Be thankful if there’s no room at the inn

By Andy Kriege, YSN

Despite the fact that we spend about a third of our lives in bed, we never give much thought to the bed we sleep in. Yet our beds are such an important part of our households, as well as our health and well-being. The importance of getting a good night’s sleep is well documented. Besides rejuvenating your mind and muscles, good sleep helps ward off a number of serious ailments. Simply put, without a good night’s sleep we begin to fall to pieces. 

Time to Hit the Hay

The oldest known mattress was discovered in South Africa and dates back 77,000 years. The ancient hunter-gatherers of the period used sedge grass leaves to construct a mattress that was wide enough to accommodate the whole family.

The structured bed — something that we might call a piece of furniture — dates back to 3000 B.C., when the Egyptians recognized the benefits of raising your body up off the ground to sleep and began constructing raised beds with wood frames. This basic structure, of a framed foundation with a cushioned top, has remained remarkably consistent over the centuries. 

The ancient Greeks similarly fashioned their beds with a wooden frame and bands of hide laced across it, upon which skins were placed. A board was placed at the head, and expensive pillows and coverings were the rage of the age, becoming the first add-on accessories to find their way into the bedding marketplace.

The Romans were perhaps the most elaborate when it came to bedding, employing marriage beds, eating beds (where you lay on your left side and eat), beds for studying and beds for the dead.

Roman beds frames featured a mattress that was suspended by an intricate design of woven ropes or wool straps that needed to be tightened to maintain its shape, giving birth to the expression “sleep tight.”

Throughout medieval times, people stuffed their beds with such vegetation as hay, straw, leaves or whatever was available. “Hit the hay” literally meant just that: Before retiring you struck your mattress with a stick in an attempt to dislodge any assorted vermin that may have taken up residence there.

Strange Bedfellows

For centuries travelers often snoozed with strangers at the inn. Guests supplied their own bedding and slept with fellow guests — John Adams and Benjamin Franklin famously among them.

In September 1776, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin shared a bed while en route to engage in what would ultimately become failed peace talks with the British. It happened in a small, rented room above a tavern in Piscataway, N.J., with only one small window: Adams demanded it be shut, but Franklin insisted it stay open. After much deliberation, Adams eventually won out and the window was closed.

Getting Bedder All the Time

In the 17th century, the wealthy began using feathers inside their mattresses and, leading up to the 18th century, beds became simpler in design. The cast iron bed and cotton-stuffed mattress now came into play, and while they did provide more support and comfort, they were known for being conspicuously squeaky. 

As we arrive in the 20th century, various innovations created a much better sleeping experience. Innerspring mattresses were introduced In the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that the coil spring mattress took off in popularity and became the most widely used mattress of the time. Shortly thereafter foam rubber was introduced. 

Innerspring mattresses were introduced in the 1930s.
Kelsey Hinton, co-owner of John’s Appliance & Bedding, samples a mattress that comes replete with a Rat Pack crooner during a BrandSource EXPO in Las Vegas.

Other innovations would soon take hold, like memory foam and the modern-day waterbed. The ’80s brought airbeds, and the ’90s was when bigger became better and queen-size mattresses outsold both fulls and twins for the first time.

Today’s sleeping selections are replete with endless choices ranging from memory, latex or gel foam to countless combinations of hybrid mattresses and bases. 

While the bed and accompanying mattress have certainly evolved over the course of time, one thing has remained the same: People will always need a good night’s sleep. So, remember, when it is time to hit the hay, sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!

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