Witnessing Korean people live out their daily lives on the living room floor can be surprising for many people. With most of us growing up lounging on sofas and eating meals on dining chairs, seeing them do the same activity but on the living room floor can be quite jarring!
It doesn’t just stop at that though. You will find that many Korean people sleep on the floor as well! We know what you’re thinking: the floor is hard, it’s cold, and it’s relatively dirty. How do they do it? Well, there’s a lot more to it than you think!
But first, let’s dial it back to 0.
Sleeping on the floor is an aspect of their culture that has been around for hundreds of years. It’s increasingly becoming less popular, but yet is still quite common amongst families in South Korea.
It became a popular and permanent thing when ondol floor heating was first introduced to Korean society. Ondol heating essentially uses the heat from the smoke derived from the house’s fireplace to heat the house from under the floor.
During the period when conduction heaters were not available, keeping warm using the elements was of utmost importance. The ondol heating method allowed entire houses to be heated up through the use of a fire and the stones trapping the heat meant that houses would stay warm long after the fire goes out.
The warmth from the ondol heating method meant that Koreans preferred to do activities closer to the floor. Everything from lounging, reading, studying, eating, and, yes, even sleeping was done on the floor to keep warm and cozy.
In terms of cleanliness of the floor, Koreans are generally quite hygienic people. They are mindful that many activities take place on the floor, and regularly clean and leave shoes at the doorway. Thus, sleeping on the floor is no big issue at all.
Koreans also own soft and fluffy mats, called yo, which they spread out on the floor to sleep on. They’re light and airy enough to not be a pain to prepare daily, but are comfortable enough for a good night’s rest.
All of the above means that sleeping on the floor is cost-effective, space-saving (especially since you don’t need a full-frame bed!), and comfortable – why wouldn’t you do it?
Do all Koreans sleep on the floor?
Sleeping on the floor was a common activity until the turn of the twentieth century when Korean culture began to be heavily influenced by western customs. Fashion and architecture were amongst the most impacted. However, many Korean traditions also took a hit and were left behind in favor of seemingly more efficient, effective, and ‘modern’ methods.
Sleeping on the floor was one such tradition. Today, you can still witness many families sleeping on the floor. Those from the older generations are especially stringent in their lack of motivation to let go of the comfort of sleeping on the floor.
Modern high-rise apartments have dominated residential buildings across the cities in South Korea, but true to Korean tradition, a modern version of the ondol system is likely installed within every unit.
In saying that, more and more Koreans are moving on from sleeping on the floor and opting for the modern option of using a bed. Some say that ergonomics is better, others believe that a wealthy status must come with a bed. Regardless, it seems that sleeping on the floor may soon become a thing of the past.
Benefits of sleeping on the floor
Those who are advocates of sleeping on the floor claim that it introduces a slew of health benefits to the body not otherwise provided by beds.
Many people who sleep on the floor claim that it has helped them reduce their back pain, improve their posture, and overall improve their quality of sleep. Of course, similar results may be achieved by using a medium to firm mattress, but it’s still not quite the same.
Sleeping on the floor is also often cooler than a bed. For those who often heat up during the night, this is a warm (cool?) welcome to uninterrupted sleep.
In which other countries do people also sleep on the floor?
You may already know this, but Japanese people have also traditionally slept on the floor.
When you visit Japan and opt to stay in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn), you will be given soft, cloud-like futons to sleep on, on the floor. This was how Japanese people slept before beds were introduced, and honestly, it isn’t too shabby at all!
Once you experience a futon, you may even prefer it over a bed!
Ondol – The Korean traditional heating system
Let’s delve a little deeper into the Ondol.
The ondol heating system is the perfect example of genius engineering. It essentially utilizes the heat from the smoke of a fireplace to heat a house from the floor upwards.
There are many parts to an ondol heating system. These include the gorae, which are the underfloor heating channels where the smoke flows. You also have the agungi, which are the traditional fireplaces that the system is connected to. There is also the bulmok, which are the openings of the channels.
All of these parts of the systems are cleverly designed so that just enough heat flows past the bulmok into the gorae at any one time, and it can’t escape afterward. The stones used to trap the heat are designed to sustain the warmth for hours, even days!
The ondol heating system is extraordinary, and there isn’t another system quite like it anywhere else in the world. If you’re interested in learning more about it, we’ve got an in-depth article here where you can read more interesting facts about the ondol heating system.
Sleeping on the floor is a massive cultural difference for some, but we’re here for it! It seems that the benefits to the body, as well as the cost-saving feature, make it a real winner. Plus, having all that additional space in your bedroom means more space for activities, right?
What was the most surprising thing about Koreans sleeping on the floor for you? Would you try it yourself?
We highly recommend it!