Are you sleeping on outdated technology?
The humble mattress has come a long way since its initial invention, and while the 19th and 20th centuries saw many developments in mattress technology as new materials and production techniques were developed off the back of the industrial revolution, its roots can be traced back millennia. With humans spending approximately a third of their lives asleep, it’s little wonder that the mattress can be dated all the way to the Neolithic period, beginning around 10,000 BCE.
This New Stone Age coincided with the development of more advanced stone tools, settlement of villages, domestication of livestock, and perhaps most importantly, the advent of weaving.
During this period, both the mattress and the bed were invented; beds were raised above the ground to avoid dirt, insects, and to provide ventilation for added warmth when the ground froze, or cooling in hot weather. Neolithic mattresses were rudimentary, and most anthropologists believe they predominantly comprised bundles of leaves, straw or grass, covered with animal skins.
While the historical record is a bit hazy, the next leap forward came around 3,000 BCE, with the Ancient Mesopotamians, who kept detailed records of their lives, describing the use of wooden bed frames that employed rope to support a mattress stuffed with either sheep wool or goat hair. They also made use of linen sheets and took care to ornately decorate their bed frames.
This remained the gold standard until around 200 BCE, when wealthy Ancient Romans chose to show flaunt their wealth by using bags of cloth stuffed with feathers – both for mattresses and quilts.
By the time the Renaissance came around in Europe, most people slept on simple mattresses stuffed with straw or feathers (depending on their class), covered with washable fabrics including velvet and silk for affluent members of society.
While incremental changes in mattress technologies occurred up to the late 19th century, it was the invention of the innerspring mattress in 1871 that took bedding in a new direction entirely. Though innersprings had been around since the 16th century, it wasn’t until the mid 19th century that the technology was widely employed in furniture before making the jump across to mattresses.
While great technology in the late 1800s, the inner spring mattress has only seen incremental improvements over the past 150 years as it’s relatively inexpensive to produce (the buyer is largely paying for the air between the springs). The most significant downsides are the weight and the fact the springs don’t offer uniform support across the mattress, and undamped springs can lead to a mattress that feels more like a trampoline than a bed.
The twentieth century saw myriad leaps forward in materials engineering, and from the early 1930s, mattresses made from natural latex rubber took off. This almost 90 year-old technology is expensive to produce, and while initially antimicrobial, can still gather dust and mould over time. While breathable if constructed properly, some users of latex mattresses and pillows do find it quite warm.
During the space race of the 1960s, NASA went looking for a way to ensure test pilots were adequately cushioned and supported during flight. NASA-funded researcher Charles Yost designed memory foam with two specific properties in mind: softness and the ability to absorb large amounts of energy. It became a popular material for mattresses and pillows, but its properties aren’t ideal – most people don’t need a bed that absorbs large amounts of energy; instead they need one that offers support to maintain correct spinal alignment. If you’re not going into space any time soon, we’d recommend keeping memory foam where it belongs: in the hands of scientists, pilots and astronauts.
Today, the pinnacle of mattress technology employs multiple layers of open-cell foam to offer the perfect balance between breathability and support. The ability to manufacture foam densities with extreme precision across three dimensions means that every square centimetre of a mattress can be tweaked for comfort and to meet biomechanical requirements. Koala’s mattresses stand on the shoulders of more than 12,000 years of technological development to offer the most comfortable, supportive sleep possible.
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