The Ultimate Earth Bed: A Mattress Made of Sand

sand bed in bedroom

Michael and Stephanie’s sand bed.  Photo courtesy of The Ultimate Earth Bed

In 2013 I wrote a post called “A Homemade Mattress?” It was just an off-the-cuff complaint fest on my part, but the response to it revealed a vast population of deeply dissatisfied bed users out there in Internetland. It remains one of our most visited posts, and the lengthy comment section is filled with tales of people who, in desperation, have made, modified or improvised their beds in an effort to avoid the mattress industry entirely.

It seems many of us are sick of sleeping on these expensive, over-engineered contraptions stuffed full of petroleum-based foam and doused with fire retardants. Worse, these beds are not even all that comfortable, or don’t maintain their firmness for long, and just make the whole experience a little more squalid, when we can’t stand them any longer, we have to drag them to the curb and send them off to clog the landfills for the next few hundred years. No wonder so many of us search for alternatives, from hammocks to Japanese style futons to homemade straw mattresses.

Recently a friend and frequent Root Simple commenter who goes by the handle “P” here, sent us an intriguing note. Like us, she lives in the Los Angeles area, and like us, she’s been obsessed with the idea of a mattress alternative for a while. Then she got a lead on an exciting bed option, and she shared it with us, saying basically, “I know this couple that you have to meet. They’ve made a bed out of sand!”

So we went to meet Michael Garcia and Stephanie Wing-Garcia and their sand mattress. They live just a few minutes from our house, in a big, sunny apartment full of beautiful things–and they sleep on a king sized bed which consists of a low wooden platform, a pair of twin-sized canvas mattress casings filled with ground white marble sand, which in turn are topped by an inch thick natural latex mat and a layer of sheepskin.

Version 2

Peeling back the layers: platform, 3″ deep sand filled mattress, 1″ natural latex and sheep skin on top (not pictured).  Photo courtesy of The Ultimate Earth Bed.

They love their bed. The idea for it came them in a flash of inspiration, and it has changed their lives. Stephanie credits the bed with healing the excruciating chronic back pain which she’d been suffering from for seven years.

It’s a great story, and they’re great people– which is why we recorded them for our podcast. They will be on tomorrow’s episode, so stay tuned for more! (The podcast is now up–here’s the link)

But in brief, and as sort of a preview, here’s few points which we’ll be covering in more detail in the podcast:

  1. Sleeping on a firm surface is a well known solution for tricky backs. Many people find that after an (admittedly uncomfortable) period of adjustment, the body seems to stretch and realign against the resistance offered by the firm surface. Using sand as a substrate provides an incredibly firm sleeping surface which is just a tad more forgiving than sleeping on the floor. The top padding provide insulation and a little bit of cushioning for the joints.
  2. The clean, dry crushed marble they’ve sourced makes a bed that is non-toxic, inflammable, allergenic, bug-resistant and deeply recyclable. If the mattress casing can be washed or patched. The sand can be washed or returned to the earth. It is an elemental bed. And theoretically it would last a lifetime.
  3. They’ve found a side-effect to sleeping on the crushed marble sand is that it seems to be curiously grounding and sleep-inducing. They fall asleep fast and sleep hard. I will say that I noticed that while I was sitting on the bed during our visit. Though I was drinking caffeine and conducting an interview–things which would ordinarily have me jacked up like a Chihuahua–I felt like I could just stretch out and take a a quick nap right there.
  4. Erik and I are intrigued with this idea, and are tempted to compare sleeping on this surface to barefoot running. (We’ve done the barefooting, but haven’t tried a whole night on the mattress.)  Both may be uncomfortable at first, but they build resilience, and perhaps, healthier bodies over time. In both cases, we have been told we have to buy complicated “supportive” contraptions made of cushioning foam and polyester fabric to have a good run, or a good night’s sleep. More and more we’re questioning whether that is a good idea.
  5. Michael and Stephanie loved their bed so much that they started to make sand beds for friends and family. The response has been so positive that they’ve started a company called The Ultimate Earth Bed, so that now they can share their idea with you, too.









