NEWS

Mattress minutiae: How to build a blissful bed

Jessica Young

You’ve befriended a herd of sheep, and the gang reconvenes every night.

And come morning, you reach for a bottle of Advil and head over to Starbucks for your compulsory Caramel Macchiato. No matter how early you hit the sack, something’s preventing you from properly slumbering and waking up feeling well-rested.

But, chances are, you don’t have to resign yourself to tossing and turning in the midnight hour or settle for early morning aches and pains. You may have to look no further than a new mattress for a solution to your compromised zzz’s.

“You’re spending a third of your life on this, so it’s a hugely important purchase,” said Dominic Jambrone, store manager of Back to Bed. “It pays to make sure you’re getting the perfect fit when you’re out shopping.”

To help you navigate the sea of choices and decode the product jargon, sleep and mattress authorities offer up a consumer guide.

Panel of experts:

- Gene Chessen, store manager of the Geneva-Batavia, Ill., American Mattress

- Dr. Manuel Duarte, senior staff clinician at National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Ill.

- Colleen Drolshagen, certified wound ostomy continence nurse at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Ill.

- Dominic Jambrone, store manager of Back to Bed in La Grange, Ill.

- Bryan Umiker, national mattress buyer for Bloomingdale’s

Cheat sheet

Support: The goal here is to keep the spine in proper alignment, according to Duarte. This refers to the reinforcement beneath your body.

“The foundation should especially support the heaviest parts of your body like the shoulders, hips and lower back,” Drolshagen said.

Don’t confuse this with comfort level (see below).

1. Innerspring system: The spring unit — made up of tempered steel coils and wire — inside the mattress.

2. Coil count: The number of innerspring coils in a mattress. The higher the number, the more support.

3. Coil gauge: The thickness of the wire. The lower the number, the thicker the wire, which again translates into more support.

The coil count and gauge numerals combine to offer varying degrees of support. A 2,000 spring count isn’t necessarily better than a 300 count because you have to take into account the gauge, Umiker said.

“A lot of people get hung up on the numbers, but ... you have to find the one that feels right to you,” he added.

Comfort level: This is all about the feel of the surface. So we’re talking the top 2 or 3 inches of the mattress, where upholstery provides padding and insulation.

“Coils do not vary the firmness or softness of the bed,” Chessen said. “It’s the material layered on top.”

The specifications of the mattress will classify the model for you on a spectrum. But Umiker warned against relying too heavily on the store’s scale number.

“These comfort designations are really only helpful when you’re comparing beds by the same manufacturer,” he said. “Vendors aren’t required to adhere to any standards, so one company’s firm mattress could potentially be equated with another’s cushion firm. You have to go by feel, so the labels should only help you narrow down a little.”

Cushioning continuum*: How close your body is to the spring unit.

1. Ultra firm: Very sturdy sleeping surface with slim layers of cushioning. Preferred by stomach sleepers.

2. Firm: Almost flat surface with little or compressed padding. Preferred by back sleepers.

3. Cushion firm: Soft surface layers but resilient with a bit of cushion to fall into a medium category. Preferred by stomach and back sleepers.

4. Plush: Cozy surface feel that causes more of a floating sensation. Preferred by back and side sleepers.

5. Pillow top: Upholstery layers are formed in a separate section, and the pad serves as an overlay.

6. Ultra plush: Envelopes the body with soft, cushiony layers. Preferred by side sleepers.

*Sources: Macy’s Mattress Buying Guide from the Oak Brook store and BetterSleep.org.

Visco Memory Foam: This synthetic material was invented by NASA in the early 1980s to use in astronaut seats, Chessen said. It takes three to four minutes to contour to your body as it softens, molds to and cradles your body temperature and weight.

Latex Foam: This natural substance doesn’t retain heat like Visco models, responding differently by adjusting and conforming to your body instantly, according to Chessen.

“Latex is more of a breathable material,” Jambrone said. “And you can look for mattresses that have been treated with the Talalay method, which means it has been washed five times and doesn’t retain any of its allergic properties anymore.”

These options are antimicrobial and resistant to dust mites, mold and mildew, he added. The material is great for relieving pressure points and increasing softness.

