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What Side Of the World Did You Wake Up On?

Our beds and how we use them vary from culture to culture.

A place to find sanctuary, but also to eat, work and sleep. Our beds are vitally important to us, and how we treat them, use them and care for them is changing in Canada and around the world.

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Canadians spend an average of seven hours and three minutes sleeping, more than a half-hour longer than Americans, according to the U.S.-based National Sleep Foundation. A study of sleeping habits by bedding brand Dormeo found a third of Canadian men prefer to sleep naked, twice the American average. It also found most Canadian adults want to wake up next to their spouses, but almost one in 10 Canadian women would prefer to wake up next to actors like Bradley Cooper. And 11 per cent of us want to wake up next to our dogs.

Our beds have evolved over time. Humans created raised beds to get off the cold ground and away from a parade of bugs and parasites. Hammocks were invented in Central and South America to avoid venomous snakes. Wealthy Europeans in the Middle Ages created carved-wood beds and elaborate canopies and stuffed their mattresses with feathers. Peasants got by with straw.

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A mattress built with springs was invented in the late 19th century. In 1900, in Toronto, James Marshall invented the pocketed spring mattress. The Marshall Mattress Company still exists, and his basic design remains widely used around the world. The box spring, which serves to better distribute weight and to act as a shock absorber, was also invented around the same time.

After the Second World War, separate bedrooms gave parents unprecedented privacy from their children, although “co-sleeping” is making a comeback in Canada and Mexico. Beds have also become a seat of industry. American novelist Truman Capote preferred to write in bed or on a couch, a pencil in one hand and a glass of sherry in the other. A recent British survey found that 57 per cent of Londoners spent between two and six hours a week working in bed. Almost half of Canadians fall asleep looking at their phones, while in the United States, three per cent of smartphone owners regularly sleep with them in their hands.

Our beds and mattresses vary from culture to culture. While Canadians like to loll beneath a massive single piece of fluffy bedding, Germans tend to outfit their beds with two narrow duvets, known as federbett, which are tidily folded into thirds each morning. In South Korea, nine out of 10 Koreans still sleep beneath quilts known as ibul, and on wheat-husk-filled pillows. The bedding rests on a heated floor known as an ondol, which is a cosy experience on a cold Korean night.

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And our bed habits also vary widely depending on where you get up in the morning. The tradition in China was to use special sticks like thin baseball bats to beat bedding in order to remove dust and dirt. In Europe, woven rattan carpet beaters were widely used on bedding, something the Dutch called mattenklopper. In Japan, many homemakers still beat their futons daily and air them out over balcony rails to expose them to sun and drying breezes—a must for keeping mattresses clean in a damp climate. Japan’s celebrated fastidiousness around the home has translated into a multi-billion-dollar cleaning product industry. One of the first words Japanese kids learn is “baatchi,” which means dirty, and is an early childhood warning of what is important to beware of in life. Meanwhile, a 2013 survey found that 55 per cent of young British males say they only change their linen every 3.1 months.

Robert Green, senior design engineer for Dyson, says that in Japan and Southeast Asia, many homemakers use ultraviolet devices attached to vacuums to kill dust mites residing in their mattresses. Cleaning mites from thick North American-style mattresses in this way would be a long and arduous task.

While no one particular method of mattress cleaning will kill off an entire dust mite population and the allergenic detritus it leaves behind, the situation can be managed, Green says. Regular vacuuming with a powerful machine equipped with a HEPA filter can make your nighttime sanctuary a healthier place to eat, work, play and sleep.

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