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Why We Call Ottomans ‘Ottomans’ and Other Quirky Sleep and Bed-Related Facts

Ever wondered why we always sleep in bedsheets?

Did we always have pillows?

Why do even share a bed in the first place?

Sometimes we’re so busy we’ve not once asked ourselves questions like this. We just get into our beds and do this thing we call ‘sleeping’ without a thought. What we don’t realise is that all sorts of things have been happening for us in the world of beds and bedding for us to reach this comfortable point in our days. There are also zany things happening that we don’t know realise are going on in the bed world and the world of sleep.

This post is here to let you in on some of them. Get ready for an insight into the quirkier side of matters sleep and bedding. Here goes…

Next time you slip under your bed sheet…

Consider yourself lucky. We never used to sleep under bed sheets or blankets, you know. In middle-age Europe, only rich people did. The rest of the household would snuggle up in the same bed, even the animals(!), to keep warm. When someone died, and if you were lucky, the benefactor would have left behind some blankets in their will ― which is how valuable they were. As blankets became more affordable, more people started to have them and households no longer had to huddle together.

Today, we’ll wrap up with a light sheet or blanket of some description even in some of the hottest places. The bottom line is we get cold during the night. Our internal body temperature decreases as the night goes on to the point it becomes unpleasant and, with every degree that it drops, those bed sheets become an even greater investment. During REM sleep, the body can’t even regulate our own temperature and our loyal bedsheet steps in to keep us warm.

Two really is company

Have you ever wondered why we share a bed? The reason we do boils down to two things: a fear of gossip and the fact we’re affectionate human beings. We need companionship. If we sleep in different rooms, we don’t want to admit that to the outside world. They think something’s not right in the relationship. We don’t want to face the glances, the questions….

Long before that, though, there was another motive: we were more scared of the dark! Aside from a financial motive for sharing a bed, people perceived night-time as an evil before the Industrial Revolution. They felt more vulnerable at night and feared real beings and imaginary ones. Thieves, arsonists, witches, vampires…. people believed they could all strike at night, so having someone else in the room gave them comfort. Today, we can just whack on a light if we wish to!

little girl sleeping

Ottoman – where on Earth did that word come from anyway?

The 18th century Turks can take the credit for introducing the world to ottomans. Originally, an ottoman was a piece of seating that went around three walls of a room and had no back. As the years went by, the seating grew smaller and would fit just the corner of a room.

As ottomans progressed in the 19th century and club life grew, they began to store items such as magazines under the top of the seat. By the 20th century, people had also started referring to the ottoman footstool, which served as a fireside seat, too, as an ‘ottoman’. Today, the name has stuck and pretty much refers to any ottoman-style furniture that has a storage space underneath. If you want to play the game, those are the rules!

Pillows – who needs pillows?

The ancient Egyptians didn’t, it seems. Instead they used a carved headboard which fit their neck and head. They’d then rest their head and neck on it to sleep. The images we see in the movies of ancient Egyptians lying on without any pillows aren’t a million miles from the truth.

The ancient Chinese were also from the school of hard rocks and other materials when it came to the subject of pillows. They made their ‘pillows’ from bronze, jade, stone, porcelain and bamboo. They believed it cured illness and gave the brain energy. They were also something of a superstitious bunch and believed soft pillows stole energy. 

Now… the Romans, you could always count on them to be practical. They used soft pillows and filled them with straw or feathers. In those days, however, there was something of a stigma attached to using soft pillows. A lot of Romans, especially men, thought using soft pillows was a sign of weakness. Honestly…!

casino chips

NASA – the surprise inventors of memory foam 

If you’ve always harboured a secret desire to be an astronaut or pilot but have never followed the dream, you can always go with plan B and buy yourself some memory foam. That can simulate part of the experience!

That’s because the invention of memory foam started with NASA, back in the 1970s. NASA-funded researchers were trying to find a way to provide cushioning for test pilots. Memory foam came out of that research, but no one knew it would later become so popular with consumers. NASA released this innovation in the 1980s and it was still expensive at that time. Fast forward a few decades and memory foam is an everyday item. NASA were onto something!

The first sleeping bag was actually a rug

This might seem a little bit out there, but the first sleeping bag wasn’t a sleeping bag at all: it was a rug! A Welsh entrepreneur by the name of Pryce Jones patented the Euklysia rug in 1876 and began exporting them around the world. 

