An average human being spends about 26 years sleeping in their entire lifetime. Before Homo sapiens evolved, the smaller chimp-like Homo erectus slept on elevated tress in order to avoid predators. Only after the discovery of fire, the early humans transitioned to sleeping on the ground and thus the roots of the mattress began. The earliest known mattress dates back to approximately 77000 years ago, which comprised of various types of grass and leaves, some of which were natural insect repellent.
The word mattress derives from the Arabic word (matrah) which means “something thrown down” or “a place where something is thrown down” and hence “mat, cushion” came into existence. During the Crusades, Europeans adopted the Arabic method of sleeping on cushions on the floor, and the word materas eventually descended into English.
As humans evolved, their sleeping surfaces evolved too. Many cultures began raising their mattresses off the ground. Sometime between 3000 and 1000 BCE, ancient Egyptians made raised surfaces made from wood to protect themselves from pests and snakes on the ground. Wealthier citizens had beds made from ebony and sometimes decorated them with jewels. Mattresses usually were made from wool and bedding from linen. Some even had “pillows” which were just a wood or stone head support.
A conventional mattress consists of two primary sections – a core or support layer and the upholstery or comfort layer - wrapped in a thick fabric called the ticking. Upholstery layers cover the mattress and provide cushioning and comfort, consisting of three parts: the insulator, the middle upholstery, and the quilt. Mattresses are typically made to conform to bed sizing standards that vary by market. The size of the mattress varies between national standards in width and height and depth. Many countries use non-numeric labels such as "King", "Queen" or "Double" to represent these dimensions.
The modern world has a variety of mattresses to offer. Here is a list of the most basic forms of mattresses around the globe.
- Memory Foam: If you are looking for great support and comfort, especially as a side sleeper, memory foam is a wonderful choice. Memory foam is popular because of the way it gradually conforms to your body as you sleep. If you sleep on your side, it offers the shoulder and hip support you need. The memory foam contours to your body and allows you to feel partially surrounded by the mattress while being supported.
Other benefits of memory foam mattresses are that they contain several layers of foam that resist the tendency to sag in the middle and eliminate the need to flip the mattress routinely.
- Gel: In smart gel mattresses, the gel is usually added to a foam mattress in the support system or upholstery layer. It has a slightly different feel than memory foam, so you may need to test it out to decide which feel you prefer. Gel mattresses also dissipate your body heat more effectively, so if you dislike the way some foam mattresses absorb your body heat, the smart gel may help.
- Pillow Tops: Side sleepers who choose not to go with memory foam or gel may also love pillow-top mattresses or mattresses with a "pillow topper." Pillow tops are basically an additional layer of upholstery that you add to the top of your mattress. They are very soft and cushiony, allowing a similar "sinking" feeling as memory foam, which allows your hip and shoulder to "sink" into the pillow top and keep your back in comfortable alignment. You can choose the level of softness for your pillow top, and they are generally used with an innerspring or coil mattress.
- Innerspring: Innerspring (also, coil) mattresses use internal support of metal springs. You can generally measure the quality of support from an innerspring mattress by how many coils are in the design. The number and distribution of coils determine how well the mattress will conform to your body. Innerspring beds can also have varying spring shapes and coil gauges that can affect the quality of back support. Back, side, and tummy sleepers can be comfortable on the right type of innerspring mattress.
- Water Bed: Water bed mattresses use water as the primary support system and are best for back sleepers. A waterbed consists of a rectangular chamber of water that is padded with upholstery material, such as foam or fibers. The water can be in the free-flow chamber or a limited-flow "wave-less" chamber. In free-flow, nothing obstructs the water from moving from one end of the mattress to another. In a wave-less waterbed, fibers limit the water's movement. Your choice depends on the amount of support and flexibility you prefer and whether or not you find the movement of the water distracting.
- Air Bed: Like waterbeds, an air bed uses a chamber filled with air as the primary support. The air chamber is padded with foam or fiber upholstery. The air chamber is also adjustable, allowing you to adjust the firmness of the mattress. Some brands allow you to adjust each side of the mattress separately. Air beds are great for back sleepers and couples with different firmness needs.
- Latex Mattresses: Latex mattresses use latex foam instead of memory foam. Latex offers varying levels of firmness and plushness to accommodate side, back, or tummy sleepers. Latex is also less dense and less heating than memory foam.
- Adjustable Bases: Adjustable base mattresses are one of the most flexible types of mattresses, offering relief and support wherever you need it. You can adjust the base to elevate your head, raise your feet, or provide more back support. They are perfect for targeting sleep-related problems such as muscle aches, back pain, acid reflux, heartburn, sleep apnea, and more.