In life there are some things we only truly appreciate when they are taken away from us. One of them is a good bed.
Don’t believe me? Well, just think about when you’ve been on holiday and ended up in a bad bed. It’s too soft, it sags it the middle and, shock horror, it’s too short – it’s a nightmare!
We’ve all become accustomed to sleeping in nice comfortable beds. As we should. A good bed is great for your health. Not sure what qualifies as a good bed? See what the pros think here.
But historically speaking we’re the lucky ones. Comfortable beds are a relatively new phenomenon.
Below I will give you a brief history of humankind’s development of the bed. After which you will be thanking your lucky stars that you have a bed at all!
The Earliest Bed
We’ve come a long way since the first ever human bed.
Carbon-dated as 77,000 years old, this ‘mattress’ was found by curious archaeologists poking around in an ancient cave system in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
The rudimentary sleeping system consisted mainly of layers of rushes and reeds.
While this might sound like pretty basic stuff, researchers are keen to point out that our cave-dwelling ancestors were advanced enough to make use of a ‘top sheet’ of greenery.
So, they covered themselves in leaves did they! I know that doesn’t sound so special but it does when you find out they only used plants specially selected for insect repelling properties.
Smart move, Captain Caveman!
The Hunter-Gatherer Bed
The Paleo-diet is all the rage at the moment but very few of those advocating eating like a hunter-gatherer go one step further and suggest we should sleep like one too.
And for a very good reason. Those chaps did not have it good.
After a hard day on their feet searching the undergrowth for berries and dodging rampaging wooly mammoths, the only bed their exhausting nomadic lifestyle allowed was a pile of leaves placed in a hastily dug hole in the ground.
Tough times indeed. Roll on the Agrarian age. Farming rules!
King Tut’s Bed
The Ancient Egyptians knew a little bit about extravagance. Nobody who looks up at the awesome might of the pyramids thinks, “hey, these guys were subtle”.
But when it came to their beds the Egyptians were relatively understated.
The common folk slept on simple enough raised wooden platforms, putting some much needed distance between themselves and the cold desert ground. With the added advantage of keeping those pesky scarab beetles from crawling around on their Egyptian cotton sheets.
The upper class did add a little bit more embellishment, often carving the legs of their beds into the shapes of their favourite animal – the cat.
The Frontier Bed
The life of a pioneer was one of tremendous sacrifice. Packing your family into a single wagon for the arduous journey westward meant leaving behind luxuries such as a bed.
The earliest settlers made do with what became known as a ‘sleeping shelf’, a crude construction of wooden planks laid over pegs hammered into the cabin wall.
Once they had the roof up and the well dug, more enterprising homesteaders began to fashion their own mattresses. Unfortunately they had to make do with with whatever stuffing material they could find, this often meant buffalo hair or prairie grass. Neither of which provided much comfort.
At least they had good beards.
The Victorian Bed
It was during the reign of Queen Victoria that beds began to look more like the ones we know and love today.
Beds became simpler and more comfortable. Gone were the ornate four-posters and elaborate headboards that marked the Renaissance period. Finally function started to come before form.
Metal bed-springs made their first appearance, providing sleepers with much needed, if ever so slightly creaky, back support.
The Bed of Today
Throughout most of the early 20th Century one type of bed ruled the roost. The innerspring mattress. A far more supportive, comfortable and durable bed than had ever existed before.
Foam mattresses were born in the 1960s but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the glorious invention of memory foam began to capture the imagination of the public. And today they are firm – but not too firm – favourites amongst consumers.
The Smart Bed
We’ve come an awfully long way in a relatively short time since our cave-dwelling forebears. Our sleeping habits have gone from curling up in mound of leaves to lying back on king-sized memory foam mattresses as comfortable as a cloud.
We’ve never had as much choice or as much thought put in our beds as we do today.
So called ‘smart’ beds integrate up-to date technology directly into our mattresses. The most elaborate have both temperature and firmness control. Many even have dual controls to cater to you and your partners differing bedtime preferences.
Inbuilt sensors monitor your sleep patterns and send real time analysis and sleep ‘coaching’ advice directly to your dedicated smartphone app.
The future is here people, I’ve tried it and it’s very comfortable.
Neolithic Bed – Wikimedia Public Domain
Vintage Cot Bed – Pixabay Creative Commons
Victorian Bed – Unsplash Creative Common
King Tut’s Bed – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Modern Bed – by Modern Miami Furniture on flickr – Some Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
Hey all. My name is Sarah and I love writing about sleep (as you can probably tell!) I used to have insomnia which has been the motivation behind my career. There is nothing better than learning how to get a great nights sleep after years of struggling. This is what I now teach to others. If you’re struggling too come join me 🙂