By: Kusum Musaddi

We humans spends around one-third of our life in a bed, which among civilised people is by far the most important and most universal item of sleeping furniture. Moreover, when we consider how vital deep and satisfying sleep is to health, it is remarkable that science has given such little attention to the design of beds and their accessories. Unfortunately, majority of literature only provide some standard/generic recommendations on the design of beds; whereas actually this piece of furniture requires as much customisation as do chairs and tables.

Dimensions of beds

Length: Here it is necessary to consider both the body length of the bed occupants, and the provision of a certain amount of room for body movements. Cramped quarters can turn sleeping into a nightly wrestling match. A healthy sleeper moves anywhere from 40 to 60 times a night, including some dozen full body turns. You need freedom of motion while you sleep and to help you relax while getting to sleep. Hence, standard mass-produced adult beds should not take into account peoples average lengths (Read: Heights) but those of the tallest ones. Length of adult beds (internal measurement) can be 78 to 84 inches; and when going in for your custom-designed bed, a better technique is to compute it as your height + 9 inches (6 inches for the head side and 3 inches for the feet side).

Width: The width of a single bed must allow enough room for a person lying on his side to bend his knees. For tall people this measures at 27 inches, and then allowing 6 inches on each side for movement totals the width requirement of the bed to 39 inches. Similarly a double bed width could be computed as 27 inches + 27 inches + 6 inches allowance along each of the two edges + 6 inches as common middle allowance, that is, a total of 72 inches.

Height: Interior decorators have sharply reduced the heights of beds in recent years to keep them in proportion with the heights of rooms. The victim of this reduction is the housewife, who has to bend her back more than with previous designs. For convenience in bed-making the top of the mattress should be between 22 to 26 inches from the floor; although heights between 16 to 20 inches are more convenient for getting in and out of bed. Hence a compromise height of 18 to 22 inches is often arrived at, although modern interior designers favour a 16 inches height. A change of fashion is very desirable if housework is to be made easier; until then do not go below 16 inches.

Mattresses and Accessories

Mattress: A mattress should be so constructed that at every change in position it should yield gently to each of the bodily projections (shoulders, hips, pelvis) while supporting the body as a whole, including the concavities such as the sides and the hollow of the back. It is equally important that the mattress should preserve its shape; it should not settle into a boat shape, nor take an impression of the body lying on it. One quick test is to lie flat and slide your hand, palm down, between the small of your back and the mattress surface. If you can fit your entire hand and theres still a gap, the mattress is too hard. If, when lying flat, the base of your spine is lower than your heels, the mattress is too soft. Be aware, though, that no one surface is right for everyone. If it works for you, it works.

A hard wooden support beneath the mattress (that is recommended by various experts these days) has sometimes been a blessing and often a disaster; in my opinion it is logically applicable only if the mattress is too soft or if your orthopaedic prescribes it for your bad back.

Sufficient absorption of body transpiration (and later its evaporation) is vital for hygiene, and should be permitted by the materials selected for the mattress, underlay and sheets/covers.

Of course, the kind of mattress you select finally depends upon a mix of your preferences, health, climatic conditions, etc, and you could make your own combination with materials such as P.U. Foam + Latex or Coir + P.U Foam or the good old organic cotton.

Pillows: Without the right pillow, even the most comfortable mattress wont deliver deep slumber. It should be soft enough to conform to the contours of your head and neck, yet thick enough to support them in a neutral position with no upward or downward tilt. Choose their sizes with utmost care; and for inner stuffing select amongst polyester fibre fill, rubber, P.U. Foam or cotton. (Polyester fibre fill pillows are very hygienic and safe from all kinds of allergies; however, they get pressed down with regular usage.) Bear in mind that your personal level of comfort is again the deciding factor here.

Space around beds

A minimum 28 inches should be ideally left around the side/sides of the bed on which there is frequent human traffic; else the minimum that will suffice for bed-making is 16 inches. (The correct attitude when making beds is to either to squat down or to go down on one knee on the floor, and people who suffer from backache should adopt one or other of these postures for the good of their discs. Nevertheless many people content themselves with bending at the knees and hips, and these movements may be correct if the bed is higher than 22 inches from the floor).

Another consideration is the space necessary for cleaning the floor under the bed (the non-storage type bed), for which a minimum space of 40 inches on one of the long sides of the bed allows use of the jharu / vacuum cleaner.

The Final Word

So go ahead apply the above guidelines and allow your body (and mind) to recuperate. Good Night! Sleep Tight!

About the author:

Kusum Musaddi (Interior Design and Management Consultant, Educationist and Writer)


♦ The author is an Interior Design Consultant, specialising in the design of corporate and residential interiors. She has been a Retainer Consultant for several corporate bodies/institutions, and has provided Interior Design Consultancy for projects in USA and UK.

♦ As a senior faculty member at a Kolkata institute, she has delivered lectures, guided research and conducted projects in the field of Housing & Interior Design for over two decades. She holds special interests in the field of Ergonomics in Design of Home and Work Spaces.

♦ As a writer, she has been a regular columnist to magazines and newspapers, such as The Telegraph (Kolkata and Jamshedpur), The Sunday Statesman (Kolkata, Delhi and Bhubaneswar), Dainik Vishwamitra (Kolkata) and Sanmarg (Kolkata). She has also been on the Editorial Board of Real Estate Review, the national monthly magazine published by CREDAI (Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India), New Delhi

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