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What is the Difference Between a Sofa Bed and a Sleeper Sofa?

By Jeff Frank


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

July 1, 2020


The two terms, “sleeper sofa” and “sofa bed” have become completely interchangeable, both within the furniture industry and for the general public.

Although this interchangeability of terms has always been common, there was more differentiation if you go back 50 years (and more.)

The first modern sleeper sofa was introduced in the 1930s by Bernard Castro. He advertised his innovative products as “convertible sleeper sofas.”

Prior to that time, use of the term “sofa bed” was almost universal.

One of the most important differences between the older sofa beds and the new convertible sleeper sofa was the direction in which the mattress unfolded when the bed was opened.

  • Sofa bed mattresses (or cushions) opened so that you slept with your head in the direction of one of the sofa arms and your feet pointing towards the other arm.
    • This works fine for twin or full-size sleeping surfaces
      • Twin size mattresses are 72″ x 39″.
      • Full size mattresses are 72″ x 54″
      • Sofa bed mattresses often have widths that are 2 – 3 inches less than the standard twin and full sizes.
    • Sofa beds were less practical for anyone taller than 6 feet or who wants to share the mattress with another person.
  • The Castro Convertible sofa sleeper introduced a mechanism that allowed mattresses to pull out so that you slept with your head towards the wall and your feet pointing away from the wall.
  • This enabled the use of larger (queen-size ) mattresses.
    • Queen size mattresses are 80″ in length and 60″ in width.
    • With the mattress open, a queen size sleeper sofa requires almost 90 inches in length.
    • The 60 inch width of the queen size mattress can fit comfortably between the arms of sofas as short as 72″ in length (or less for sofa sleepers with very thin arms.)

    When I was a buyer for a major furniture chain in the 1970s and 1980s, we used the term “sofa bed” to refer to cheaper sofas that “folded out” into a small bed suitable for one person.

    Better quality sofas with “pull-out” mattresses were referred to as sofa sleepers or sleeper sofas.

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