The rugs travelled far as well, according to research by BBC Wales, who found records of the rug in the Australian outback and at missionary posts in the Congo. Mr Jones also did a tidy bit of business by selling 60 000 of the rugs to the Russian army.

man day dreaming

How fast can you make your bed?

Some people hate chores and spice things up by turning them into a game. One way to do this is to set a time limit so they’ll do them faster. Anyway, some people have really gotten into the swing of it! Did you know that there’s a Guinness World Record for the Fastest-Made Bed?

It’s true. Bed-making whirlwind Chow Ka Fai, who managed to make an individual king size bed in just 1:09 minutes, currently holds the record. Mr Fai is one of the housekeeping team at Cordis Hotels and performed his loft feat of efficiency in Hong Kong, China. 

The previous record had been 74 seconds and belonged to Andrea Warner, who also worked in the hospitality industry at the time she set the record in August 2014. Ms Warner was the hotel manager at Wellingborough Rushden Travelodge when she made it into the record books for her speedy bedmaking.

Lack of sleep can drive you to gamble more

You know when you’ve had a few too many drinks and you do something you regret? Sleep deprivation may lead you down the same path. 

Lack of sleep has been found to have some rather odd side effects on our judgment. You may, for instance, become less concerned about losing money if you’re gambling. You may feel less empathy when others suffer. You might develop a lower pain threshold. You might also think you’re making better progress in something than you are.

Basically, if you want to display sound judgment, you’d best get enough sleep because it sounds like you could become a pretty disagreeable human being if you don’t!

sleeping bag tents

Finally… someone sorting night-time train travel out!

The first commercial sleeping car, the Pullman Sleeper, came courtesy of George Pullman and Ben Field in 1865, who designed them so we could travel comfortably through the night.

Before then, sleeping cars had been out on American railways as early as the 1830s. 

  • Were they makeshift? Yes. 
  • Were they comfortable? No. 

Mr Pullman travelled by rail a lot and hated the experience. If you’re travelling by train overnight, you can now get some sleep. You have Mr Pullman to thank for the pleasure.

‘That was a weird dream!’

Now, in ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’, the teenagers had a plausible reason (sort of) for all dreaming about a killer with a bladed glove, but it seems there is a reason for the weird dreams we experience in the real world. Normally, our dreams are quite ordinary, ― which isn’t to say we don’t have nightmares or experience odd dreams at all. We go over events in our day during the dream, but the dream brings elements from our external world into the dream, too. No wonder we feel so confused when we wake up!

Why do we even dream, anyway? The eminent late psychologist Sigmund Freud believed dreams were a way to discharge repressed thoughts harmlessly. In more modern times, some experts consider dreams a way to consolidate and organise our memories, whereas others have theorised that we dream to keep our neural pathways open. Then there are those who think that dreams are just random bursts of activity from the brain. Which theory would you believe?

couple sleeping in bed

£4 Million for the most expensive bed in the world

How much would you be willing to pay for a bed? We’re talking about the very top end of your budget here. £500? £600? Whatever it is, it might not be as much as £4 million, which is the price tag on the most expensive bed in the world, the Baldacchino Supreme. 

Only two of these luxury beds were ever made. The frame is a mixture of chestnut wood and ash wood and the canopy has cherry wood edges. The adornments on the frame are lavish and you can even encrust jewels into it. Only the most comfortable mattress and some fine Italian cotton or silk would be enough to top off the luxury. 

Hail James Marshall, inventor of the pocket spring

If you’re sleeping on a pocket spring mattress tonight, you’d want to thank the British inventor James Marshall, if he was still alive, for the extra comfort. Over 100 years ago, mattresses were all open coil, but Marshall came along and broke the trend with the pocket spring coil. These springs work independently of all the other springs in the mattress and enable the mattress to offer more support. 

Marshall went on to patent his spring ― which we also know as the ‘Marshall coil’ ― and settled in Toronto, Canada, where he established his own mattress company. The spring was a hit and other companies soon started using pocket springs in their mattresses, too ― and people who used pocket spring mattresses could sleep without their partner disturbing them every time they moved around in their sleep. James Marshall, we salute you!

Some final thoughts on the quirkiness of it all

Thanks to the bed world’s innovators, we can be warmer and more comfortable than we might have been centuries ago. We understand some of our sleep habits better now and why we do some of the things we do when the lights go out. As for the bed-making world record setters and breakers ― as well as performing an admirable feat, they’ll be handy people to know when you need to get through your chores!