Matt Cottingham, district manager for Sleep Number, puts reporter Maureen Feighan through an assessment. He starts with the firmest setting, 100, and then adjusts it to determine what's best. A computer module on the ceiling displays a full color infographic showing my pressure points. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
The last time I bought a new mattress, George W. Bush had just been elected president, Pluto was still a planet and the only thing smart about my cellphone was that I could make a phone call from it.
I remember the experience clearly: My future husband and I went to one store near Lakeside Mall. We laid on five beds for a minute or two at most. I picked the most comfortable one (an innerspring with a pillow-top) and bought it. That was that.
Fast forward a decade and a half and the world of mattresses has changed dramatically — and so has the buying experience. Take one foot inside a stand-alone mattress store and at many places, you don’t just lie on a mattress anymore. You’re “fitted” for the right bed.
“There is so much technology that has changed,” says Chris Schollenberger, director of Art Van PureSleep, which has 86 locations in the Midwest both inside its furniture stores and as freestanding stores.
Options abound these days, and the choices can be dizzying. What’s the right choice for you? And what’s in your budget?
The best thing you can do is your homework. And some say it requires more than just lying on a mattress to see if it’s comfortable.
“This is the most important piece of furniture in the entire home,” says Matt Cottingham, district manager for Sleep Number, which uses DualAir technology in its mattresses to let consumers adjust the mattress’s support level. “It’s the one you use the most. You use it more than your couch, your TV. You use it more than anything.”
Schollenberger says one reason lying on a mattress in a store isn’t the best approach to picking a new mattress is because our muscles are engaged when we’re awake.
“When you go into REM sleep, your muscles are turned off,” he says, meaning your muscles are floppier and require more support.
Sleep research has evolved dramatically in the last two decades. Studies now show there are links between sleep and cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes and a poor attention span.
“We’re finally realizing now the connection between your health and sleep,” Schollenberger says.
That’s why a trip to an Art Van PureSleep store now starts with a diagnostic test. Developed based on research by doctors from the Research Triangle in North Carolina, the test puts customers through a series of measurements and calculations to determine their support needs. Customers are asked to lie on a bed connected to a computer that does 18 statistical measurements, including measuring the area from the head and shoulders, hips, lumbar curve and back.
“The machine has the ability to measure your support needs — which is objective,” says Schollenberger, who says the technology is the only one of its kind in North America and uses more than 1,000 different calculations. “... Comfort is really a preference. It’s subjective.”
Based on the diagnostic results (I was in the moderate category) and answers to various questions, customers are referred to specific mattresses that meet those support needs to then pick what’s most comfortable.
There are at least four common types of mattresses these days: memory foam (such as Tempur-Pedic), adjustable air (such as Sleep Number), gel and the traditional innerspring mattresses.
Memory foam mattresses are made primarily of polyurethane with some other ingredients, according to Consumer Reports. They are are designed to mold to your body and relieve pressure points. One of the most well-known (and expensive) brands, Tempur-Pedic says its material absorbs body weight and dramatically minimizes motion.
“Pressure points trigger discomfort, so your body shifts position — otherwise known as ‘tossing and turning.’ Without the tossing and turning, you sleep undisturbed for a calmer, more restful night,” says Tempur-Pedic on its website.
At a Sleep Number store — there are 13 in Metro Detroit — customers also are put through an assessment to determine their sleep number.
During a recent screening, Cottingham asked me to a lie on a bed with a large screen on the ceiling above, which displayed my pressure points in a full-color infographic. As he adjusted the sleep number dial from 100 — the firmest level of support — to 20, internal air chambers made it feel like the bed was molding around me.
“You’re going to notice it the most at the hips because that’s where everybody pushes down the most. You’ve got the most bone density. We carry most of our weight there,” Cottingham says.
Cottingham says it’s all about individual fit and customizing that fit. Air chambers inside Sleep Number beds let customers adjust the bed as much or as little as they’d like, and partners can adjust their setting individually. My Sleep Number setting was a 30; the average is between 25 and 60.
“If you move from one position throughout the night, it’ll contour to you instantly,” he says. “It’s air. There are no springs. So wherever you push down, it’s going to give. And where you’re not pushing down, it’s going to come up.”
And with a Sleep Number bed, each side can be adjusted separately.
“Sleep is the one part of a relationship that you need to be extremely selfish,” he says.
Cottingham says he can’t tell a person what’s comfortable.
“There are no two people that like the exact same feel,” he says. “Everybody has their own idea of what’s comfortable.”
Memory foam and Sleep Number beds aren’t cheap: Tempur-Pedic mattress sets can start at $1,700 at Art Van Pure Sleep, though most are more than $2,000. One of Sleep Number’s most popular beds, the p5, has a regular price of $2,299.98 for a queen set; another model, the i10, is regularly $4,699 for a queen set.
Meanwhile, mattress technology just keeps evolving. Sleep Number’s newest bed, the x12, which will be introduced in Metro Detroit late this spring, uses what it calls SleepIQ technology. Sensors inside the bed measure average breathing, heart rate and movement to track how someone is sleeping. It then scores the sleep each night via the Sleep Number remote, a smart phone, tablet or PC, and shows you how to improve it.
Cottingham says the x12 isn’t a diagnostic tool — meaning it couldn’t diagnose something such as sleep apnea — but “it’s going to give you the ability to know what a better night’s sleep is,” he says.
And remember your old box spring that goes under the mattress? There’s another new trend these days — adjustable bases that allow you to recline your bed and raise your legs. One mattress salesman told me that buying a nice mattress without an adjustable base was like buying a car without a windshield. It was a must.
Pillows are another important part of the sleep equation. Cottingham at Sleep Number, which has 70 different pillow combinations, says a pillow represents 20 percent of your overall alignment.
“You want proper alignment from head to toe,” he says.
The bottom line, experts say, is that there is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to a mattress. Schollenberger says a mattress should be three things: comfortable, offer proper support and offer temperature regulation.
“Too many people pick a mattress based on what feels the best in the store and what’s on sale,” he says.
Picking the right mattress
Getting started: Consider buying a new mattress when you wake up tired or achy or sleep better at hotels; if your mattress is saggy or lumpy; or your mattress is at least 5-7 years old.
Consider innerspring first: It’s the most common choice and often the least expensive.
Understand the name game: Manufacturers usually modify innerspring mattresses for different sellers, changing the color, padding, quilting, pattern.
Choose the right firmness: Don’t rely on names. One company’s ultraplush might be another’s supersoft.
Look for comfort guarantees: Some retailers give you two weeks to several months to return or exchange a mattress or box spring you don’t like.
Wait for a sale: Specialty mattresses have a set price, but you can save at least 50 percent off the list price for an innerspring. And don’t feel pressured to buy right away. Mattress sales happen frequently.
Don’t count on warranties: They cover defects in materials and workmanship, not comfort or normal wear. Some mattress warranties don’t cover full replacement value.
Mattress buying guide
There are several kinds of mattresses these days. Below are the advantages and disadvantages for some, according to ConsumerReports.org.
Pros: Changing positions tends to be easy.
Cons: Some models transmit bouncing from one sleep partner to the other.
Common brands: Sealy, Serta, Simmons, Spring Air
Pros: Softens when you lie on it and soon molds to your body; it springs back to original shape when you get up.
Cons: Some owners say it sleeps hot and some mattresses require effort to turn in your sleep.
Common Brand: Tempur-Pedic
Pros: Can be customized to a different firmness for each sleep partner.
Cons: Expensive. Some say the pump can be annoying in the middle of the night if someone adjusts the bed.
Common Brand: Sleep Number