The Revival of the Sleeping Porch
If you are searching for a unique feature to add to your outdoor living area or want to create a functional space that you can enjoy throughout the year with your family and friends, it might be time to consider adding a sleeping porch to your home.
Sleeping porches, which reached the height of their popularity in the last century, are screened porches or balconies that were originally used to escape hot, stuffy bedrooms and sleep more comfortably on summer nights.
Once a necessity, they largely fell out of fashion after the invention of electric fans and modern air conditioners that made it possible to comfortably sleep indoors on even the hottest nights.
In recent years, sleeping porches — or what is now more often simply called screened porches, since they are rarely slept on — are once again gaining ground, and more homeowners are looking for them when they purchase homes or adding them to the homes they own.
A Brief History of Sleeping Porches
Long before electric fans and air conditioning units could be found in homes across America, people had to find creative ways to try to keep cool.
Throughout history, people have used hand fans, human-powered rotating fans, circulating water, ice and snow to try to stay cool during warmer months.
Homes were ingeniously built to keep inhabitants as comfortable as possible when the temperature rose, and many of these climate control techniques are still used to help conserve energy and keep modern homes cooler.
Sleeping outdoors in courtyards or on porches when interior temperatures are a bit too high has been happening since we began living in permanent dwellings, but it was not until around the beginning of the last century that sleeping porches really gained popularity and became a common addition to homes.
When scientists and doctors began discovering germs and understanding their impact on health in the second half of the 19th century, germ-laden indoor air became less appealing, and doctors recommended spending more time outdoors to enjoy the benefits of fresh air.
Sleeping outdoors was believed to bolster the immune system and taking walks in the fresh air (known as constitutionals) were considered an important part of maintaining overall health and wellness.
When tuberculosis became the most common cause of death around the beginning of the 20th century, it was believed that fresh air would help those who had this ailment and would help healthy folks avoid catching it.
Sleeping outdoors was considered particularly helpful, but most people wanted more privacy and fewer bugs than they would experience simply sleeping in their backyards or on their front porches.
This is why most sleeping porches were screened balconies near the bedrooms on the second floor of homes or secluded, screened porches primarily used only by members of the household.
The combination of the desire to breathe in healthy, fresh air and the desire to avoid sleeping in stuffy, hot bedrooms in the middle of summer came together to bring about a significant increase in the demand for screened sleeping porches.
Around the same time, electricity was coming to more homes and electric fans began changing the way people controlled the temperature in their houses.
It was not long after — 1902 to be exact — that Willis Carrier invented an air-cooling machine that was the predecessor to the air-conditioning units seen in homes today.
However, although air conditioning has been around since the turn of the last century, it did not become a common sight in homes until the mid-1960s, but even then, only about 1 in 10 homes had an air conditioner.
People went to places that had air conditioning, like department stores and movie theaters, to try to escape the heat, and many folks without air conditioning in their homes continued to sleep on their sleeping porches to take advantage of summer breezes.
However, with tuberculosis losing ground and electric fans making it possible to sleep more comfortably indoors, sleeping porches began to fall out of fashion and largely became a thing of the past.
In some areas of the country, particularly in the South and the Southwest, screened porches remain popular, but they are no longer commonly called sleeping porches and are less often used for this purpose.
A Return to Sleeping Outdoors
We may be able to better control the climates in our homes and more comfortably sleep indoors, but many people still are drawn to spending time outdoors and sleeping under the stars.
Campgrounds fill up on summer weekends, friends gather around fire pits to catch up on their week, and most of us still believe in the health-promoting qualities of getting back to nature and breathing fresh air.
Although we might not sleep outside quite as often as our ancestors, the design of our homes and the emphasis we place on landscaping and outdoor living areas certainly show how much we value spending time outside.
This may be one reason screened porches that can be used for sleeping outdoors are once again gaining popularity.
