In a memorable Seinfeld episode, Kramer reveals his secret to a great night’s sleep – a mattress filled with sand. As Kramer tells Jerry, “It’s like sleeping on the beach, Jerry!”
It may be hard to believe, but Jerry’s goofy sidekick isn’t the craziest proponent of alternative mattress types. When it comes to wild ideas for sleeping surfaces, sitcoms have nothing on real life.
From the earliest stages of recorded history to the present day, the mattress has transformed from a crude, utilitarian sleeping place to today’s ultra-comfortable retreats. Mattress trends encompass the wacky, weird and pretty much everything in between.
The first mattresses were simply elevated sleeping surfaces to keep people off the ground. Most likely wrapped with animal hides, mattresses from the Neolithic period (roughly 2,500 to 10,000 years ago) were stuffed with grass, leaves and straw. Hey, it wasn’t exactly the lap of luxury, but when avoiding fearsome predators and simply living beyond 30 years were major accomplishments, you can forgive our forebears for resting in such crude contraptions.
The Roman Empire saw its share of wealthy citizens, and those Romans with enough wealth went for feather stuffing. For the vast majority of Romans, however, mattresses weren’t much better than the Neolithic ones – they were simply cloth bags stuffed with hay, wool or reeds.
Throughout the Middle Ages, European mattress filling consisted of a host of readily-available materials: straw, down, cotton, wool and even horsehair (for a great neigh’s sleep). In more temperate climates, coconut fiber was popular for centuries – further cementing the coconut plant’s reputation as the “tree of life.”
Since the Industrial Revolution, the mattress has been air-filled, memory foam (thanks to NASA) and of course the waterbed. Since the 1990s, the waterbed has steadily declined in popularity, but a few holdouts still prefer water every day of the week.
Fast forward to the present day. Much like the food industry, mattresses are “going green.” The latest trend is organic mattresses. Yep, just like those cherry tomatoes and iceberg lettuce you bought at the grocery store, mattresses can be qualified as “organic.” By using approved chemicals and manufacturing processes, organic mattresses are probably the next fad. We wouldn’t recommend using them in your salad, however.