Brown futon in a room with a patterned rug, wood furniture and a plant

What is a futon?

February 20, 2020

Author: Josie Sivigny

From blow up mattresses, to pull-out couches, to trundle beds, there are a lot of options when it comes to temporary sleeping arrangements—but none quite compare to the futon. But what exactly is a futon, and how is it different from a regular bed?

What is a Futon?

Put simply, a futon is a type of convertible couch that you can fold or slide out to form a bed in the evenings. Futons are typically composed of thin foam mattresses, and though they are usually comfortable, they’re not recommended for nightly use.

The History Of Futons

Futons originated as a mattress for nobles in 17th century Japan. These thin, roll-up beds gained widespread popularity in 18th century Japan thanks to the fact that they could be placed directly on the floor and stowed away when not in use. In the 1970s, the futon was introduced in America as an alternative to the large, innerspring mattresses that were popular at the time. But outside of design circles, these small roll-up mattresses seemed odd, especially due to the fact that they did not require a bed frame or box spring. As a result, Americans came up with a new use for these thin, convenient beds. They would be used on small, slatted platforms that could be folded into a couch when the “bed” was not in use. Over time, futons became known as convertible sofa beds, growing in width, height, and length to accommodate bigger sleepers.

What are Futon Mattresses Made of?

Futon mattresses are traditionally made of cotton, but today, other natural fibers like wool and latex are often incorporated into their designs. These long-lasting mattresses are favored for their organic components, but they require a lot of maintenance. Futon mattresses should be flipped once every two weeks, and though they’re thin, they cannot be washed.

Is a Traditional Futon Mattress Right for Me?

Traditional Japanese futon mattresses are made of cotton, and are usually no more than three inches thick. While these mattress can provide excellent alignment due to their firmness, they are a poor match for side sleepers and those who like a softer sleep setup. As a result, sleep experts generally shy away from recommending futon mattresses, and are more likely to suggest supportive layered foam or hybrid mattresses instead.

The Futon Sofa Bed

Futon sofa beds are a type of bed that can be converted into a couch when not in use. Like traditional futons, these beds come equipped with thin, firm mattresses, and often require a mattress topper or mattress pad for extra comfort.

Brown futon sofa bed in front of an open door with a pillow and sheets on it

Should I invest in a Futon Sofa Bed?

Convertible futon beds are a great option for overnight guests. Not only are they easy to set up and dismantle, but they tend to take up less space than a traditional sofa bed. That being said, futon mattresses are generally less soft than their pull out couch counterparts, which are more likely to include traditional innerspring or foam mattresses. As a result, they are not ideal for sleepers who like a softer sleep setup.

If you’re looking for a long-term sleep solution, you’re best bet is a traditional hybrid or all foam mattress. Learn more about our favorite mattresses here.

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