Bunk Beds, According to Parents and Experts

When we set out to launch Cubby last fall, we wanted to help parents live better, more connected lives at home. Each week in the newsletter we bring you ideas for how to eat, live, and play. Today, we launch our very first buying guide, and you can expect them regularly from here out. In our buying guides, we’ll give you in-depth advice about the big-ticket items you might need to purchase for your home. Because from sofas to stoves, there are seemingly a million tiny decisions that go into big home decisions. With our Cubby guides in hand, you should have the confidence to make the purchases that matter.


We’re kicking things off with bunk beds — both because I have just finished writing A. Whole. Book. about bunk beds (out next year!) and because buying bunk beds is intimidating! As soon as I tell another parent that I have written a book about bunk beds, they almost inevitably want to ask me questions. I tell them that the right bunk will depend on the space they have, but there are some good rules of thumb to consider before you purchase bunks. Here’s what you need to know below.

What are the safety considerations for bunk beds?

Let’s start off by saying the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under 6 years of age should not sleep in bunk beds (and by this, they mean the top bunk). Roberto Gil, the founder of Casa Kids, a bunk bed company in Brooklyn, agrees. “In my experience, 6 is the right age for an upper bed, but you would be surprised by how many people want to put 3-year-olds in bunk beds,” says Gil. “If they come to our showroom, they immediately realize that 3 years is very young,” he adds.

Beyond the age range limitations, you can put most of your safety concerns aside when purchasing an off-the-shelf bunk bed: If you buy a new bunk bed today, it will have been tested to meet your country’s safety regulations. However, if you’re purchasing a bed for your child secondhand, follow the AAP’s guidelines: Elevated beds of all kinds should have rails or walls on all four sides. However, lower bunks with mattress foundations that are 30 inches or less from the floor do not need guardrails. The tops of the guardrails must be no less than 5 inches above the top of the mattress. The entrance to the bunk should be narrow: In the U.S. it can be no greater than 15 inches; in the U.K. it’s just 11.8 inches (30 centimeters). 

Let us also recommend that you create a house rule that bunk beds are not for rough housing. “Accidents happen when they are playing, not sleeping,” says Gil. Put bunks in the corner of the room for extra stability.

How do you choose the right bunk bed style?

First, think about how you will use the bed. For example, do you have two kids who will sleep there every night or one sibling who rotates between parents’ homes? This may influence what makes most sense. Some families will choose a twin-over-double for a shared children’s room so there is plenty of room for two siblings and a parent to read stories together. Gil also notes that if your kid is used to falling asleep with a parent lying in bed with them, your child may not be happy if that changes (and it’s pretty hard to sneak out of an upper bunk after your kids falls asleep). 

Think LONG and hard before buying a themed bed. Bunk beds are an investment. Here at Cubby, we’d recommend getting your princess or fireman theme out in the bedding or other low-ticket decor, not the bed itself.

What height bunk bed should I buy?

The right height bunk will depend on your room’s ceiling height (and to a lesser extent the overall size of the room, since lower bunk beds are less overwhelming in a small space). Bunks typically range from 50 inches tall (for a low style bunk) to about 90 inches (for a stacked triple bunk). You need at least 36 inches between the top of the top mattress and the ceiling, but more space is always better. If your ceilings are anything less than 9 feet, you should probably be looking for a lower bunk bed.

What are the pros and cons between ladders vs. stairs?

Steps versus a ladder is one of the next decisions you’ll need to make when purchasing bunks. The pros of stairs are ease and safety; the cons boil down to space and money: stairs require more of both. “If you can afford the stairs and have space, I would always recommend stairs,” says Gil, who notes that his Casa Kids bunks and many others offer a lot of storage in the steps, which makes up for the extra space they take up, if you can eliminate a dresser. 

Most off-the-shelf bunks feature a ladder that cannot be detached (i.e., is integrated). Know that many bunk beds can be ordered or assembled to whichever side you prefer, but not all, so check before you order. Bunks that have the ladder positioned on the short end leave the entire lower bunk open, which can be especially nice for adults and creates a more minimalist look. Angled ladders are less common than a straight ladder. They are slightly easier to climb, especially since they ideally should have a safety rail. 

Should I get a twin or an XL twin?

When choosing between a twin and an extra-long twin, Gil notes that twin-sized beds are most comfortable for people who are under 5’10”. If you and your child’s other parent are both tall, you might want an extra-long twin, so they can continue to use it into their teen years. (If your bunks will be used by taller adults, an extra-long twin or even full-sized bunk bed is the way to go.)

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