Before indoor flushing toilets became commonplace, the main function of a nightstand was to contain a chamber pot. As a result, early nightstands were often small cabinets, sometimes fitted with a drawer, and usually containing an enclosed storage space below covered by one or more doors. Another term sometimes given to such cabinets was commode.
Modern nightstands are usually small bedside tables, often with a drawer. They are often used to support a lamp, alarm clock, reading matter, a glass of water, medication, or other useful items that might be required during the night.