Sure, you sleep on one every night, but your mattress is more interesting than that. Whether you love your bed or just love trivia, read on to learn some fun facts about how people have slept in the past and how they sleep across the world today.

  1. The oldest known mattress was found in South Africa and is 77,000 years old. It was also huge, at 22 square feet. That’s big enough for a whole family to sleep together on it, and then some! These beds were made of plants and show evidence of having been burned regularly, quite possibly to get rid of unwanted pests.
  2. Across time and history, people have made beds and mattresses in the shape that they sleep. Usually, that means beds are rectangular. However, at Hinds Cave, in Texas, they found small, round mattresses. This indicates that these people slept in the fetal position.
  3. Ancient Egyptians had raised beds without mattresses and put them everywhere, even in their tombs. King Tut’s tomb featured a wooden bed gilded in gold, with feline legs and a special footboard.
  4. The phrase “hit the hay” comes from a time when mattresses were made out of a cloth sack filled with hay or other plant material. People would literally have to beat their bed against the wall or with a stick before they went to bed, to make sure there weren’t bugs or small animals living inside.
  5. In Medieval times, large, high beds with thick mattresses and curtains were a sign of wealth. They were so expensive that people would place them in front of windows, so passersby could see that the family had enough money to afford a bed. Families with more than one bed were considered extremely wealthy.
  6. The Great Bed of Ware is a huge bed that was made as a tourist attraction in Shakespeare’s day. It was lavish and had enough mattresses to sleep 8 people. It was so famous that it is referenced in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, along with other artistic works of the time. People who traveled to see this bed would carve their names, initials, or messages into the posts that made up its frame.
  7. Speaking of Shakespeare, he is known for bequeathing his second best bed to his wife, Anne. (The best went to his daughter.) Scholars disagree as to whether this was an insult or not. While the bed was second best, it would have been the bed they shared together, and hence would have had some sentimental value to Anne.
  8. According to writer William Harrison, pillows were for women and children only. Men, on the other hand, only needed a large log under their heads to fall asleep.
  9. Charles Dickens was one of many people in his time who believed that the magnetic fields of the earth would benefit them if they slept with their heads facing north. He always made sure to align his mattress this way, and claimed that it helped him maintain good health.
  10. In Japan, people do not sleep on mattresses. Instead, they sleep on woven mats called tatami. Some people place these on a raised, bed-like platform, while others simply place them on the floor.
  11. In parts of South America and Asia, people use hammocks for sleeping, instead of mattresses. They simply find a handy set of trees, string up their hammock, and crawl in for the night. These are especially common among rural people.
  12. Mattresses are also not traditional in India. Instead, they use a charpoy bed. This is a wooden frame with plants, like jute, woven tightly around the frame. They put pillows and blankets directly on top of this, so it is both their bed and their mattress.
  13. In Northern China, people sleep on straw matting and a quilt, which is all on top of the Kang bed. This is basically a bed with a stove underneath. They use the stove for many things all day. At night, they keep it running so that it can warm the platform built above it, where they sleep.
  14. There was no such thing as a fitted sheet to go over a mattress until 1957, when Bertha Berman filed the patent for it. Before that, all sheets were the same and people simply folded them around the corners of the mattress and tucked them in. This method is still common throughout much of Europe.
  15. The largest bed in the world, with the largest mattress on top of it, is in the Netherlands. It is over 86 feet long and more than 53 feet wide, and was measured on May 28, 2011.
  16. A typical mattress that sees regular use has between 100,000 and 10 million dust mites. These are known to cause allergies in some people, but most of us never notice that we are sharing our beds.
  17. While most people prefer to at least pull the covers up over their mattresses when they’re done sleeping, it might actually be healthier to have a messy bed. An uncovered mattress dries out better than a covered one, and so is a less habitable place for dust mites. If you struggle with allergies, it may be worthwhile to leave your bed unmade!
  18. There are several mattresses on the market today that cost more than 6 figures. These beds of the rich and famous offer all kinds of features, from including horsehair in their construction to using a magnetized system to hover in the air.

Whether you sleep on a luxury mattress or not, it’s fun to learn about the place where most of us spend hours and hours each day. And who knows? Maybe these facts will come in handy the next time you play Trivial Pursuit.

Looking for a little more up-to-date mattress knowledge? Check out a few of our guides:

  • How to Choose a Mattress: A Buyer’s Guide

  • Mattress Firmness Guide


by: Sarah Winfrey