat is not recommended for people who require a specialized mattress or a high profile bed like pregnant women, the elderly, and people with poor mobility. 

And those with medical contraindications like spinal issues may find that sleeping on the harder surface of the tatami mat may increase discomfort.

In healthy individuals, it’s possible that your body might ache a bit as it adjusts to the new surface – so be sure to add extra layers of cushioning the first night and then progressively remove them to train your body to accept sleeping on the bare tatami mat without shocking it too much.

Make sure the mat is regularly maintained to remain in top condition for many years to come.

Related: 7 reasons why you should NOT sleep in an unfinished basement.


Sources and References

[1] Radwan, Ahmed. Effect of different mattress designs on promoting sleep quality, pain reduction, and spinal alignment in adults with or without back pain; systematic review of controlled trials. vol. 1, 2015, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2352721815001400 Accessed 6 January 2021.

[2] NewScientist. Bad posture could raise your blood pressure. NewScientist, 2007, https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12457-bad-posture-could-raise-your-blood-pressure/  Accessed 6 January 2021.

[3] Spendlove, Nicola. Why Do The Japanese Sleep On Floors? – The Sleeping Customs Of Japan. Japan Junky, 2020, https://japanjunky.com/why-do-the-japanese-sleep-on-floors/  Accessed 6 January 2021.

[4] The American Academy of Pediatrics. SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment. Pediatrics, vol. 128, no. 5, 2011, pp. 1341-1367, https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/128/5/e1341 short. Accessed 6 January 2021.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Glass Door and Tatami Mat on the Floor’ by Studio Japan – used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.

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