When you have kids, it can feel like there’s never quite enough real estate in your house or apartment. The stuff of small humans just takes up so much space — and a kids bed is usually a pretty major furniture item and an even more major space-sucker. So, whether your kids are room-sharing (#apartmentlife), you want an extra sleeping option for sleepovers and visiting cousins, or you want a bed that does double duty as a play area / treehouse / you name it, a bunk bed can be a fantastic investment. But safety comes first, so we talked bunk bed guidelines with Dr. Lara McKenzie, principal investigator for the Center for Injury Research.
McKenzie, who works with the website Make Safe Happen, notes that while bunk beds can be convenient space-saving sleeping arrangements, there are an estimated 36,000 nonfatal bunk bed-related injuries each year. “Children get hurt in bunk beds playing or sleeping — these injuries are from falls, jumps, ladders, bed malfunctions and striking the bed,” she says, noting that bunk injuries are more severe than those related to conventional beds.
So if you go with a bunk bed, make sure you look at brands and styles that meet current safety standards — and rule out homemade or hand-me-down bunks. And don’t forget to check that the model you buy has not been recalled at recalls.gov; “There are a lot of bunk bed recalls,” cautions McKenzie.
Then, when setting up bunk beds, make sure there are guardrails on either side of the top bunk that are at least 5 inches above the mattress — and that have gaps 3.5 inches or smaller to prevent kids from getting stuck or falling out. McKenzie also recommends placing bunk beds in the corner of the room (and away from ceiling fans, obviously), so there are walls on both sides. “Discourage children from playing on or under the bunk beds,” she adds, also warning: Only one person on the top bunk!
To prevent nighttime falls, use a nightlight for those ladder-climbing bathroom breaks — and clear any objects from around the bed. Also, children under 6 shouldn’t sleep on the top bunk, period. Find out more about furniture safety with the free app Make Safe Happen.
And now comes the fun part: choosing a bunk bed that meets all those standards and is still somewhere your child will get psyched to sleep. Luckily, there are plenty of fun, elegant, fantastical and oh-so-safe bunk beds that will make you want to be a kid again — and will let your kids rule their room (and corner the sleepover market too). Read on for ideas.
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A version of this article was originally published in May 2017.