What is the best mattress?

Mattresses are important for sleeping, as we spend ideally one third of our life sleeping.  As a massage therapist, I have had a few questions from my patients regarding what type of mattress I would choose.  The following are my recommendations.  In short, I recommend the company IntelliBED (affiliate).

How Mattresses Work

Mattresses need to provide two things.  The first is spinal alignment.  While sleeping, your spine should be in a neutral position.  The curves of your spine should be maintained and not exacerbated or negated.  Additionally, your spine should not be bending laterally.  Any small misalignment can add up over time causing a bad night’s rest at a minimum, up to debilitating chronic pain or worse.  Secondly, the mattress also needs to provide pressure relief.  Some parts of your body protrude more than others­­­­­­­.  These parts will then be exposed to more pressure.  Pressure on your skin can cut off blood flow to those areas and over time, this can cause pressure sores [1].  Pressure on an area signals your brain to toss and turn in order to relieve the pressure, which can cause a bad night’s sleep.  The ideal mattress strikes the balance between keeping your spine aligned without causing undue pressure.

Mattress Materials

Mattresses are made with basically three different parts.  These parts are tweaked in materials and quantity in order to create the myriad of mattress choices that we have today.  The first part is the core.  The core, sometimes called the support layer, can be comprised of a variety of materials.  Examples include springs, air chambers, foam, and water.   The support layer is what keeps your spine in alignment.  The next layer on top of the core is called the comfort layer.  It provides the cushioning which helps to prevent pressure on your hips.  The top most layer is referred to as the quilt layer.  It is made up of foams or natural fibers.

The materials in the mattresses vary significantly from company to company.  Mattress companies are not required to disclose what is in their mattress because it is classified as a trade secret.  Some foams shipped from overseas are treated with pesticides so that they don’t harbor any living bugs.  Other foams are made with foam that has petroleum-based products that emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Flame retardants have also been added to mattresses in the past few years, which is a great idea.  However, some fumes from flame retardants can be toxic when breathed.  When buying a mattress, ask where the insides came from, and what, if any, chemicals are in it.  Look for no VOCs, and insides that weren’t shipped from overseas.

IntelliBED

Gel columnar technology by IntelliBED

Gel columnar technology by IntelliBED

IntelliBED has a steel spring support layer topped with a gel layer, not to be confused with gel infused foam.  Gel infused foam sleeps a little bit cooler than regular foam, but it is completely different than the Intelli-GEL.  The Intelli-GEL is made up of columns of gel, which collapse when there is too much pressure.  This allows for better weight distribution.

IntelliBED performed a study [2] with a pressure pad on various mattresses and looked at the pressure points.  The red in the pictures shows high areas of pressure, and the dark blue shows areas of no pressure. The Intelli-GEL reduces pressure points significantly.  The combination of the springs and Intelli-GEL allow for the best back support and the best pressure relief.

Pressure mapping done by IntelliBED.com. Red shows areas of high pressure or "pressure points." Areas of high pressure seem to be concentrated in the hips and schoulders

Pressure mapping done by IntelliBED.com. Red shows areas of high pressure or “pressure points.” Areas of high pressure seem to be concentrated in the hips and shoulders.

Pressure mapping done by IntelliBED by IntelliBED.com. Here you can see slight increases in pressure on the shoulders and hips, significantly less the other beds compared in the study.

Pressure mapping done by IntelliBED by IntelliBED.com. Here you can see slight increases in pressure on the shoulders and hips, significantly less the other beds compared in the study.

IntelliBEDs cost quite a bit more than a regular innerspring mattress.  However, they do not degrade near as quickly.  A test was performed to simulate wear and tear on the bed by rolling a six sided roller weighing 230 pounds rolled back and forth over the mattress for 200,000 passes.  Quantitative  (difference in height and weight of bed before and after) and qualitative  (sag of the mattress, loose stitching, integrity of quilted layer) metrics were taken and summed up in a measure of degradation.  The rollator test showed that latex degrades 23%, memory foam degrades 17% foamed gels 14% and polyurethane foam degrades 49%.  IntelliBED degraded 4% [3].  That means that the hefty price tag can be offset by not having to replace your mattress as many times.  IntelliBEDs are warrantied for 10, 20 or 30 years, depending on which mattress is purchased [4].  In that time, you could spend as much in mattress replacements, chiropractor bills, and extra visits to massage therapists.  Also, when you order your IntelliBED (affiliate), mention this blog and receive 10% off.

Some people just don’t like their IntelliBED.  One common complaint is that the top feels more like a water bed and is too soft.  However, this may just be a misunderstanding of the columnar properties of gel and how the IntelliBED is designed.  Other people find the bed transfers motion easily.  To remedy that, I would recommend getting the “Lo-Motion” model of the mattress you want.  Also, if your sheets are too tight on the mattress, the motion transfers more easily.  The loose sheets allow the gel to function properly and reduces motion transfer.  Another complaint is that the sleeper’s body has new pains after sleeping on it.  This could be just the person’s body adjusting to a better posture while sleeping, or that the bed just isn’t for them.  By and large, the reviews indicate that most people love their IntelliBED.  

