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Why Are Beds Raised So High From the Ground? How Did That Become the Norm?

A collage of raised beds

The earliest known “bed” was constructed sometime in the Miocene period, between 23 and 5 million years ago. During this point in history, ancient apes changed their sleep locations from branches in trees to woven, hardwood platforms. This, in turn, provided them with a better night’s rest. Of course, this bed looked extremely different than what we imagine as a bed today. 

The oldest known mattress in history dates back to 77,000 years ago, and was found in the Sibudu Cave in KwaZulu-Natal in Africa. The mattress was composed of layers of reeds and rushes, discovered at the bottom of a pile of compacted grasses and leafy plants used as bedding.

This bedding was periodically burned, which researchers believe was meant to limit pests and garbage.It was intended for the whole family to sleep on, and thus measured twenty-two square feet, and about one foot high.

The history continues in Egypt and Scotland, of all places. The ancient Egyptians had raised beds made of wood. Commoners’ beds were made from plain wood, and simple construction, whereas ebony was used for those with wealth and high social status, and they were covered with gold and jewels.  

The function of the raised beds was keeping insects, snakes, and rodents on the floor and away from sleeping individuals. A wool cushion mattress and linen sheets with a stone or wooden head support completed the bed. Scotland had similar raised beds, but instead of wood used stone to Create the elevated platform.

Around 3,600 years ago, or about 1600 BCE, the Persians pioneered waterbeds. The beds were goatskins filled with water. They were warmed in the sun.

The actual original or functional purpose of waterbeds is unknown, though the leading theories are that they were used to comfort the sick or elderly. Around 1000 BCE, wealthy Romans began using raised metal beds that held feather or straw-stuffed mattresses. 

By the 14th century, feather beds were introduced and became prized possessions. To this day, even down feather pillows and comforters are the most expensive options on the market. Four-poster beds were common, with rich hanging materials becoming more important than the woodwork.

During the Renaissance, in the 16th century, for the wealthiest people, the bedchamber was a popular spot to receive visitors and carry on business. The ubiquitous four-poster grew even more lavish and ornate during this period, with fanciful carvings, inlaid paintings, colorful trim, and luxurious, heavy fabric curtains to enclose the bed on all four sides when desired, along with a canopy that might be fabric or wood.

During much of this time, beds were short because people slept sitting up. This was so they could have their weapons ready (swords most likely) and attack any nighttime intruders.

The doors were low so that anyone coming in had to bend down when coming in. Our ancestors also slept curled up to keep warm.

Renaissance bed frame

In the mid-18th century, mattresses were covered by linen or cotton, and filled with coconut fibers, cotton, wool, or horsehair, replacing the common down or hay. Beds were simpler, following the luxury 17th century, with metal bed frames gaining popularity. The four-poster bed lost popularity in the 19th century, with standard head- and footboard sizes shrinking.

The biggest advance was metal bed springs supporting a mattress instead of ropes or wool straps, lending more stability and support to the sleeper. Although four-poster beds were still very popular, by the late 1800s  the posts were typically much smaller as were headboards and footboards. Mass production of parts made bed manufacturing simple and cheap and eventually led to manufacturers putting out revival or reproduction beds from earlier periods.

Ultimately, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that bedrooms became part of the private sphere. Then, the 20th century brought many bed innovations: the Murphy bed (or wall bed), the waterbed, the pocket sprung mattress, the invention of latex foam and memory foam, the adjustable bed to name but a few. We’ve even come a long way from a culture like the 1950s, where couples were supposed to sleep in separate twin beds, and representation of double beds on television was seen as taboo.

So, what is the purpose of a raised bed? It seems there are many functional reasons to raise a bed from the ground, in terms of comfort and protection, but there are also more symbolic reasons, especially today, when our homes are already built on foundations that elevate us far away from the cold of the earth, and any possible critters that could get us in the night.

The old beds and even their wooden counterparts were elevated higher than what we’re use to today because of cold drafts that were close to the ground. The higher a bed could be constructed from the ground, the closer to the warmer air that collected at the ceiling it would be. In modern times, some of the reasoning can be traced back to the sumptuous, overdone styles of the 1980s, where everything was bigger, taller, and grander than before.

In contemporary times, most of the elevation has to do with comfort: using a frame, box spring, and mattress really elevates the bed. Each layer is supposed to bring added comfort, and comes in many different materials and styles of construction.

Some people really prefer a hard mattress, while others need something soft. I know I will get a crick in my neck if I sleep on something too soft, while others have the opposite problem.

The good news is, with so many options on the market, there is a frame and mattress for everyone. Whatever your preferences are, you will be able to find the right option for you.

