Category Archives: Beds & Bedding

A Brief History of Beds

This clay figure was found in a pits of the Hypogeum in Hal Saflieni in Malta. It is thought to represent a "mother goddess". Temple Period, 4000 - 2500 BC.
This clay figure was found in a pits of the Hypogeum in Hal Saflieni in Malta. It is thought to represent a “mother goddess”. Temple Period, 4000 – 2500 BC.

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby


The caveman slept on fallen leaves, with an animal skin for warmth, a rock for a pillow, and a colony or two of local insects.

The Egyptians made wooden platforms to raise the sleeping surface off the ground.  This was clearly a better solution to sleeping eye to nose with snakes and various other crawling creatures. Of course, not being one for austerity, King Tutankhamen’s bed was ebony and gold.

The common folk still slept on mattresses made from stacks of palm leaves.

The notion of a luxury bed, as a style statement and status symbol came courtesy of the wealthy Romans. Gold, silver or bronze, they also came outfitted with a stuffed mattress, made mostly of hay or feathers.

Beds didn’t change much in style through the Renaissance, though the bed covering might now be velvet or silk. There weren’t any improvements in mattresses over the next few hundred years either,  but the wooden platforms were upgraded to a frame with a kind of fretwork made of ropes. This new arrangement offered a little more give than the former hard surface. Over time, these ropes would naturally stretch and sag and then would have to be tightened up, again.

It’s quite possible that the phrase “sleep tight” referred to the on-going maintenance required for a good night’s rest on one of these surfaces.

Time Marches On. Though Iron beds were developed in 17th century Italy to address concerns about infestation by bed bugs and moths, it wasn’t  until around the early 19th century that inventors and manufacturers got busy in pursuit of better mattresses and mattress holders. The term “bed frame” was first used in 1805-1815 when cast iron beds with cotton stuffed mattresses started to come into wide use.

From the start of their production in the 1800’s until World War I, iron beds were handmade.  The mass-production methods used for war time translated to cost-effective mass production for bed frames.

Finally, a sleep surface that wasn’t bug friendly.

Modern innovations for daily horizontal comfort. Since the 30’s, the inner spring mattress, box springs, futons, foam rubber beds, waterbeds, air-beds, and the adjustable bed have come along, all with their own special features designed to give the most comfort and the best night’s sleep.

Early daze: Heated waterbeds were touted as the ultimate answer to bodily aches and insomnia, followed closely by the foam rubber mattress, though both had their drawbacks. Foam rubber mattresses retain body heat; not a plus in the summer months. Waterbeds are inconvenient to move and noisy unless you massage out the air bubbles frequently.

The biggest inconvenience of all being the potential “puncture” problem.

The newest entry in the sleep comfort sweepstakes is the memory foam mattress. Rather than a closed cell formation as is found with a conventional foam rubber mattress, memory foam has an open cell construction that pushes the air trapped in the bubbles into the surrounding bubbles, thereby allowing the foam to conform perfectly to the shape of whatever lays on top. The result is true relief for pressure points while evenly supporting your body…all without the use of springs.

Some are more open than others.  Products like Tempur-Pedic , Comfor-Pedic and other open cell materials have a proprietary cell construction that is open enough to also let air move through the bed and away from the body, keeping the sleeping surface cooler throughout the entire night. By the way, micro gel beads infused into memory foam may initially be cooler to the touch, but studies show that this construction actually creates a warmer sleeping surface after several hours than the open cell construction of regular memory foam.

Another new innovation is the sleep number bed, which works with an air chamber construction. You choose how soft or hard you want the surface to be by controlling the amount of air in the chambers. For couples who have different tastes in mattress firmness, it’s the perfect answer.

Though conventional, a box spring and inner spring mattress has strong merits. While it’s common knowledge that mattress firmness erodes over time, this isn’t true about all mattresses. If you are in the market for a new bed, do yourself a favor and investigate well established companies like Shifman mattress which feature a two sided mattress and is made will all natural materials such as layers of cotton and real latex from rubber trees surrounding the inner spring construction. Obviously a flippable mattress will last twice as long as a one sided mattress, but you owe it to your self to fully understand that all mattresses are not created equal. Though platform beds are very popular, the value of a box spring mattress component is not to be overlooked casually. It acts as a shock absorber for your inner spring mattress (thus contributing to your comfort even further) and also increases the life of the mattress itself.

You can have the perfect sleeping surface for your body that lasts over 20 years!

Next time: Bedclothing #1: What Should The Stylish Bed Wear?

Related Posts

(Beds & Bedclothing Three Part Series)

Bedclothing #1: Dressing The Stylish Bed 

Bedclothes #2: Just Another Fashion Opportunity

Photo:,_Malta  Photo by: Freelance journalist and photographer based in  London.