Tempur-Pedic

A competitor to IntelliBED are the Tempur-Pedic mattresses.  Tempur-Pedic’s selling point is its foam support layer.  This allows for one person to toss and turn at night without transferring that motion to the other. Tempur-Pedic conforms to your body and reduces pressure points [5].  However, because it is made up of foam, it retains body heat and makes for a warmer night’s sleep.  Additionally, because of the foam, it retains moisture.  The moisture combined with the body heat break down the structure of the foam and potentially could harbor bacteria.  Some people have complained of poor support, lumps and bumps, mold growth and increased breathing problems due to Tempur-Pedic beds [6].

Sleep Number

Another popular bed is Sleep Number.  Sleep Number beds have two individually adjustable air chambers on top of a firm support.  The air chambers distribute the body weight to reduce pressure points [7]. Some people have complained of the air chambers not holding the air.  The air chambers have rigid supports between them, making them comparable to an uncomfortable air mattress on top of foam.  Additionally, some complained about mold growth between the foam and the air mattresses. Others complained that the controls that adjust the air firmness aren’t readable after a few years [8].

Foam Mattresses

Foam mattresses are becoming more and more popular.  Some popular foam mattresses are Casper, Bed in a Box, Leesa, and more recently Purple ™.  They are relatively comfortable and can be delivered straight to your door in a much smaller box than you would expect.  You then haul the box to your bedroom, unroll the vacuum packed mattress, take off the plastic sealing material, and watch your bed inflate.  This is a neat trick and reduces shipping charges, but isn’t great for your back in the long run.  

Foam mattresses, much like the Tempurpedic material, retain heat and moisture.  This means the mattress sleeps hot and holds your sweat in the mattress.  The moist, warm environment now created in your mattress could promote mold growth which might lead to respiratory issues.  Additionally, the heat and moisture retention breaks the foam down sooner than roll tests would indicate.   Purple is a better mattress than the competitors in this category because of its Purple top layer (which although it looks similar to Intelli-Gel, the mattresses are actually quite different).  It sleeps cooler than most foam mattresses, and the Purple material protects the foam and increases its longevity, but it is still a foam mattress.

Other Options

I prefer IntelliBED, but if IntelliBED is not the bed for you, other options are available.  When trying out beds, wear loose clothing and shoes that are easy to get on and off.  Go to the store and lay on the bed in your sleeping position, ideally with whomever you share your bed.  Get in your sleeping position and check for pressure points on your hips and shoulders.  Check to see that your body is aligned in a neutral position.  Pay attention to your low back area!  Additionally, check with the salesperson on the material makeup of the bed.  Make sure the bed will not emit any VOCs.

Alternatively, you could make your own hybrid model.  Buy a firm innerspring mattress and then a separate topper – latex, memory foam, feathers, or other materials.  You can replace the topper as it wears out or if your tastes change.  However, be aware that toppers can make the sheets now seem too small, can bunch up or slide off the mattress, and create weird height differentials at the edges of the mattress (the edge of the topper may not be flush with the edge of the mattress).  

All in all, I recommend the IntelliBED for the best mattress.  Make sure you get the “Lo-Motion” version of the mattress you choose.  If you do go for another mattress company, make sure to find the right balance between hip and other pressure points and back support.  If you do decide to buy IntelliBED, be sure to mention Body My Body for 10% off at www.intellibed.com.  Happy sleeping!

Promo alert!  If you buy a qualifying mattress now through September 30, 2016, in addition to 10% off, you will also get a set of bamboo sheets and a wool comforter – a package worth $600!


References

[1]    Healthwise Staff. “Pressure Sores-Topic Overview.” WebMD. WebMD, 15 Feb. 2011. Web. 03 Aug. 2013.

[2]    IntelliBED. Mattress Comfort and Pressure Relief Report. Rep. no. 2. IntelliBED, Web. 26 Aug. 2013.

[3]    “Mattress Durability.” IntelliBEDDC. IntelliBEDDC, Web. 05 Aug. 2013.

[4]    “Warranty.” IntelliBED. IntelliBED, 2013. Web. 06 Aug. 2013.

[5]    “You’ll Sleep Better.” Tempur-Pedic. Tempur Sealy International, 2013. Web. 05 Aug. 2013.

[6]    “Tempur-Pedic.” Consumer Affairs Tempur-Pedic Complaints and Review. Consumers Unified LLC, 2013. Web. 05 Aug. 2013.

[7]    Sleep Number Dual Air Technology. Why Choose Sleep Number. Select Comfort, 2013. Web. 05 Aug. 2013.

[8]    “Select Comfort Corp.” Consumer Affairs Select Comfort Complaints and Reviews. Consumers Unified LLC, 2013. Web. 05 Aug. 2013.

[9]    Mattress Pressure Relief. Dir. IntelliBED. YouTube. YouTube, 20 Feb. 2011. Web. 06 Aug. 2013.


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