The Evolution of Sleep
How our beds have changed over the history of time.
Humans have come a long way in terms of sleep. Today’s Visco memory foam and Cooling gel mattresses are a far cry from the piles of leaves and rocks ancient people would use for sleep. Let’s examine more closely the innovations and changes that have given us the beds we know and love today.
The word “mattress” derives from the Arabic term matrah, meaning “something thrown down” or “place where something is thrown down”. It’s not very difficult to see how this connection was made, as for much of B.C.E era, people would just sleep on the ground, while laying on something soft. The first innovation in sleep came from the ancient Egyptians, around 3400 B.C.E. The royals were the first to raise their beds off the ground, suspending them with platforms and ropes. Their beds were filled with materials such as palm leaves, grass, reeds, hay, or wool. Some would even used a goatskin covers. Common Egyptians, however, still slept on the ground, usually in a corner of their house.
Fast forward to the 1600’s and a more recognizable form of mattress is common. In this time heavy timber frames were connected to leather or rope supports. That frame was filled with straw, covered and held usually by a type of cheap fabric. Nowhere near the comfort we know today, but still an improvement!
Like with many other products, the industrial revolution was instrumental in the growth of the modern mattress. The backbone of the new design centered around the use of the spring and coil, originally used in the construction of chairs. In 1871, German Heinrich Westphal invented the innerspring mattress, the concept of which is still in use today. Unfortunately, Westphal died young and never was able to profit from his invention. Shortly after, the box spring was invented and became common in use with mattresses to make them less lumpy. This combination of innerspring mattresses and box spring are still primarily used today
Alternatives through the ages
Today, there are many modern alternatives to the traditional box spring and mattress pairing, but this wasn’t always the case. The basic concept and structure for a “Bed”, as in a hard frame stuffed with cushioning materials covered with a fabric or something similar, first started to change around the 1400’s with the invention of the Bunk Bed. There is speculation these beds started from a “truckle bed”, where the master would sleep lofted and a servant would sleep underneath on a mat. This origin would eventually form the bunk beds we know today. The next alternative bed style was popularized in Japan in the early 20th century- The Futon. The telling feature of a futon is its ability to be folded and stored away. While traditional Japanese futons are often laid on the floor, western adaptations switch between a raised platform and a couch by a fold down the middle.
The 1970’s brought an iconic edition to the mattress family- the waterbed. Invented in 1971, the waterbed is a staple of 70’s culture, a sloshy sleep pad that combined perfectly with mirror headboards and wood paneling. Waterbeds reached peak popularity in 1987 with 22% of all mattress sales, but today they account for less than 5% of new mattress sales. Finally, traveling and guest hosting was made easier with the 1980 invention of the air mattress. The original inflatable mattresses were made of polyvinyl chloride, and the main draw is the ability to deflate the mattress, roll it up, and effortlessly move it to a new location. What it lacks in comfort it makes up for in convenience.
Modern day innovations
Next time you fall asleep on your Memory Foam mattress, remember to thank NASA. Charles Yost, an aeronautical engineer in the 1960’s, was the head of a project tasked with developing safer airline seats that would protect people more reliably in plane crashes. During this project, he accidentally developed the product we call “memory foam”
Use science to find your perfect bed! bedMatch™ details.
- Mattress Warehouse