History of the Bed and Mattress

A Brief History of Beds & Mattresses showing how beds and mattresses changed and developed over time.

Beds and mattresses

Leaves and pine needles on the ground

An interesting evolution considering that it was only a thousand years ago that people were sleeping on leaves and pine needles and whatever else they could get their hands on. Animal skins were used to insulate the leaves, as well as cover the bed for warmth, but you still had to be pretty hardy to endure a winter. But endure they did.

Hay, Feathers and Wool

The Roman Empire saw hay and feathers and wool, often combined with reeds and leaves and pine needles of course, and during the Renaissance period weavers produced course ticking and velvets and woven silks which made for sumptuous and sensual bedroom environments indeed.

The 16th century saw another unique addition to the bedroom: mattresses placed within a labyrinth of ropes which needed tightening on a regular basis, and this is where the saying 'sleep tight' came from.


Fibre Mattresses

Two centuries later and cotton and kapok (the latter which is also a cotton) entered the scene, but of course the problem with cottons is in its absorption of moisture, either from the air or from body sweat. Cotton becomes a haven for dust mites and other little nasties and unless you air the mattress in the direct sun often then you were bound to suffer allergic reactions.


Inner Spring & Latex Mattresses

In the mid 1800's the coil spring mattress (inner spring) was invented, and this became the popular choice for the next 100 years, with natural latex from the rubber tree also finding a niche.


Synthetic Foam

It wasn't until the 1950’s that synthetic foam rubber kicked in, but unfortunately it lacked sophisticated technology in those days and resulted in bottoming out under the body’s load and the term 'cheap foam' saw to it that foam got a bad image! Of course in the last decade this has all changed and synthetic foam technology has enabled the production of heavier and better densities of foam that has limited softening and you can now purchase a pure synthetic foam rubber mattress that will last you forever. How do you tell cheap foam from longevity foam? It's in the weight. The heavier it is, the better the quality.


Visco elastic or memory foam

Visco elastic or memory foam is also now a catch cry among many consumers, and this high tech synthetic foam rubber features a slow recovery reaction which allows you to sink in while still receiving good all round support. 'Feeling is Believing' is one of the slogans of memory foam.



There has also been a resurgence of Natural latex from the rubber trees of Asia. In the old days they used to cheat by adding clay to latex during the mixing of natural compound and this made it heavier and gave it more 'body'. This resulted in latex mattresses and latex pillows breaking down or crumbing within a few years. Not a good image! Now days the quality is back, and fillers form just a minute percentage of the finished latex and you can expect decades out of your latex mattress, latex mattress topper, or latex pillow. The good thing about latex is that it is a sustainable and renewable resource ... good for the planet in other words.

Beds and mattresses have evolved from pine needs on the ground to the four poster and lattice versions of the last few centuries and today you can even get yourself a designer electric adjustable bed which allows you to sit up in bed and watch TV, and also raise your legs for better circulation. It's all come a long way!

To put things into perspective it first needs to be said that there was a time back in the late 70's that to drum up more business bedding and mattress manufacturers advertised for you to replace your old softening mattress with a really firm one because "that is what we all need". Well, that was one of the biggest fallacies or fibs every perpetrated on humankind because it was just a ploy to get you to trade in your old inner inner spring or latex or kapok or synthetic foam mattress and get yourself a spanking new one at great cost!

Health therapists will tell you every time that a firm mattress is NOT the way to go. You need a mid density mattress or mattress overlay or mattress topper that allows your body to sink in and submit to those heavy load areas … the hips and shoulders. This allows the spine's natural curvature to be maintained during sleep – crucial for you are to get a good night's sleep without the tossing and turning that is associated with mattresses that are simply too firm and that don’t give where needed. So beware of mattress producers who make other claims!

Published by: Therapeutic Pillow