From the light bulb to the laptop, several human inventions and discoveries have affected sleep. Prior to the invention and widespread availability of electricity, the patterns of day and night dictated much of the daily schedule. Whether intentional or not, many technologies like the memory foam mattress impact the amount and quality of rest we get now compared to previous generations.
1600’s – Alarm Clock
As society industrialized and became more attuned to “banker’s hours”, people faced the need to be at work by a certain time and make appointments. Because urbanization interrupted natural circadian rhythms, many people needed an external wake up call. Early alarm clocks were introduced by European clockmakers in the early 1600’s, while the more familiar “bedside” alarm clocks were introduced in the late 1800’s. The first “snooze” alarm clock was developed by GE in 1956, and many new and innovative designs followed.
Mid-1800’s – Sleeping Cars
In this era, train was the most popular method of travelling across the US. Transcontinental trips would often take a couple days, but sleep proved quite uncomfortable on most passenger trains. In the mid-1800’s railroads began to develop “sleeping cars” to make travel more comfortable. The most popular was the Pullman Car, invented by George Pullman. It was marketed as a hotel on wheels and as a middle class luxury remembered for top-rate meals and service. While extended passenger train travel declined significantly in the 20th century, several passenger trains like Amtrak continue to use the sleeping car format.
1865 – Invention of Coil Mattresses
Up to this point, mattresses were typically fabric sacks stuffed with straw, feathers, cotton, and other refuse materials. In 1865, Samuel Kittle patented the first coil mattress design which ushered in the modern mattress industry and became the standard bed for several decades.
1879 – Light Bulb
While candles and firelight could assist vision somewhat, these methods of lighting were not very efficient or safe. Thus, most work and activities ceased at nightfall, when people retired to bed to wake at dawn. It is estimated that people used to sleep 9-10 hours each night.
Thomas Edison developed the first practical electric light bulb in 1879. As the light bulb became a common household fixture, people could work, read, or do other activities well past dusk. Street lighting made evening travel safer, allowing people to stay out later as well. Many place responsibility for the decline of sleep on the light bulb, estimating it helped reduce Americans’ average sleep by 3 hours.
1902 – Air Conditioning
The invention of air conditioning and its subsequent use in homes (mostly post-WWII) allowed people to enjoy better sleep quality in the summer and in warmer climates. Prior to A/C, houses were designed with high ceilings and in shade to fight heat. People often resorted to sleeping in sunrooms and porches, basements or outdoors on roofs to keep cool. Thanks to the advent of climate control, people can sleep at comfortable temperatures.
Mid-1900’s – Television
Televisions were invented in the early 1900’s, although they did not become commercially popular in the U.S. until the middle of the century. As televisions and programming became widely available, they absorbed more and more of peoples’ evenings. Now, it is common for people to have televisions in their bedrooms, and many prefer to sleep with a TV on (some experts claim this promotes insomnia, however).
1966 – Memory Foam Mattress
At the height of space innovation, NASA was developing technologies to make travel more comfortable for astronauts. One these inventions was memory foam, which distributes weight evenly to reduce pressure points caused by gravity. While NASA decided not use it space shuttles, they saw its potential in consumer markets and released it to the public in the 1980’s. Shortly after, it was introduced to medical applications and made into mattresses, where it continues to gain popularity. And from there came superior and high quality memory foam mattresses that are very popular nowadays.
1981 – CPAP Machine
Professor Colin Sullivan developed the use of continuous positive airway pressure as treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. Prior to CPAP treatment, sufferers of severe sleep apnea faced surgery or sleeplessness. This device provided a non-invasive tool for managing symptoms of sleep apnea and helps improve sleep quality with regular use.
It is difficult to imagine where people might be without inventions like light bulbs, air conditioning, and TV. Would we be more well-rested, but less productive? Humans also invent products designed to improve sleep like more comfortable beds and devices to ease medical issues, or even just for the kicks of it, like this collection of awesome beds. These and other products now prove so integrated into our daily and nightly routines that we often fail to recognize impacts they have on sleep. How do inventions impact your bedtime or sleep patterns?
This content is a product of Amerisleep Adjustable Beds Campaign, lead by Kim Tyrone Agapito of KimoftheWorld.com, a Search and Social Marketing Specialist from the Philippines. Find him on Google+ and Twitter.
License: Creative Commons image source
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