People are used to sleeping on a mattress, and that’s why they take them for granted. Most of them have never thought about how mattresses developed and became so widely used. Like many other items that we use regularly, mattresses have evolved a lot over time, especially over the last century. They have a rich history that goes a long way.
The Oldest Mattress
According to National Geographic, the oldest known mattress was discovered in South Africa, and it is roughly 77,000 years old. It consisted of plant materials that were gathered into mats. Back then, people could rely only on plant materials and animal skin to create everything they wanted. The first known mattress was around 12 inches thick, and its surface was 22 square feet. There was enough room on it for the entire family. It wasn’t like it is today when each family member has its own mattress. 77,000 years ago mattresses were also occasionally burned, probably to eliminate pests. Leaves were placed on top, or animal skin, to provide a cozy top layer.
Prehistoric Nomadic People
In the past, maybe about 10,000 years ago, people used to sleep on a pile of grass or leaves placed into a depression in the ground. They were on the move a lot and staying in one place for too long wasn’t an option. Grass mattresses were ideal as they could be crafted quickly. They most likely used animal skins on top for comfort and warmth. Prehistoric people would sleep most likely in a fetal position, which kept them cozy during the night.
Ancient Egyptians had amazing inventions and technologies, and they were more developed than the rest of the world. Their advancements in engineering can surprise us even today. Their buildings still last and attract many tourists from all over the world. We are still amazed by their development. You can thank ancient Egyptians for toothpaste and eye makeup. They have also invented raised beds, and they used palm leaves to create them. The purpose of raised beds was to make it hard for insects, snakes, and rodents to crawl over the bed. It was also an excellent way to keep the sleeper off the cold ground. Thanks to them, we don’t sleep on the floor. People of high social status had beds covered with jewels and gold while others slept on beds made of plain wood. Mattresses were made of wool cushions to provide comfort.
In Ancient Rome, wealthy individuals slept on beds made of metal, with a metal support that held the mattress with feather stuffing. On the other hand, people who weren’t wealthy slept on beds made from wood and stuffed with wool. Poor people had to be satisfied with a hay mat on the floor. They didn’t have the luxury to sleep on raised beds; they could only dream of them. No matter the type of bed and mattress used, most people used woolen blankets to keep themselves warm.
People who lived in medieval Europe enjoyed comfort if they were wealthy. For wealthy people, beds and mattresses had more than one purpose. Besides keeping them comfortable at night, and providing a comfortable and soft sleeping surface, mattresses and beds were also used to show off status. Most wealthy people had ornately carved beds encrusted with jewels and gold as a sign of their wealth and social status. Also, their beds were raised high off the floor. On the other hand, poor people slept on simple bags filled with hay and shared them with at least one or two family members. These bags were positioned either on the floor or simple platforms. Poor people used rough wool blankets to cover themselves during the night.
During this century, the style of beds became simpler. No one used large beds encrusted with jewels anymore, and no one used them to show off status. We took a step forward in the right direction and realized that the only purpose of beds and mattresses was to sleep on them. Most beds were still made of wood, but the popularity of metal bedframes was increasing rapidly. Mattresses weren’t filled with hay anymore; they were stuffed with cotton and thanks to it provided much more comfort than in the past.
19th and 20th Century
In the 19th century, bedrooms started looking more like they do today. They were devoted mostly to sleep and sex. Many women also used their bedrooms for giving birth. By the end of this century, the first coil spring construction was patented, and waterbeds were invented.
The 20th century was very busy for bed and mattress innovations. Waterbeds were gaining popularity, and box spring mattresses and innerspring mattresses were developed. In the 50s, innerspring mattresses have become the most common type of mattress, and many people used them. They were far more supportive and comfortable than previous types. Foam mattresses and pillows were also invented in the 50s.
Today, we have more options than ever before and can choose from a wide variety of types and styles. Some of the most popular options are memory foam, innerspring, latex, and hybrid. These are just some of our alternatives. No matter which one we choose, we sleep on a comfortable and soft surface. We are very lucky compared to people living a few centuries ago as we have the luxury of picking our sleeping surface. We don’t need to sleep on the floor or uncomfortable bags filled with hay; we are lucky enough to select the mattress that we like the most.
Co-founder of Counting Sheep and Sleepaholic