Are Water Beds Good for You? Their Advantages and Disadvantages Revealed
Waterbeds are synonymous with nostalgia, having peaked in popularity in the ’70s and ’80s. The waterbed industry was once valued at $2 billion a year at its peak, before fading into irrelevance. So, what happened to them?
The disappearance of waterbeds was a combination of logistical concerns over their high maintenance nature and the emergence of higher quality, more comfortable foam mattresses that were less of a hassle.
Why They Were A Good Idea
The waterbed was part of Charlie Hall’s thesis project when he was attending SFSU. His primary objective was to create a piece of furniture that could form the contours of a person’s body without creating pressure points.
After experimenting with a few different ideas, he arrived at the concept of the infamous waterbed. According to Naples Daily News, the key concept of the waterbed was displacement. This means that as you move, water fills the gaps and every curve of your body gets equal support.
Despite Hall’s modern invention taking waterbeds mainstream during the era of free love, waterbeds have been around since the 1800s. Neil Arnott invented what was then known as the “hydrostatic bed” in 1833 and was intended to treat bedsores, according to The Sunday Post.
Waterbeds also appeared in many popular writings, including an article in The New York Times written by Mark Twain. Twain wrote, “in the infirmary will be kept one or two waterbeds for invalids whose pains will not allow them to be on a less yielding substance.”
Since Arnott never patented his invention, re-imaginings of the waterbed popped up over the years, often associated with some sort of healing properties. Fast forward to modern waterbed technology, however, and these beds are still promoted as helping relieve aches and pains and offer relief to allergy sufferers.
Issues With Waterbeds - Disadvantages
The biggest issue people had with waterbeds was how high maintenance they were to install, maintain, and ultimately disassemble. According to the Business Insider Magazine, the main concerns of consumers were as follows:
Too heavy: Waterbeds were incredibly heavy, considering they required pumping hundreds of gallons of water into a mattress. This made these mattresses difficult and dangerous to lift. As a consequence, you couldn’t move a waterbed without draining it.
Waterbeds also necessitated reinforcing the floor joists underneath the beds. Failure to reinforce these floor joists could result in catastrophic structural damage
Logistics of Installation: To pump hundreds of gallons of water into a waterbed, one must first run a hose from the outside, through the house, to the ultimate destination of the bed (which could be on the second floor)
Prone to Leaks: Waterbeds were prone to leaks, which could cause serious damage to hardwood floors. If waterbeds were situated over a carpet, it was the perfect environment for anaerobic bacteria and mold
Needed to be Heated: There were coils in the bed for heating the water. The water inside a waterbed needed to be heated, or the water would cause the sleeper to be too cold. However, the energy required to heat these beds could lead to higher electric bills
Too much movement: Any time someone moved, it would send waves through the mattress to the other side, which could wake up the other person sleeping on the mattress. It could also be a struggle to get out of the bed and the constant rocking motion could lead to feelings of nausea or sickness.
New and Improved Waterbeds
Waterbeds are attempting to make a comeback, except their design is entirely different from their predecessors. Hall notes of the improvements in Naples Daily News and they are as follows:
Easier to get in and out of: Older waterbeds were contained inside of a wooden or plastic frame, but the new waterbed design uses foam that eliminates hard edges. This brings the weight of the bed down by 25 percent
Motion suppression system: The best new waterbeds feature a motion suppression system that blocks waves from sloshing around. You can now choose between full-wave, partial wave, or no wave action.
This reduces the excessive motion that was a popular complaint about the previous waterbeds. Now you won’t have to worry about waking your sleeping partner in the middle of the night.
Thin stretch Lycra covers: The old rigid damask tops have been replaced with thin stretch Lycra covers, which can be removed and washed
Just as supportive as traditional coil spring mattresses: The old free flow model waterbeds did not offer enough back support, but new improvements to the waterbed offer just as much support as traditional mattresses, though partial or no wave options.
