Thursday, April 1, 2021

Sustainable Sleep

It's well-known that sleep is important to our health. How are you preparing for getting some shut-eye in the rough times?

Most of us sleep in a bed, on some form of mattress. The main purpose of a bed is to get us off of the ground, which makes it easier to stay warm and keeps us from waking up with vermin next to us. Mattresses provide a soft surface to sleep on while providing some insulation from the air in the room. The average mattress has a life-span of 10+ years, so we don't always keep them at the top of the list of things which need replacements. I've checked with friends who use a variety of different mattresses and come up with a few observations that a prepper should bear in mind when making a purchase.

Standard Coil Springs
The common mattress for nearly a century, this is basically an array of metal springs covered with various pads and layers of cloth to keep you from feeling the individual coils.


  • Not the most expensive option unless you really try.
  • Doesn't require any outside energy to maintain.
  • Huge variety from which to choose.


  • Can harbor insects and microbes due to catching the skin and hair that we normally shed.
  • Susceptible to water damage; they're difficult to get completely dry once wet.
  • Not readily maintained. Once the springs start to fail or the padding wears out, they're trash.
  • If a “box spring” is used as a base for the mattress, it will have a solid bottom frame that can make moving it a challenge. Stairs and corners may require some inventive geometry to get the silly things into the room you want to sleep in.

Air Beds
There are two types of air mattresses, static and dynamic. Static air mattresses are inflated once and should stay that way, while dynamic air mattresses have electronically-controlled pumps that adjust the pressure in the mattress to suit your whim.


  • Static beds are cheap. You can find common sizes for less than $100 in most big box stores for use while camping or for guests.
  • Static beds take up very little room when deflated, making them a good choice for a back-up or guest bed.
  • Dynamic beds have a good record of holding their air during a power outage, but the only data I have is up to a week without power.


  • You'll need a patch kit with either type. The vinyl or plastic used to make the air bladder is fairly thin and will puncture easily.
  • Dynamic beds will be stuck on their firmness setting if the power fails.
  • Dynamic air beds are some of the most expensive on the market; we're talking $10k for the upper-tier models.

Water Beds
Very popular in the 1970s and 80s, there are still a few in use today. Basically a large bladder of water with varying amounts of fiber inside to reduce the waves cause by motion on the mattress, water beds are great for reducing pressure points (one of those laws of physics: pressure is transmitted throughout a fluid evenly) and giving good support to joints and the spine.


  • Great support if you have back or joint problems
  • Heated, so you'll need fewer blankets to stay warm as long as you have power. Pets seem to gravitate toward heated beds, so you may have company.
  • Depending on ambient temperature, a waterbed will hold its heat for a day or two (if kept covered) after a power outage.


  • Waterbeds require a heater to keep the bladder at a comfortable temperature. Once you lose power, the water will start to lose heat until it matches air temperature. Since water is very good at transferring heat, you risk hypothermia if you can manage to fall asleep on a waterbed at 60-70°F.
  • You will need a patch kit, but because of the weight of the water the bladder will be made of thick plastic.
  • Waterbeds require maintenance. Draining and refilling with fresh water every year or two and the addition of chemical preservatives will make them last longer, but can become a chore. The preservatives are not an option; you have to use something to keep the water from turning into a science experiment.
  • Waterbeds are heavy when filled. Water weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon, or 62.4 pounds per cubic foot. A single bed bladder is roughly 4' x 7' x 0.75' or 21 cubic feet of water; that's over 1300# pounds of water! Make sure your structure can hold the weight.


Most mattress stores today sell a basic mattress with a premium topper. There are purple gel toppers, foam, various insulating or heated toppers, and padding or cushioning toppers to meet any desire. Treat them like a mattress of the same design, since they're not much more than a secondary mattress, and expect to change them more often than the base, since the toppers will receive the brunt of the wear and tear. Be aware that the toppers can cost more than a good mattress, especially the gel and memory foam varieties.

Primitive Beds
People used to sleep on hay or grass, placing it inside cloth bags to keep it from poking them as they slept or being scattered with movement. The hay or grass would be changed out every year to keep it fresh-smelling and to replace the “loft” or support that was lost as the filling was crushed or packed by use. These simple mattresses provided some cushioning, insulation, and if refreshed with clean hay and flowers would help mask the odors of unwashed bodies.

The rich used feathers inside the bags (known as ticks, the type of cloth was called ticking) for a softer, warmer mattress, and a good featherbed was a family heirloom that could be used for many years. Sunlight and fresh air were used to keep them relatively clean, often by hanging them out of a window during the day for a few hours. Featherbeds have been demoted to mattress toppers, but they're still on the market.

Rope beds were a wooden frame with sturdy rope loosely woven (loose as in having large gaps) between the sides and ends. This is where the phrase “sleep tight” comes from: tightening up the ropes under your thin mattress to make the bed more comfortable. Think “hammock inside a wooden frame” to get a mental picture if you've never seen one.

Sleeping pads are common in camping and military surplus stores. I've tried several types and they are all just barely better than nothing. I have not found one that is truly comfortable, but they do a good job of insulating a body from the cold ground.

One Final Note
Erin has mentioned the use of breathing aids to help people with medical issues get better sleep. If you're one of those that uses a CPAP machine every night, check the power requirements and make sure you're looking into having back-up power for it. A solar/ battery/ inverter system doesn't have to run your whole house to make a difference in your life.

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