Why Do We Sleep Upstairs?

Upstairs landing in a house, next to a closed bedroom door

Many single-family residences make use of a second floor by occupying it with bedrooms, while the kitchen, dining room, and other rooms for residing and hosting guests are located on the first floor. The construction and layout that encourages people to sleep upstairs is very common in multi-story homes, but it can be difficult to determine exactly why it is often done this way. There are several different potential reasons to explain this phenomenon in home construction.

Likely, the most reasonable explanation for placing home bedrooms on the second floor is that it would be inconvenient to have daytime-active rooms upstairs. If the rooms that are often on the first floor were to be spread between the first and second floors, people would have to keep walking up and down to perform daily tasks, which would expend a lot of time and energy. If these rooms were completely located on the second floor, there would be some problems moving heavy items such as refrigerators up the stairs. Additionally, the idea of having someone come over to your house would involve them walking through or around your bedroom as they travel upstairs to the more-public places of the house.

Related to this is the fact that stairs can be dangerous, and constantly having to run up and down them to exit one’s house can lead to trouble. This is incredibly hazardous for the elderly, since according to the CDC, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries every year. This potential for danger is why single-floor ranch homes are often designed for older individuals, since they completely eliminate the hazard of falling down stairs. While this is a significant problem for the elderly, it applies to all people, and maintaining active house rooms on the first floor greatly lowers these risks.

Another explanation for keeping bedrooms on the second floor of homes is to maintain proper heat flow throughout the home, especially in the winter when rising warm air from the first floor can provide needed heat to the second floor bedrooms. This claim is supported by the construction of “upside-down houses”, or homes with bedrooms on the first floor, in different beach towns throughout the United States. Since these houses would only be inhabited during the summer months, it would be ideal to construct them so that they would prevent people from being too warm.

However, by looking at upside-down houses outside of the United States, it is clear that they are not constructed to prevent discomfort from heat at night. For example, upside-down houses are common throughout Sweden and much of Scandinavia, a part of the world that is certainly not known for warm temperatures. Instead, these homes are likely designed with active rooms upstairs because of the views that people can see while on the second floor during the daytime, something that people would also want to have at homes that are located near beaches in the United States.

Since the placement of a kitchen and related rooms on the second floor is meant to enhance the living space by providing the residents with a nice view of outside during the day, a living space on the first floor should also have an appropriate view, or at least one that is better than it would be upstairs. In fact, this is something that traditional houses do have, and throughout the United States there generally are ordinances at the city level that prohibit grass from growing too long as a way to keep the ground level aesthetically pleasing. Second floors with bedrooms are often blocked by the canopy of trees, and would not provide as much visually as the first floor.

The last hypothesis is that people sleep upstairs because a long time ago, either wild animals or human intruders could harm them if they slept downstairs. This has some basis in the design of homes during the Middle Ages, when a house for the common man was made with very cheap materials that could easily fall apart with an aggressive wind storm. While these did not have a second floor for people to sleep in, they could have benefited from one to reduce the threat of wild animals and pillagers from harming the people sleeping on the first floor in this time when wolves and bears roamed the countryside. This idea that the first floor of a home is unsafe at night could have potentially permeated into the mindset of our society, encouraging the establishment of bedrooms on the second floor.

Whichever is the reason why we sleep upstairs, it is still the norm in home construction to place bedrooms on the second floor and will likely be done for some time in the future, even if there is a growing trend in the U.K. of upside-down houses. Guidelines and codes to facilitate construction of either one of these types of houses are addressed in the many different building standards, which are available on the ANSI Webstore.

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One thought on “Why Do We Sleep Upstairs?
  1. Sleeping upstairs for warmth isn’t inconsistent with upside-down houses in Scandinavia, if the Scandinavian examples are rather recent. For most of history, heating was expensive, high-effort, and scarce. Economizing on it in that context makes a lot of sense.

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