Edge support: A reinforced perimeter that helps to create a more consistent surface. According to Jambrone, an edge card or thicker coils in this area helps the bed withstand your weight when you sit to get dressed or put on shoes. And it also increases the sprawling space, allowing you to feel more comfortable past the usual 6-inches-from-the-edge mark where most people settle in.

“You don’t want that rolloff effect at the edge of the mattress where it feels like it’s caving or you’re hitting a rail when you get to the end of the bed,” Umiker said. “Having more support around the edge expands the sleepable space you have so it’s not sinking and sloping toward the ground when your head or body hits that zone.”

According to Drolshagen, a healthy sleeper moves and shifts 40 to 60 times a night, so the more you can maximize the area of the bed, the more uninterrupted your sleep.

Mattress protector: Different than a regular cover or pad, this fitted sheet prevents humidity (i.e. body sweat), dead skin cells and dust mites from being retained inside the mattress.

“The average mattress will double its weight in 10 years’ time with no protector,” Chessen said. “We have an FDA-approved one that helps fight allergies. You can take it off and wash it with your sheets every couple months. This advancement has only been around for three or four years.”

According to Jambrone, the protector will extend the life of your bed and significantly improve sanitary conditions.

Box spring and frame: This is the bottom piece of the set that supports the mattress. It’s also known as the foundation. The standard height is about 9 inches, but a low-profile piece can be as low as 4 1/2 to 5 inches, Umiker said. The metal or wooden slats holding up the other pieces serve as the frame. This has to be in good shape so that your mattress doesn’t sag.

 Extras:

Expiration date: You should get a new mattress every 10 years, according to Jambrone.

Factors: Gender, weight and age all play a part in finding the perfect bed.

“When you’re younger, you can sleep on anything. But as you get older, your body gets more critical and you need to be pickier about your mattress,” Chessen said. “Women also have different pressure points, so certain firmnesses are going to feel different for them.”

Drolshagen agreed.

“Pay attention to the hip and shoulder area,” she said. “What’s comfortable is very subjective, so don’t be shy about this. Hopefully, you’re spending eight hours a day on this, so it pays to do your homework.”

Test drive: Do it right.

“The majority of people try out a mattress and they’ve got their coat on and a bag hanging off their arm,” Umiker said. “They’re laying there like they’re in a coffin.

“That’s like test driving a car by sitting in the passenger seat,” he added. “You should take your shoes off, lay down, get comfortable and take the time to really lie down on it and shift positions. Any bed is comfortable for the first minute or two, but the moment of truth comes between the fifth and 10th minute.”

Price: According to Umiker, the average queen mattress set is somewhere in the neighborhood of $800.

“Personally, I wouldn’t think of spending less than $1,000 on a primary-use bed,” he said. “A primary mattress is one in your bedroom versus a secondary, which would be one for the guest room.”

Flipping:

“Today, all of the manufacturers do one-sided mattresses. You don’t flip them. You just rotate,” Chessen said. “This helps maintain your mattress — especially if there’s two of you. Change it four times a year with the seasons to avoid any patch wearing out.”

Hot sellers:

People tend to like higher-end memory foam mattresses like Tempur-Pedia because they cradle the body, according to Jambrone, who uses the type himself. But Simmons’ Beautyrest Black Luxury Collection is “like the Mercedes of mattresses” and is a hot-ticket item, he added.

And Sleep Numbers, which have air pockets and dual settings, allow partners with different sleeping preferences find comfort, Chessen said. But they also allow you to adapt your mattress to what’s most comfortable for you on any given day, he added. So the mattress accommodates fluctuating soreness.

At Bloomingdale’s, handmade Shifmans are the store’s most popular collection, Umiker said. And mattresses from the niche brand E.S. Kluft & Company come in second.

Myth:

“It’s an old wives’ tale that the harder or firmer the bed, the better it is for your body. Rock-hard mattresses are not a must-have,” Chessen said. “If you get the wrong kind, it reinforces poor sleeping posture, and if you have any strained muscles to start with, this will exacerbate the problem.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about how comfortable you feel when you’re ready to get some shut eye.

Chicago Suburban Life