What is a Futon Bed and Should You Use One?

The quest for a good night’s sleep will often start with the bed. A bed can make or break just how well you sleep, so it’s vital to make the right choice for you. Heat held by the covers, the softness of the surface, and the thickness of the mattress can all affect how well you sleep.

Futons are perhaps undervalued as a long-term bed. The traditional Japanese bedding is a smaller, often cheaper, option and has become associated with dorm rooms and bachelor pads. However, there are benefits to the firm mattress of the futon.

What is a futon?

A futon is a style of bedding that originated in Japan. A traditional futon consists of two parts: a mattress and a duvet. This would be laid out on a mat for comfort at night and rolled away and stored at the start of the day. Modern futons more typically resemble sofa beds and will generally consist of a frame and a mattress.

The mattress of a futon is thinner than most mattresses and provides a firmer sleeping surface. Although the original thin mattress was designed for ease of movement, nowadays, a futon mattress is often too thick to fold easily.

Where did futons come from?

Futons are from Japan, traditional Japanese lanterns on display

The futon originally comes from Japan, where it was used as an easy to clean and moveable bedding. The futon was added to the traditional tatami floor mat for an extra layer of comfort. Before the futon, people normally slept directly on the mat, which could be painful. The futon added a layer of comfort. As it was placed on the ground, the futon would need to be aired out regularly to prevent mold from growing. Due to its thinner size compared to a traditional Western mattress, a futon could be folded up and put away when not in use. Traditionally, the term futon does refer to the entire bed, and not just the mattress.

The futon first gained popularity in America in the 1970s. In recent times, futons have become more similar to the traditional Western bed. In the West, futons will often come with sturdy frames. The Western futon mattress is generally thicker than its Japanese counterpart, so less easy to store but potentially more comfortable. American futons are used not just for sleeping, but for sitting as well.

What is the difference between a futon and a sofa bed?

The main difference between a futon and a sofa bed is that a futon will always look like a futon, whereas a sofa bed can be either a sofa or a bed. The cushions of a futon are used for both sitting and sleeping. The mattress for a sofa bed is hidden away under the frame and replaced with different cushions for sitting instead. A sofa bed will often be highly upholstered, compared to a minimal futon. Some futons don’t have arm rests, which are standard on a sofa bed.

As futons become thicker and with sturdier frames, the differences between the two are less apparent.

What are the benefits of using a futon?

Benefits of a futon bed, rolled up futon bed in small apartment

The futon mattress is firmer than the traditional Western mattress. If you’ve never used a firm mattress you might shudder to think of finding comfort in it, but there are many benefits. A firmer mattress offers a harder surface, so you’re less likely to sink into it as you sleep. It can almost be compared to sleeping on the floor. This means your joints and muscles are less likely to become twisted and painful. The firm surface provides your joints with support and can prevent the onset of back pain. It might take some time getting used to initially, but a futon can be a good option if you often find yourself tossing and turning.

There are also advantages related to the thinner size of the mattress. The original purpose of the futon was providing a comfortable sleeping space that was easy to move and air - and these benefits still apply. The air circulation of the thinner mattress is better, as less warm air gets trapped with the springs. If you’re prone to overheating stopping you from sleeping, a futon mattress can keep you cooler.

With that thinner size also comes less chance of catching dirt, dust, or mites. Easy to clean and easy to air, a futon mattress can be a good purchase for people who suffer from allergies.

Is a futon better than a bed?

A futon is not necessarily better or worse than a bed, but it has advantages depending on your needs. If you suffer from back pains, or achy joints, then you might naturally gravitate towards a softer surface. This may be exacerbating the problem. The firmer surface of a futon offers support, and you’re less likely to twist muscles in the night as you ‘sink in’ to a softer mattress.

If you like feeling cool as you sleep, then the good air circulation of a futon may also make it a better option than a traditional bed. Warm air has less space to get trapped in a futon, especially when placed on a frame. If you suffer from allergies, a futon is an easy to clean solution.

When choosing a futon, it’s important to pick a mattress that’s high quality, and offers good support. A cheap futon won’t be any better than a cheap, thicker mattress. They do have a long life, so it’s worth spending more for the quality.

Switching from a thicker mattress to a futon will be an obvious change. Take some time to get used to it and be prepared for a different experience.

Can you sleep on a futon every night?

There is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to sleep on a futon every night, as long as it’s comfortable and offers the correct level of support. Sleeping on a futon every night is no different to sleeping on a bed every night, provided you’ve chosen a good futon. The best futons will offer support, rather than just being a thin mattress.