Most waterbeds have at least one layer of fiber or foam. These provide support to the spine and restrict water movement.
You and your partner can choose different settings: Modern waterbeds can now come equipped with two settings: for your side and your partner’s side. Settings for temperature, firmness, and wave action can all be adjusted accordingly for the best of both worlds
Benefits of Waterbeds - Advantages
Research is inconclusive as to whether waterbeds help with aches and pains. It is ultimately up to personal preference. However, doctors discovered that those who were resting on a waterbed didn’t develop ulcers built up by continuous pressure, and those who had it healed a lot faster.
Waterbeds’ warm temperature is a benefit as it may provide therapeutic effects for athletes experiencing soreness or for women with cramps. When heat is applied to an inflamed area, the blood vessels dilate, which promotes blood flow, as well as helping to relax sore and tightened muscles, according to Medical News Today.
Lactic acid builds up after exercise. Heat improves circulation, helping to eliminate this buildup. It is useful for relieving different sources of pain, such as osteoarthritis, sprains, tendonitis, spams/injuries, and stiff muscles.
Waterbeds: Good or Bad?
Chiropractors are not big fans of the old-style waterbeds which were strictly free flow action only. However, modern waterbeds with partial waves or no waves have enough fiber layers inside to provide firm support for your lower body. Some models also offer lumbar support
One advantage of having a waterbed over other types of beds is that it will hold its shape. You won’t have to worry about sagging or dents, because the liquid inside displaces, rather than compressing. Other types of mattresses have to be rotated to minimize denting and sagging.
Waterbeds also have an allergen-free surface, due to their vinyl plastic wrapping, which doesn’t easily absorb. This can prove beneficial for people with allergies, dermatitis, or asthma.
Are Waterbeds Good for Your Back?
According to Science Direct, a study was performed to examine the effect of four different types of beds on low back pain patients’ symptoms and signs: an orthopedic hard bed, a softer 500 coil bed, a standard 10-inch thick waterbed, and a hybrid bed of foam and water.
A majority of the participants reported that they preferred the hard bed, feeling that it relieved their back pain to a greater extent after 2 weeks as compared to the other beds. However, the next most preferred bed by these participants was the waterbed.
In addition to self-reporting, the participants were tasked with performing a straight leg raising test. The results of the test coincided with their reports. 25% of the participants who used the waterbed or hard bed saw significant improvements on the straight leg raising test.
The other two beds in the study proved of no benefit to any patient. While this is a limited study, these results point to the following: that a hard bed should be the first choice in patients experiencing chronic low back pain. If no relief is found, they should try their luck on a waterbed.
According to NOVA Chiropractic & Wellness Center, another study of 160 participants with lower back pain were randomly assigned to three types of beds, consisting of a body-conforming foam mattress, a hard futon, or a waterbed.
Slightly more people preferred the waterbed or the body-conforming foam mattress over the hard futon. However, it must be taken into account that some truly loved the harder beds, while loathing the softer beds, suggesting the type of mattress one should have is up to personal preference.
According to NOVA Chiropractic & Wellness Center, Robert Molinari, MD, says “we don’t understand why, but some patients respond better to hard mattresses and some to soft ones. There are very few studies lending support to one mattress over another.” He suggests trial and error for those with low back pain, who are looking for a supportive mattress.
Waterbed Pros and Cons - The Verdict
Waterbeds have certainly faded out of style over the years, though its creator is attempting to bring them back with a new and improved design that addresses the complaints from the original patent. Some of these issues were that it was prone to leaks, too heavy, too wavy, and causing problems with their sleeping partner.
Newer designs of waterbeds are easier to get in and out of, have motion suppression systems, a dual-chamber to allow for different settings for each sleeper, and allergen-free surface, and are just as supportive as traditional mattresses.
While some studies have shown waterbeds to seemingly improve the comfort in patients suffering from low back pain, reports about them improving aches and pains are ultimately inconclusive. There is no one size fits all solution and it is best to trial and error what works best for you.
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