The futon vs. mattress debate that has social media tossing and turning

Would you ditch a mattress for this traditional Japanese sleeping practice?

Green futon bed, patterned cushions, ladder shelf, shelving unit
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Is sleeping on a futon better than sleeping on a standard mattress? We've asked the experts to weigh in on the pros and cons of the traditional Japanese sleeping practice so you can see for yourself if it's a switch that'll be right for you.

It's pretty much standard that what you're sleeping on will affect your ability (or inability) to sleep better, and for most people, opting for the best mattress to suit their needs is enough to get in a restful night's sleep.

With that being said, while mattresses come in all shapes and sizes to support whatever it is you're after, some go as far as abandoning them altogether and going down a similar, but different route: a futon.

Neutral futon bed in living room, coffee table, side table

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This recent resurgence about futons actually came to mind after stumbling upon this viral tweet on Twitter, racking up over 8 million hits and over 120,000 likes highlighting how ditching the typical mattress and bedframe setup in exchange for a futon and tatami mat (straw mat used as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms) had significantly helped this individual alleviate their back pain.

Speaking from my own experience, having spent a couple of my childhood years in the Philippines where it's standard practice to sleep on a banig (a traditional handwoven mat), I can confirm that while sleeping on a firmer surface takes some getting used to, it works a charm for back pain.

But what do the experts have to say about it? Should you consider ditching your mattress for a futon?

Green futon bed, patterned cushions, ladder shelf, shelving unit

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sleeping on a futon: the pros and cons

For the most part, you've likely seen futons within homes as sofa beds (or their smaller counterpart, chair beds), used for small living rooms or guest bedrooms, giving you options and ensuring you're prepared should you need to accommodate an unexpected, overnight visit.

The Japanese-style futons though? Probably not so much, considering the majority in the UK are more than likely accustomed to using a typical mattress.

Sammy Margo
Sammy Margo

Sammy Margo has been a Chartered Physiotherapist for 32 years and specialises in sleep. She completed her Chartered Physiotherapy training and a Masters in Physiotherapy (MSc) at University College and Middlesex Hospital. Now as the founder of The Good Sleep Expert, she brings her expertise to The Dreams Sleep Matters Club.

Chris Tattersall
Chris Tattersall

Chris Tattersall is a Sleep Environment Expert and has been developing and selling sleep-related products since 1997. Since 2012, Chris has been Managing Director of Woolroom. Focused on the often-forgotten area of the sleep environment, Chris is passionate about highlighting the holistic sleep environment and the importance of what we sleep on, under and in, by raising awareness about how certain fibre types can impact our sleep.

Futons are known for their compact size and versatility as they can be used as a sofa during the day and easily transformed into a bed at night. But futons, particularly the traditional Japanese-style futons, tend to provide a firmer support compared to conventional mattresses which is why some people try this to help with back pain,' explains Sammy Margo, sleep expert at Dreams.

Chris Tattersall, sleep expert and MD at Woolroom adds, 'Having a firm foundation for your sleep environment has been known to produce results, such as improved back pain, hence the idea that 'a hard bed is good for the spine.'

Green futon bed with patterned cushions, shelving units

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Our Deputy Digital Editor, Rebecca Knight, agrees coming from a family who loves futons. 'My family has always opted for futon sofa beds and stocked up on them for when we had sleepovers as kids. While I'm not sure I'd want to sleep on one full-time, the futon sofa bed is up there with the comfiest I've slept on, it even beats my version.'

'They're on the firm side, so don't expect it to feel like sleeping on a cloud. But you'll be amazed how quickly you drift off on them and wake up without any aches.' 

Mito Double Futon | £209.00 at Dunelm

Mito Double Futon | £209.00 at Dunelm

This handy and versatile futon is the perfect addition to any modern home, sporting a timeless design that'll complement your living space, not to mention, a great space-saving solution.

However, while all that is well and good, the experts also argue the other side of the coin. 'The key principle that prompts results is that the mattress/futon needs to be malleable and supportive enough to ensure that there is 'give' around hips and shoulders, as this allows for support in between, ensuring that the spine is maintained at a horizontal level,' explains Chris Tattersall at Woolroom.

'When sleeping on a futon or tatami, which are thin and traditionally placed on the floor, you lose some of the 'give' versus a thicker, traditional mattress.'

Green futon bed with patterned cushions, rattan basket

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Additionally, we should not forget that comfort plays a significant role in sleep quality. Sammy Margo at Dreams adds, 'A futon could lead to excessive pressure on certain areas of the body including the knees, shoulders, and hips because it is so firm, unlike a softer mattress which tends to distribute body weight more evenly. Discomfort can also lead to disturbed sleep so individuals with knee problems may find it more challenging to sleep on something as firm as a futon.'

Therefore, whether you choose to stick to your typical mattress or make the switchover to a futon, it's all dependent on you and the lifestyle you lead.

White bedding on top of mattress

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Dreams' Sammy Margo continues, 'Not one size fits all – the position you sleep in, your weight and size are all factors that can impact what kind of support you need from a bed. Some people find futons too firm, so I'd always recommend that you try out a futon before making a long-term commitment.

'The ultimate bed is the optimal marriage between comfort and support.'

Jullia Joson
Junior Writer

Jullia Joson is Ideal Home’s Junior Writer. She’s always loved all things homes and interiors, graduating with a bachelor's degree in Architectural Studies from the University of Nottingham in 2022. Previously, she was an Intern Editor for ArchDaily. Now focused on news stories, Jullia can be found down the TikTok and Pinterest rabbit hole scrolling through any new and upcoming trends, hacks, and home inspiration.