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How Did Sleeping Arrangements Change in Victorian Times?

Updated May 17, 2024
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The basic concept of a bed has been around throughout history – a (relatively) comfortable spot to rest and keep warm throughout the night. For millennia, a pile of straw, animal skins, or simply a cloak on the ground would have been all that most people could expect. However, the idea of what constitutes a bed – and who you might expect to share it with – has drastically changed over time, especially in the last two centuries.

In medieval and early modern times, people thought little about sharing a bed with others. In all but the wealthiest households, children typically shared a bed with their parents, though family members often had assigned spots based on their age and gender. Servants sometimes shared a bed with their master or mistress, and it was common for traveling companions and even complete strangers to share a bed at an inn. It wasn’t until the 19th century that communal sleeping was deemed improper and immoral by the Victorians. For families wealthy enough to have multiple rooms, each family member was assigned a bedroom.

The drastic shift in privacy that occurred in Victorian times helped shape the way we view our bedrooms today. For many people, the bedroom is an escape from the chaos of everyday living, a place to relax, unwind and de-stress, ideally with a comfortable mattress, soft sheets, and silence.

Time to catch some Z's:

  • It wasn’t until the 19th century that people became aware of germs and realized that wooden bed frames were a target for bugs. Iron bed frames were introduced as a result. The coiled spring mattress was also invented during this time.

  • John Adams and Benjamin Franklin famously shared a bed in September 1776 at an inn in New Jersey. The two men reportedly spent a great deal of time bickering over whether to keep the window open or closed.

  • According to National Geographic, the oldest bed in the world dates back 77,000 years. Discovered in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, it consisted of layers of plant material gathered into mats.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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