Not Your Dad’s Waterbed
Posted by Dean Karnazes is CEO (Chief Exercise Officer) of Afloat. on Sep 8th 2022
Rumor had it Hendrix slept on a waterbed. And Janis Joplin. So when it came time to replace my old mattress with something new, I naturally asked my dad for a waterbed. It was the 80’s in Southern California and I was swept up in the tumults of high school, rock ‘n’ roll and surfing. I’d just spent a year living abroad as a foreign exchange student in Australia, a place where everything revolves around water, and I felt just as comfortable in a liquid medium as on solid ground.
My mind was open to sleeping on water. Unfortunately, my dad’s was a bit less so. His response to my waterbed request was an emphatic, no way. But when I showed him that the prices were no different than a traditional mattress his sentiments softened. Tell me more, he queried. Thankfully, he was a Hendrix fan as well. I reasoned with him that a waterbed would improve my spinal alignment and enhance my overall sleep quality, thereby improving my grades (I know, a stretch). He rubbed his chin, chuckled, and gave his approval. In the end, the waterbed was less expensive than the non-aquatic foam alternative. That made him even happier.
I still recall the distinct crinkling sounds of filling my waterbed and watching it come to life as the chamber filled. Once complete, I sat on the edge and slowly rocked back for the maiden voyage. As my shoulders contacted the liquidly surface a broad smile swept across my face; I knew right then and there that sleeping would never be the same. I rolled left and right and giggled in delight, no longer would crawling into bed be something utilitarian, it was now something fun, an “experience” as Hendrix put it.
Though just like any other relationship, the waterbed had its quirks. For one, the sloshing. Earlier models of waterbeds had an unruly nature and keeping air pockets out of the chamber was challenging. Nighttime movements were accented with gurgling and splashing sounds, like being below deck on a wooden schooner. Instead of saying good morning to my family I’d greet them with, Ahoy matey.
Then there was the issue of temperature regulation. In the summer the coolness of the water was welcomed, but in the winter I slept in thick wool blankets to insulate myself. My waterbed had a heating element, but it didn’t work so great (and the socket sparked when I turned the dial, which was a bit, well, shocking).
Still, I wasn’t about to go back to a traditional foam or coil bed. The benefits of sleeping on water demonstrably outweighed the downsides. I had many great years on my waterbed, but then college rolled around and my barracks (i.e., dorm room) had existing bedding that couldn’t be modified. Thus ended my maritime sleeping affair.
Maybe the timing was good. A flood of lower quality waterbeds entered the market and there were problems with leaking and product defects. Slowly the popularity of waterbeds waned and eventually they sailed off into the sunset.
Flash-forward to our modern times and the waterbed is back. And better. The contemporary waterbed has taken numerous measures to improve upon the first generation, giving the bed more structure and making it easier to remove air pockets. The heating element has also been modernized, heating and cooling is quicker and more efficient with a digital temperature control. I’ve returned to sleeping on a waterbed and my rest and recovery have benefited markedly, especially after running a marathon or ultramarathon. And the remarkable thing is, an Afloat waterbed is still competitively priced, if not less expensive, that a foam or coil mattress.
Personally, I use a thin mattress topper on my waterbed. Since water itself has unique properties—it cannot be compressed like foam and it is highly effective at dissipating heat—I take advantage of those qualities by not putting a lot between my body and the water. If you’re a hot sleeper, nothing works better at keeping you cool than a waterbed.
While I appreciate the rise and funkiness of the waterbed back in the day, I’m delighted by the rebirth of the next-gen waterbed, which improves upon a classic by using modern technology and more sophisticated manufacturing techniques. My first affair with a waterbed was torrid and relatively short-lived, but I can see my new relationship lasting forever. Bon voyage.
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Dean Karnazes is CEO (Chief Exercise Officer) of Afloat.