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  1. Pingback: A Homemade Mattress? | Root Simple

  2. We did order our bed, but in the meantime, I started the mattress conversion adventure by ditching my pillow, then removing our old bedframe so that dh could get used to the (lower) height of our new bed setup once the sand bed arrives. Sans pillow is an adjustment, for sure (we didn’t toss them alltogether, as we still use them for sitting up in bed). As you mention, there is some settling/stretching out of the body in the process. I like how Katy Bowman frames it in her “Your Pillow is an Orthotic” blogpost where she describes how she worked down from a thick, firm pillow to less and less firm, then a towel, then a t-shirt, then nothing, so that the adjustment would be gradual. The only reason I felt safe going cold turkey on that is that a) we had just gotten back from tent camping and b) my pillow is super mushy, so I was already in the habit of kneading it around to make a crater for my head (ie ending up with not much between my head and the mattress to start with).
    Yes, my neck and upper back complained a bit at first due to the passive sleep-stretching, but now it’s MUCH better than even before the switch. It’s also interesting to observe the new sleeping postures I’ve taken on as my body has made this adjustment. Anyway, DH and I are very excited to get the bed to round out the “we no longer want to whack out our bodies sleeping in the shape of a wide ‘V’ due to the mondo divets in our old mattress” conversion. 😉

    • Transitioning to no pillow for me took almost a year, so glad you’re doing well! The only problem I have is side-sleeping, which she doesn’t address in that blog post from what I remember. I’ve started to fold my arm under my head which seems to help and also gives a nice triceps stretch, though once again its a transition to getting in the habit.

  3. My new mattress is horrible. After six months, there was a hole where I sleep, so it goes back. Sand sounds good to me since I am accustomed to an extremely firm bed.

    About the pillow–I like a nice soft,yet firm, pillow. Gradually, I had mashed and folded a cheap pillow until it is more like a 12″ round foam sofa pillow. I doubt I can ever go without a pillow, but the big, firm ones and even the softer ones don’t work for me.

    For one thing, pillows make me hot because they wrap around my head. Second, I can never find a pillow that is not holding my head in the wrong position. I have an expensive pillow that is only used when it is cold. Then, I like the warmth of the pillow. However, comfort is gone.

    • I switched to a buckwheat hull pillow – stays cool, infinitiely moldable, and you can add/remove buckwheat hulls to make it as plump (or not) as you like.

  4. Mondo Divots! HA! That’s our bed for sure. Hubs loves sleeping on an unsupportive marshmallow, but my back hates it. I do much better on a firm mattress with a bit of cushion on top.

    I’ve thought about getting a traditional futon and putting a foam topper (and then a feather bed/down comforter vs a sheepskin) to make a firm bed with enough cushion for pressure points. This is a good ‘nudge’ to revisit that idea.

  5. Where’s the sand being sourced from?

    I read somewhere that sand theft from 3rd world countries was pretty common.

    I’m still a hammock guy. But would love to try sand, I just wanna make sure no 3rd world countries are being shafted.

    • Though it’s called a “sand” bed, they’re not using sand, as in beach sand. It’s food-grade crushed marble. hth 😉

      [But the worldwide beach sand issue is a problem for sure. Humans haven’t helped historically by blocking off rivers which formerly deposited silt/new sand onto the beaches, so this harvesting issue is making that even worse 🙁 ]

    • I share the same concerns. I feel skeptical towards launching an additional “fashion” that relies on mining (whatever material) and easy to mismanage sourcing but who knows what better alternatives are out there if any.

  6. How much energy is needed to crush and transport marble?
    How do you get rid of the inevitable skin flakes, sweat and other body bits that work their way past the sheep skin and other covers? I guess this is an issue with all mattresses, but I think these bits might get stuck in the sand. Add a little sweat moisture and you’ve got a lot of bio activity going on.

  7. In reference to a couple of separate comments above, the crushed marble that they’ve been using in the first beds they’ve made is actually from a local quarry, so is not beach sand nor is it transported any great distance (as the beds they’ve made so far have all been for locals).

    As I understand their intentions, for the larger market they will be searching out good sources of clean “sand” (crushed rock, whatever) in different places, so the filling in your bed would be locally sourced no matter where you are.

    Also, as I said in the post, sand is washable, so if anything very untoward happens on the bed (a quart of spilled juice, a bloody murder, etc.) you could scoop out the sand, rinse it off, and dry it in the sun, then refill the washed mattress cover. (They say it doesn’t take long to fill/empty the mattress.) Same would go if you were concerned about accumulating skin flakes. Overall it seems to me to be more cleanly than a conventional mattress.

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