Waterbeds on the Rise – Does anyone actually sleep on a waterbed anymore?
Last Updated: 09/13/2010
Waterbeds are old-fashioned, right? It’s simply a fad that barely made it out of the seventies, isn’t it? Well, actually, waterbeds have an interesting history, and an even more surprising future. Waterbeds are definitely here to stay, and they are more acceptable than ever. There are many reasons why the waterbed came to be known as a fad, but the unique benefits of sleeping on water keep it in the market. Now, with modern technology and manufacturing techniques, there is a resurgence of waterbed usage around the world.
The waterbed concept is almost 200 years old, according to records that indicate some type of water-filled bladder was used for invalid patients in the early 1800s. Later in the century, convinced by the potential of water as a sleep surface, Dr. William Hooper of Portsmouth, England, patented the idea. Unfortunately, he couldn’t bring a reliable product to market, and so the waterbed had to wait until the middle of the 20th Century. In the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote about waterbeds as futuristic furniture. He never built any prototypes, but he did bring the concept of a waterbed into the modern age.
The first modern waterbed, as we know it today, was created by Charles Hall in 1968, while he was a student at San Francisco State University in California. The 1970’s saw the rise of the waterbed as a viable sleep option, which is why they are so often associated with the decade.
Early designs consisted of simply a vinyl bag, filled with water, resting in a wooden box. This was definitely a departure from more conventional bedding styles of the time, and was treated more like a fad by the bedding industry. However, people who slept regularly on waterbeds would come to swear by them as a superior sleep experience. Years later, science and technology would confirm water as superior in reducing pressure points during sleep, improving spinal alignment and muscle relaxation, and generally increasing restful sleep.
So, while there were many popular 1970’s fads that faded away, the waterbed was not one of them. In the sleep industry, even today, waterbed customers are among the most loyal in the sleep industry. Customers often describe their experience with more “traditional” mattresses (usually innerspring), for a variety of reasons, but they usually end up going back to their waterbed. This kind of loyalty despite the many alternatives in the sleep market today, should tell us something about the product.
In the last 30 years, many technical achievements have enhanced the waterbed experience and brought waterbeds further into the mainstream. One of the first issues addressed was the issue of the waves. Those initial bags of water were extremely wavy, and could at times disrupt sleep, especially with a partner. Early attempts to reduce wave action included baffle systems inside the bladder that forced water to move through vinyl chambers, thus decreasing surface waves. There was also a lot of experimentation with nylon or foam materials inside the vinyl waterbed mattress. These enhancements broadened the market for waterbeds beyond the niche of mostly younger buyers.
The most significant advancement of the waterbed in recent years was the creation of a free-standing, soft side waterbed. The soft side waterbed represented a true shift from a novelty product that required specific furniture and accessories, to a modern mattress that can fit into any bedroom. The soft side waterbed typically uses a dense foam rail to contain the water, inside of a cover that resembles a standard mattress. The softside waterbed mattress comes in standard bed sizes, so you can use your existing sheets, and bedroom furniture, providing you have a bed frame that can handle the weight. Add a low-watt heater and you have an incredible sleep solution with all the pressure relieving properties of a traditional waterbed, with none of the specialized furniture requirements.
The soft side waterbed has also increased the waterbed’s popularity around the world, where buyers care a great deal about their personal health and well-being, and generally prefer a simpler design. The heat from a waterbed heater also makes it ideal for colder climates like Germany, where waterbeds are extremely popular.
The waterbed now has options like dual bladders, that give each partner a separate vinyl bladder that they can customize to their specific fill level, firmness, and temperature. There are many options for the outer cover, where you can add a pillow top, or even modern materials like memory foam and latex to your waterbed. It is truly a golden age for waterbeds, and the industry is seeing an increased interest in products that are healthy, natural and good for your body. The waterbed embodies these qualities better than any other sleep system. It’s time to look at the waterbed again as a viable sleep alternative.