The world’s a big place, filled with many different cultures that all adhere to their own unique habits, traditions and mentalities, and yet we are all driven by the same needs. The need to eat, the need to socialise, and the need to sleep are but three essential aspects of life that essentially every human being on the planet must consider on a daily basis. Considering how similar we are it’s always fascinating to learn about the stark differences in how each culture handles these basic human requirements; especially sleep.
Of course, even here in the UK we have plenty of different means and ways of falling asleep (ranging from cuddling up in a single bed with a book to enjoying a cup of tea in a king sized bed) but our beds are all more or less the same. Some are small, some are large, but they’re all basically a mattress with a blanket and pillows. This might seem like the only forum in which to drift off to a sweet slumber, but the rest of the world might disagree.
In celebration of National Bed Month I’ve decided to take a look at that universally loved centrepiece of the bedroom; the bed. This list may be more akin to celebrating this month as International Bed Month though, as featured below are just a handful of the weird and wonderful beds that our cousins from around the globe rest their heads on.
Keeping things relatively close to home, Europe is home to many different countries, each with different kinds of beds and practices. Some are only in name (such as the moniker of ‘French beds’ is used to describe smaller than usual double beds for keeping snug with a sleeping partner) but others are quite different indeed.
Then there are the bizarre examples that literally send a shiver down my spine as I write this. Being such a cold country, Norway is not above sleeping in literal, actual, honest-to-god ice beds. Okay, they might not sleep in them all the time as they’re more of a novelty. Tourists can visit ‘Ice Hotels’ (yes, like that James Bond movie where Pierce Brosnan drives an Aston Martin on ice) and sleep in beds entirely made of ice, though they supply furs and the likes so it’s not wholly impossible to get a good night’s sleep.
Moving on to our cousins across the pond, America lives and breathes (and sleeps) by the mantra of ‘bigger is better’. Most know that their food portions adhere to this notion, though some may be surprised to learn how their bed sizes also follow suit. Though it’s no longer unique to the states, a lot of the sizes are called some variant of a ‘California’ bed, the likes of which can bulge to ridiculous proportions.
Take for example the California king bed, or the Grand King beds, which can extend to a massive 360cm long. These ‘triple’ sized beds are often found in the fanciest rooms of the most exclusive hotels, commonly listed under names like the ‘Emperor’ or ‘Caesar’ beds. Makes sense, since only the likes of kings could justify sleeping in such gargantuan beds.
South of the border things are a little more humble, as it was in South America that the beloved hammock originated. Developed during the Pre-Columbian era, hammocks have always been handmade in a variety of fabrics and shapes. Nowadays the simple hammock has been adapted into many different iterations, some specifically crafted for unique scenarios such as sleeping on the side of mountains. Still used and enjoyed today, many native Mexican and Venezuelan people choose the hammock as their primary bed, as opposed to the rest of the world who mainly use it when they’re feeling particularly sloth like in the sun.
Image Source: TravelPlusStyle
As the cradle of humanity the continent of Africa has been home to beds since the days where man first stood on two legs (and subsequently laid down after a long day). One of the earliest examples of Homo sapiens resting on anything other than the hard ground was recently found in the Sibudu Cave, a rock shelter located north of Durban that was a base for our hunter-gather ancestors around 77,000 years ago. Microscopic evidence of sleeping mats, made from plant remains, could be found, which suggests we’ve been looking for the perfect bed for thousands upon thousands of years now.
Fast forward back to modern day and most of Africa utilise the same kinds of beds that we’re familiar with, albeit with one distinction. Sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia, Mali, Uganda, etc) is almost plagued with mosquitos who, as well as being irritating beyond belief, carry life threatening diseases like malaria. These pests are a real problem, and so to try and cut down on their presence most beds will be adorned with nets, often made of strong polyester, to keep those abrasive blood-suckers at bay.
Another noteworthy means of sleeping is an enthralling combination of camping meeting the quality of five star hotels. ‘Star beds’, as they’re known, are luxurious getaways for those wishing to sleep under the stars (in the highest possible degree of comfort). The options range from small, elevated and isolated platforms to private roofless rooms, all located out on the wilderness with a bed always looking up to a clear sky. They’re incredibly pricey but they’re also just plain incredible.
It should be of little shock to discover that the cultures furthest away from ours should also seem the strangest. After all, what may be considered the benchmark for comfort to us could be seen as a decadent level of lavishness to others, and vice versa. The same applies to what we may see as unbearable, others could view as utterly blissful, such as the Manji. A Manji is a traditional Indian bed, consisting of nothing but a wooden frame and ropes. The ropes are tied around the frame to form a kind of net, which the user lies on top of. No mattress, no pillow, no blanket; the Manji is simplicity manifested.
From India to China we see a shift from a fairly basic set up to an elaborate sleep system. Mostly seen in the north of China, the Kang Bed-Stove is designed to keep things warm for the entire family. A large brick or clay platform is built with interior cavities, which spreads the heat from a stove across the entire platform. This makes the platform nice and toasty, so an entire family sleeps atop of it at night to fend off that northern Chinese chill.
Image Source: Asian Wanderlust
Finally there’s Japanese beds - where both the rich and the poor sleep on traditional futons. These futons are completely different to what Western cultures call a futon (which are basically just sofa beds) as in their complete form they occupy an entire room. First the floor is covered with tatami, a mat made from rice straws atop compressed wood chip boards, and these are essentially carpets. Then there’s the futon itself, a thin mattress that can be folded up either to make it thicker or for the sake of storage. It’s an ingeniously simple solution to saving space whilst maximising comfort.
Japan has even more unusual sleeping arrangements, such as capsule hotels and love hotels, but those are entirely different stories altogether…
Out of This World
Naturally my mind wandered to the good folk aboard the ISS (International Space Station) and I discovered how they work out their sleeping arrangements whilst free from Earth’s gravity. As astronauts (and cosmonauts, if you want to become as pedantic as me) are suspended in a state of weightlessness they can’t simply lie down (as, well, there isn’t a ‘down’) so they have to pretty much tie themselves to the wall.
To aid this endeavor (and make it a comfortable affair) they have specially made sleeping arrangements consisting of small cabins with an odd mix of sleeping bag and straightjacket. They are subject to all the usual elements of sleep, such as dreaming and snoring, though factors like motion sickness (or even pure, giddy excitement from being in space) have been reported to lower the number of winks they get.
Are You Fascinated by Beds in Different Cultures?
Those were just a handful of the unusual beds around the world I managed to track down, have you heard of any that make mine seem mundane? Tweet us, find us on Facebook and tag us on Instagram with your favourites.
Found this interesting? Then you may enjoy: The History of Beds Part 1: How Did Ancient Egypt Sleep?