Illustration by Jan Igoe
Houston, we have another problem. Millions of Americans are not getting enough sleep, according to a national health organization that sneaks tiny drones into our bedrooms to see if we’re awake.
Quality sleep isn’t just a beauty thing. Humans require at least seven hours a night to remain somewhat coherent and civilized. Otherwise, we devolve into a horde of dazed, sleep-deprived zombies stumbling off to work, ready to eat the customers. (That’s assuming we don’t crash on the way.)
A few centuries ago, when Homo sapiens had the approximate lifespan of mayflies, factory workers were putting in 16-hour days. If they got to sleep at all, it was probably on rocks, so nobody complained. The idea of resting for eight hours at a clip caught on about the time the first coil spring was patented. That was 1865.
By the 1930s, we were sleeping on innersprings. In the ’40s, futons hit the market. The ’60s ushered in hippies and their waterbeds—the preferred playground of every card-carrying flower child. (The Romans designed an early version, but it was more personal puddle than functional bed.)
Mattresses were still pretty simple when I was growing up with frugal, Depression-era parents. They only required one thing from their no-frills mattress: immortality. It was a once-in-a-lifetime purchase, just like the house. No matter how it lumped or sagged, my parents intended to sleep on it until death did them part. Apparently, they’d never heard of dust mites.
My folks had no idea that humans, even freshly showered humans, shed millions of skin particles that hungry dust mites—which live and breed in our beds—gobble up like prime rib. Sooner or later, every mattress becomes an all-night buffet for eight-legged guests. If my folks had seen those mutant creatures under a microscope, they would have burned the bed and given up sleeping altogether.
These mites, which are actually spiders, look like the offspring of a Palmetto bug and a lobster. They have pointy legs randomly sprouting out all over the place. Each one is armed with hooks and suckers to burrow deep into your mattress. Ten million of them may be living in your bed, where you spend 33 percent of your life. If you need a reason to sleep standing up, this is it.
The mattress superstores, which are popping up on every corner like Taco Bells, want us to buy a new mattress every seven or eight years, so they keep the dust mites under contract.
I ventured into one of those humongous stores recently. It’s a vast wonderland of boring, beige rectangles all claiming to be firmer, fluffier, softer, cooler and plushier than the next boring, beige rectangle. You need an advanced degree in sleep systems to decipher all the choices and figure out why one mattress costs $500 and another costs $50,000. (That’s right. Your car was a bargain.)
It’s hard to remember we’re talking about a bed. A humble bed. It doesn’t have an engine, take dictation, float, swim or fly. It’s a stationary, fabric box that mattress makers have us believing is more complex than the Hadron Collider.
After reviewing my options, I’ve decided to keep getting my eight hours of shuteye on the living-room couch, protected by snoring dogs. Since the dust mites sleep in the bedroom, it’s safer out there.
JAN A. IGOE hopes you’re getting your beauty rest on a very young, immortal mattress. Try not to shed. Join the fun at HumorMe@SCLiving.coop.