For Opie Taylor, Andy’s son on the “Andy Griffith Show,” adventure sleeping was a chance to spend the night on an ironing board held up by two dining room chairs. For the rest of us, a little less adventure and comfortable mattress seems like a better choice. But that was not always part of the sleep equation and is still not in some parts of the world.

Ancient humans sought a modicum of comfort from the cold hard ground by sleeping on piles of grass, leaves or straw. Tossing an animal skin over a collection of springy boughs offered an even softer sleeping surface. The next evolution was to build a sleeping platform of some sort off the ground proper to avoid drafts, dirt, pests and creepy crawling things of which there were an abundance.

Evidence of human constructed beds dated back to 3600 BC has been found in South Africa, and in Northern Scotland raised boxes of stone filled with leaves and other fillers appeared between 3200 BC and 2200 BC. In Persia, goatskins filled with water were placed in bed frames, and in Ancient Rome, mattress were stuffed with reeds, hay, or wool.

As the bed frames developed, so did the bedding. Medieval Europe saw the beginning of the wide use of feathers in mattresses by the wealthy. The feathers provided not only softer comfort, but warmth as well, and in time feather beds became prized possessions. More than one will from early America carefully lists a “fine-feather bed” as a possession to be passed on to a favorite relative.

The modern mattress came to the bedrooms of America in the late 19th century. Stuffing materials included straw, feathers, or horse hair. And after the steel coil spring was invented and first used in chairs, the idea of spring mattresses was born.

Heinrich Wesphal, a German inventor who created first innerspring mattress in 1871, and in 1899, James Marshall developed individually wrapped spring coils. By the 1930s, these individually wrapped coils had been sewn together in bags, surrounded by padding, and the modern innerspring mattress recognized today was taking over. These bags of springs were set atop another frame of box springs, introduced earlier in the century and — in the Western world at least — people slept in more comfort than ever before.

Water beds — the icon of the Age of Aquarius — had actually been around since 1895, but the 1960s saw a big rise in their popularity, and they have been around on the edges of sleep ever since. Foam mattresses made an appearance in the 1930s, and have grown in acceptance steadily, but these days, the more traditional styles built around coil spring systems still dominate the market.

And, a big market it is. Mattresses are big business. With general low manufacturing costs are substantial markups, national chain mattress retailers have appeared everywhere, and they tend to be aggressive retailers. National manufacturers make dozens of models with even more trade names often making it difficult for consumers to shop and compare from one retailer to the other.

Since buying a mattress — or perhaps in these days a sleep system — can be both complicated and expensive.

Knight Furniture has been selling furniture and bedding in North Texas for more than 100 years.

Joey Gunn is the company vice president and the man who buys sleep materials for the store.

“We are really looking for the best sleep scenario for you regardless of who made it,” said Gunn. “What’s perfect and comfortable for me may not be what’s comfortable for you. What you need to be open to is answering questions about your current sleep situation so you can better understand what you are looking for. What’s keeping you up now — the mattress, the pillow, the bedding — it’s probably the whole scenario.”

Randy Goode is a long time salesman who specializes in the sleep department.

“You really need to go to someone who can fit you for a mattress — an expert,” said Randy Goode. “It is like being fitted for a suit; you may need to try several things before you find the right fit for you. You also should find a store that offers a comfort guarantee. When you are spending anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars, you need some piece of mind there so that after a while you are not satisfied, you can exchange that mattress.”

Helping the expert determine what is best for you may involve finding out how you sleep — side, back, or stomach, as well as any medical problems you deal with nightly. Do you have sleep apnea, problems with acid reflux, or difficulties with joints? Answering these questions helps determine the type of mattress, its firmness, even its construction materials that will be best for you.

“It’s not a process you can hurry,” said Goode. “It might take a few hours; it might take a few visits. There is a lot more to a good night’s sleep than just the mattress. You need to look a medical needs, if any, foundations, and bedding. Sheets can make a big difference in how well you sleep.”

We spend one third of our lives sleeping, so it makes simple sense, to invest the process with as much knowledge, help, and time as it takes to make the decisions that you will likely live with, and sleep with, for years to come.

“You can get the right mattress and then surround it with the wrong accessories, and not be any better off than you were,” Gunn said. “It’s a process, and it takes time and people who know what they are doing who can help you.”

Edward Southerland is a feature writer for Best of Texoma. For more information, visit or