The beauty of including a modern sleeping porch in your landscape design is that you can create a functional space that you can enjoy as an outdoor (or semi-outdoor) living area during the day as well.
Creating an area where you can comfortably sleep in your backyard can also open up lots of possibilities for fun outdoor entertaining options and family activities.
Imagine the convenience of hosting a children’s sleepover on a sleeping porch where you can easily clean up messes off of the paving stones, bricks or concrete and not worry about the children knocking over a vase or staining your carpet.
And, at the same time, just imagine how much more fun they will have when their slumber party takes place outdoors.
Backyard slumber parties are a great idea, but without the convenience and security of a screened porch or deck, you have to worry about insects and keeping track of the children.
This type of outdoor room creates a space where children can play, tell ghost stories or talk about their latest crushes late into the night in a safer environment that is bug free and more comfortable.
You can also use this space for bug-free outdoor dinner parties, camping in your backyard with your family, or relaxing on a patio daybed with a good book and a drink after a long week.
Outdoor Sleeping Options
If your main purpose is to create a space for sleeping outdoors, a sleeping porch is not your only option.
You could string hammocks between sturdy trees, set up a tent for a backyard camping trip, transform your cabana into a relaxing oasis or hang a swing bed on your balcony.
You could also add screening material to an existing gazebo or hire a contractor to build a summer house in your garden.
Popular in Europe but less often seen in America, summer houses are small structures that usually have screened, partial walls and a roof and are designed specifically to allow people to enjoy time outdoors in their gardens when the weather is warm.
If a summer house is the outdoor sleeping option that most interests you, you can purchase a kit to build one in your yard, hire a contractor to install one, or transform a shed or gazebo into a charming summer house where you can sneak away to relax in the shade and listen to the summer breeze blowing through the trees.
An option that will be easier for most people is to transform an existing covered patio into a screened porch that can be used for both entertaining and sleeping.
For example, a paving stone patio or deck provides a sturdy foundation for comfy chairs, an outdoor daybed and anything else you might need to create your sleeping porch.
Tips for Creating a Sleeping Porch
Sleeping porches are all about function and comfort, and modern sleeping porches can serve multiple purposes when designed to maximize their utility.
Here are 10 tips to help you create a sleeping porch for you, your family and your guests to enjoy:
1. A sleeping porch should have a roof to protect you and your furniture from the elements.
2. Screening your porch or patio is an essential part of transforming it into a comfortable place where you can sleep without swatting at insects all night.
3. A ceiling fan can make your sleeping porch even more comfortable for both day use and night use.
4. Comfortable furniture for daytime relaxing and nighttime snoozing is an absolute must when creating an inviting porch for sleeping.
5. An outdoor rug will soften a concrete or paving stone patio to create a cozier atmosphere.
6. There is no point in making a porch that is just for sleeping, so be sure to include furniture that can be used during the day.
7. A sleeping porch is the perfect place for a backyard movie theater where you, your family and your guests can enjoy a flick before falling asleep under the stars.
8. Some sort of wall, railing or framing on the bottom half of your screened sides will provide stability and make your sleeping porch safer.
9. For a relaxing, inviting atmosphere, choose soft lighting, such as string lights or flameless candles to light your porch.
10. Consider planting jasmine, rosemary or lavender around the outside of your porch to enjoy these delicate scents as they are carried on summer breezes.
Sleeping on a screened porch is not only a fun way to get a little closer to nature and breathe in fresh air throughout the night; it is also a great way to save energy by reducing your need to cool the inside of your home on hot summer nights.
Screened patios also provide an excellent opportunity to create a transitional space between your indoor entertaining areas and your outdoor entertaining areas to allow for a better flow and another place for your guests to hang out.
Additionally, for many homeowners this is a great way to get more function out of outdoor living areas, since even those of us who spend every possible moment grilling, hanging out by the pool or reading on the deck are likely to spend even more time outdoors if there is a screened porch where we can serve food, watch movies or even sleep without bugs bothering us.