John's World: As a Mattress of Fact, I Don’t Duvets

02:54AM Aug 27, 2014
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John Phipps
Scientists tell us we spend a third of our lives in bed. I used to think this was deduced from serious studies in sleep laboratories, but I recently learned the National Security Agency has all the actual numbers in a downloadable spreadsheet.

Regardless, this is a serious fraction of our existence we have failed to treat respectfully. It all starts with the apparatus of sleep itself—the bed.

Ever since couples began sharing the same bed—sometime after "The Dick VanDyke Show" and before "The Bob Newhart Show"—beds have been growing. Apparently, mattress manufacturers were concerned with theft, and decided large beds would be harder for burglars to wrestle down stairs and around hall corners, so they invented royalty sizes. 

The queen size was particularly difficult for one person to move from truck to desired location. The king size, however, was a long argument waiting in plastic. In fact, king-sized mattresses are a big reason buddies will no longer help you move with offers of just beer and pizza.

There is also a theory that the expanding bed is the true reason for the "McMansion phenomenon. Nothing like an 8x10 bed to make a 9x12 room look cramped. 

Thicker is better. There was a lull in bunk technology in the late 20th century as manufacturers wrestled with the challenge of improving beds by doing something other than increasing width. Sales were flat as a … um, mattress. Breakthrough thinkers who hypothesized the universe might have a third dimension saved the industry. Overnight the gimmick to make complacent sleepers want new bedding was invented: make them thicker.

"Climb into bed" would no longer be a euphemism. As lucrative as the fat bed was, the lavish payoff was overpriced, oversized bedding. It’s like those little stands for front-load washers that are never sold with the washer. The list price of such profit-padding add-ons ranges from "Wait what?" all the way up to "You’ve gotta be kidding!" By the way, you need one of those machines to wash your new sheets. Tip: Concrete blocks and plywood.

A remote chance. The sales boom was well received by bed makers but soon lagged. Technology once again came to the rescue. Timing the introduction to sleepy, aging Boomers, mattress makers tickled our slumber fantasies with the idea the only thing we lacked during eight hours of unconsciousness was a remote control. Just like it has for TV viewing, a remote surely was the key to knitting up the raveled sleeve of care. And boost AA battery sales.

Still there is something about making sleep amenable to mathematics that assures our tech-savvy brains. Go ahead and have that late night taco grande, I’m sure there is a setting on your numerical bed to keep it in place so you can get some shuteye.

More recently, sleep "software" has taken the lead for boosting bedroom spending. Taking a hint from Europeans who have been sleeping far longer than Americans, the assault on the blanket has begun. Never mind the sturdy utility of the myriad types and weights of blankets, today’s one-size-fits-all solution is the duvet.

At first I thought they were just obese comforters, but as I encountered them at hotels and trendy friends’ houses, I came to genially despise these sinister imports. Nor am I the first wanderer with naked (except for jammies) hatred for this sleep-thwarting Euro-fad:

"There is one thing very particular to them, that they do not cover themselves with bed-cloaths, but lay one feather-bed over, and another under. This is comfortable enough in winter, but how they can bear their feather-beds over them in summer, as is generally practised, I cannot conceive." — Thomas Nugent, travel writer, 1749

Verily, Thomas. Duvets provide digital comfort—either 1 (hot) or 0 (cold). Mostly they are a way to make a bed without much work. Although this is a plus, especially for men, leaving an arm or leg uncovered to reach a comfortable temperature isn’t worth it.

The bottom line: If you are thinking about upgrading your bedding, I’d sleep on it first.