Let’s look at some of the factors to consider in choosing the height of your bed frame. While a higher frame may be the norm, there are many beautiful and functional options at your fingertips.

1. Comfort

Bed height should correlate with your height and adjust accordingly if you’re fairly short or tall. Most mattresses are 16 to 24 inches from the floor; to judge which end of the spectrum your bed should be, sit at the edge of the bed. If your feet are flat against the floor and your knees are in a straight line with your hips, your bed is the right height.

If your knees are above the hips, the bed is too low and if your feet can’t reach the floor comfortably, the bed is too high. Depending on your chosen bed frame, your mattress should comply.

If you’re after an extra thick mattress for comfort, opt for a shorter bed frame. Vice versa, if you fancy a tall bed frame with lots of storage space underneath, a thinner mattress is a good idea.

Age also plays a key factor in determining the bed height that works for you and your family members. If you’re an aging adult, getting in and out of a higher bed may be easier on your body. For the most comfort, choose a bed with a height that corresponds to your body height. 

Bed height also matters for children. Kids from two to six years of age have an easier time getting in and out of a lower bed, and being somewhat closer to the floor makes a tumble out of bed during the night much less dramatic. But if your child insists on sleeping high up – for instance in a bunk bed – make sure the distance between the top mattress and the ceiling is at least 36 inches to ensure they don’t hit their heads.

Generally, having a box spring and a thick mattress will be more comfortable, making your bed

2. Drafts

Originally, bed frames were placed on supports to elevate them from the ground, separating the sleeper from cold drafts that would run through the bottom of the house. As everyone probably knows, warm air rises, meaning that being higher up is warmer. Most often, these days this isn’t really necessary.

There are, however, still those living in older houses or in extremely cold climates: having the extra elevation could be the difference between being warm in the night, or waking up with cold feet. On the other hand, if you live in a warm climate, being cool at night could be essential. Going with a bed frame that is lower to the ground may be the right option in this case.

3. Storage

One of the main benefits of choosing a higher bed frame is the space that it opens up beneath to be used as extra storage space. If you don’t have large closet space, this can be vital. You can augment other closet and drawer space with a bed frame with build-in storage, or just one that fits boxes that you can slide underneath.

Anyone looking to optimize their storage solutions should look into a bed frame with built-in drawers, because one problem with the solution without the built-ins is that often items just end up getting thrown under the bed. It can become quite a mess under there, so it’s a space that needs to be maintained.

4. Aesthetics

The average bed height is about 18-25 inches, while an antique bed can reach up to 36 inches off the floor. Generally, a higher bed frame signals a more traditional aesthetic, while lower to the ground looks more modern. There are some design tricks to make your room look more spacious.

For instance, wallpapering one wall and painting the rest makes the room appear longer. A bed low to the ground gives the appearance of more open space. Conversely, beds that sit high could look more appealing in a room with a high ceiling.

Personally, I’m inclined towards Japanese-style platform beds, that are low to the ground, but still elevated from it: providing a lovely modern aesthetic with the comfort of easily getting in and out of bed.

Types of Bed Frames with Different Heights:

1. Four-Poster

Bonnlo Black Canopy Bed Frame King with Headboard, Four Poster Bed Frame King, Metal

A four poster frame is one of the more original styles of bed frames, originating as a mode of protection. A four-poster bed is a bed with four vertical columns, one in each corner, that support a tester, or upper (usually rectangular) panel.

This tester or panel will often have rails to allow curtains to be pulled around the bed. These large, grand structures make those sleeping in/on them feel like a king or queen. The size and engulfing structure of a four-poster bed makes you feel safe and secure, as well as providing ample space to stretch out during sleep.

2. Futon

Stanford Futon Set - Full Size Futon Frame with Mattress Included (8 Inch Thick Mattress, Twill Navy Blue Color), Heavy Duty Wood, Popular Sofa Bed Choice

A futon is the ultimate practical space-saving option, especially for those who don’t have a spare bedroom, but want to be able to host guests. Because they’re just sheets of cotton, you can easily fold up your Japanese futon and store them away when not in use. This frees up your space to be used for anything you want.

They are easy to clean, portable, and create a minimalist aesthetic. Conventional mattresses build up stupid amounts of dust, hair, skin and dust mites over time – sexy stuff, I know. Thing is, they’re really tough to clean.

You can vacuum them, sure, but you’ll get stuff off the surface. With Japanese futons, you take them outside and beat them like a rug to knock the dust out. Then you leave them in the sun to help sanitize them and kill dust mites living in them.

This process does a more thorough job of cleaning your bed than trying to clean your normal mattress with a vacuum. Futons also tend to be cheaper than most other bed frames.

