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Words of Waterbed Wisdom

Mattress designers have a tough job! Humans come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and weights. Sometimes they sleep alone, sometimes in pairs. The mattress design has to support a short sleeper weighing 130 pounds on one side and a tall sleeper weighing 230 pounds on the other side… and they both have to be comfortable!

Their first goal is to create a mattress that supports the weight of the sleeper/sleepers in such a way that the effect known as “hammocking" is minimized and the body (with most weight between shoulders and hips), and especially the spine, is relatively straight. They then have to balance this issue of support with another, equally important but contradictory concept - minimizing pressure exerted back against the body. Too much pressure (or “firmness”) can cause circulation cutoff, musculoskeletal discomfort, even hyperextension in some joints (in certain sleeping positions). Not enough support (or “softness”) can cause low back/hip pain and discomfort in the neck and upper back. Either situation typically causes tossing and turning by the sleeper in an effort to find a comfortable position, resulting in lower sleep quality and lingering pain issues after waking. So a mattress not only needs to be designed/manufactured to achieve these concepts of proper support and ideal pressure it also needs to be durable, affordable, and most of all… comfortable.

So is there one mattress type that appeals to all sleepers? Of course not. Which is why mattress options are almost unlimited. Common options include innerspring (aka “coil spring”) mattresses (think “Sealy Posturepedic”), foam/gel mattresses (like “Tempurpedic”), air mattresses (“Sleep Number”), and waterbeds (“Sterling”).

Though waterbeds are not as common as they used to be, many people have had a waterbed and most people probably know someone who has had a waterbed. Industry estimates in 1988 reported waterbeds to have a 20% share of the overall bedding market. Market share nowadays is in the single digits. But, according to multiple waterbed retailers and industry sales techs, waterbeds are enjoying a resurgence among people who slept on them in the past and, though they’d switched to other mattress options (sometimes trying multiple options) they’re switching back to waterbeds. And there are many people who have slept on waterbeds for 20, 30, even 40 years who say they won’t sleep on anything else. They report high satisfaction in all the areas mattress designers strive to achieve in their mattresses. Namely, plenty of support, minimal pressure, durability, reasonable pricing, and, most importantly, comfort. One other advantage waterbed owners talk about is the ability to control the temperature. No other mattress type has this ability. This is important because ideal sleeping temperature has been found to be a crucial component of a successful night’s sleep. The downsides - more installation required (initially), harder to move (have to drain, un-install, and re-install), even the slight possibility of a leak.

Waterbeds, in their current form, have been around since the 1960’s, invented and patented by Charles Hall. As far back as the early 1800’s there were attempts to create a water-filled and temperature controlled mattress but it took modern materials and manufacturing processes to make them a widely used sleep alternative. A waterbed consists of a poly-vinyl bladder (the “mattress”) that holds water and maintains enough surface tension to support the sleeper(s). The mattress must be contained in a supporting frame which allows the mattress to be filled to it’s designed dimensions resulting in the proper surface tension that allows the sleeper to “float” on the mattress. Hence the term “flotation” bed.

The supporting frames traditionally used for waterbeds can be made of wood, have drawer “pedestals” underneath that offer support and storage, and bookcase style headboards with mirrors and lights. This type of frame is called a “hard side” waterbed and is what most people picture when they think of a waterbed. Some may even remember the waterbeds with mirrored canopies. Many hard side waterbeds (particularly ones made of Oak) have a Scandinavian style with clean lines and minimal decoration. Hard side waterbeds typically use specially designed and sized sheets which are still commonly sold (though mostly online).

A “soft-side” waterbed has a frame made of high-density foam and has upholstered sides and a cover designed to look like a conventional mattress. There can also be an upholstered “foundation” designed to look like a conventional box-spring but built to support the extra weight of the waterbed. The “soft-side” waterbed utilizes a heavy duty metal frame (again, designed to support the extra weight) making the waterbed look exactly like a regular mattress and box spring. It can also be used in most conventional beds like 4-post beds or sleigh beds as long as the existing slat system is augmented and reinforced. Because of these design characteristics the soft side waterbed is more versatile in the style department, allowing for the same kinds of looks you could achieve with any other bed, from Modern or Industrial to Farmhouse or Shabby Chic. And since soft side waterbeds are sized and shaped like regular beds they use the same sheets (a queen is a queen).   CLICK TO SHOP FOR SOFTSIDE WATERBEDS

Many people are realizing the importance of a good mattress and that the purchase of one is just as important as other large appliance or furniture purchases like a new refrigerator or a new couch. And whatever the actual sleep surface one chooses, it’s still just the beginning of getting a good night’s sleep. There are many other factors at play such as lighting, temperature and noise levels in the bedroom, medications, eating schedules, exercise levels, even how soft your sheets are. Check us out on Facebook and Twitter or click below to get the latest news about the best sleeping environments, sleep health, and the latest research about sleep.

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