Designed to be used on the floor, a futon mattress is firmer than memory foam and latex mattresses. Though it may look like you’re going to have a hard time sleeping on the floor, a night spent on the futon is actually really comfortable.

This is because futon mattresses have that firmness needed to provide the much-needed foundation to the body when lying on a mattress. This serves to support your joints and helps prevent the onset of back pain.

Indeed, while sleeping on a soft bed can be more relaxing, your body can sink in if it’s too soft, resulting in the twisting joints. To avoid this and to relieve back pain, the use of firmer mattresses like a futon is often recommended by experts.

3. Platform Bed Frame

ZINUS Alexis Deluxe Wood Platform Bed Frame / Solid Wood Foundation / No Box Spring Needed / Wood Slat Support / Easy Assembly, Rustic Pine, Queen

Platform bed frame are probably the most commonly used and seen, they combine the elevation of more traditional forms, with various different aesthetics, from hyper-modern sleek to traditional. A platform bed can save owners money because they don’t need to spend money on a box spring. These savings can be used towards the purchase of a higher-quality mattress.

Any type of mattress can be used on a platform bed, but they are perfect for memory foam mattresses. They provide the flat solid surface that memory foam requires. Slats used for supporting the mattress provide good air circulation and reduce the chances of mold and mildew.

The aesthetic value of platform beds adds highly to their appeal. Owners love the low profile and sleek modern design, which makes spaces feel less cramped. Since they are close to the ground, platform beds are very stable.

The solid surface provides a firm night’s sleep, which is better for maintaining posture during sleep. Storage drawers that are incorporated into the design provide space-saving benefits and help stay organized.

4. Storage Bed Frame

DHP Maven Platform Bed with Upholstered Linen and Wooden Slat Support and Under Bed Storage, Grey Size - Grey

If you are one to do the housework and cleaning chores all by yourself, you will be familiar with the experience of picking out several of your belongings from underneath the bed. These beds can be challenging to clean as you would have to sort out and move everything from beneath your bed before you can start to clean.

Moreover, some of your belongings may get lost or misplaced underneath the bed. With a storage bed, you can easily remove everything and put them into a separate storage space. Storage beds make the room neater and easier to clean.

One of the significant challenges of living in a small home with limited floor space is having limited storage space as well. In such situations, getting a storage bed is one of the best ways you can increase your storage space to store more items apart from the closet and drawers. By getting extra space to hold your clothes and other belongings, your living area becomes more manageable, and free for other purposes rather than storage.

5. Sleigh Bed Frame

BOWERY HILL Traditional Style Queen Sleigh Bed in Cherry | KD Headboard, Footboard

Traditionally, sleigh beds were made of heavy wood with quite exaggerated curves, scrolls, and side rails, which give the bed a bulky appearance. Nowadays, sleigh beds are more modernized and are made of materials such as aluminum, iron, steel, and some models are available with less exaggerated curves in comparison to traditional styles.

Traditionally, sleigh beds were made of heavy wood with quite exaggerated curves, scrolls, and side rails, which give the bed a bulky appearance. Nowadays, sleigh beds are more modernized and are made of materials such as aluminum, iron, steel, and some models are available with less exaggerated curves in comparison to traditional styles. Sleigh beds add elegance and style with their curved and sophisticated foot and headboards.

Some models feature intricate carvings and details, which give the bed a regal appearance. More contemporary models have sleek designs that are covered in upholstery fabric, which add a sophisticated touch and elegance to the bedroom. In addition, they provide support and protection on both the foot and head of the bed, keeping you cozy, and making sure neither pillows fall off the bed, nor feet.

6. Japanese Style

Nexera Nordik Queen Size Platform Bed, Natural Maple.

The easiest way of identifying a Japanese bed is by looking at its low-lying design. Historically Japanese culture has produced low-lying beds. The foundation has rails and side rails measuring 7 inches in height and has a slat system nested two inches below the bed frame.

If you have visited Japan, you will have seen tatami mats, which are truly just on the floor. Updated versions of this have been created, making beds that combine the subtle and elegant design with wood or bamboo, the low lying approach, and the modern comfort of bring slightly more elevated.

There are so many more styles of bed frames out there, but these are just a few to give you an idea of the range of sizes, styles, and heights you can get on the market. Wherever your comfort lies, you should be able to fulfill it. The history of beds and bed frames provides us with interesting insight into the designs we have arrived at today.

While many of the social, environmental, and economical reasons for the design have changed over time, there are some that have remained. Depending on your home, the climate you live in, and many other factors, you will be able to find a bed frame that keeps you cozy, comfortable, and creates a beautiful ambience in your bedroom.