Pressure mapping is not exactly new to the bedding industry. It has been used to test mattresses at least since 2012, when Scott Braddam used it to evaluate mattresses on Beds.org, for example in his review of the Select Comfort Sleep Number Classic Series. By 2013, Kingsdown was using it in matching a customer with the right mattress.
Pressure mapping is the technology of charting where and how much pressure is applied when a person or object (the subject) lies, sits or stands on a surface.
Pressure mapping is done by placing a grid of sensors between the subject and the surface. Points on the grid are sensors of pressure-sensitive material. This usually consists of piezoresistive (piezoelectric) crystals.
This techonology is related to telephones and microphones. The mouthpieces of the first telephones had piezoelectic crystals under a diaphram. As the diaphram vibrated with the sound waves of the person speaking, it pressed on the crystals then released pressure. Under pressure, the crystals created electric currents which alternated in the pattern of the sound waves. These electric signals are transported over the wire to a speaker at the other end.
In pressure mapping, as the subject presses on the suface, the grid shows a pattern of lesser or greater pressure on points of the grid. The signals from the sensors are read by a computer and shown on a screen. The colors and pattern show where the how much pressure is placed on each part of the subject. Different colors mean different pressure, with red as the most, blue as the least, and white as none.
Pressure mapping is used in designing, testing, matching and marketing mattresses and pillows. From woven mats and cloth bags filled with various cushioning materals, mattresses have developed more complexity and sophistication. Innersprings were introduced, modified and improved, cushioned by quilting.
Foams were added for more cushioning, eventually comprising both support and comfort in all-foam mattresses. To foam rubber (latex) and polyurethane foam, memory foam was added. Now microcoils are added to the mix.
More thicknesses of foam were added to innerspring mattresses, creating hybrid mattresses. They were also added to airbeds and waterbeds. All this made planning and measuring the true comfort level of a mattress more complicated. A means was needed to accurately see how this affected a sleeper’s body. Hence, pressure mapping.
Using pressure mapping results for test subjects, a mattress designer can see which materials and configurations work best for different people, according to gender, body type, weight, height, etc.
Zoning is an important factor in many mattress designs. Since certain areas of the body need more support than others, they need things such as more or heavier coils, firmer foams, or extra layers. Pressure mapping helps mattress designers to configure the zones more efficiently, whether there are three, five or seven zones.
Pressure mapping also plays a role in refining the design of adjustable beds.
Design of effective pressure relief becomes vital when it comes to healthcare products, for pressure sores are a serious health concern.
Successful manufacturing and marketing depends on controlling the quality of the product. This requires both inspection and testing, both in process and of finished materials. Mattresses can be tested by roller machines for durability, but pressure mapping can test the actual comfort and support levels of the mattress.
Pressure mapping plays a role in marketing mattresses. One example of this is Kingsdown‘s bedMATCH. Kingsdown says, “Take the guesswork out of mattress shopping.” The bedMATCH booth at a retailer has a mattress equipped for pressure mapping. The customer fills out a profile, then lies down on the mattress for three minutes. Based on the reults of the pressure mapping and the profile, bedMATCH makes recommendations for a mattress. Of course, the recommended mattress is a Kingsdown model.
More manufacturers and retail goups are using pressure mapping to find the best mattresses for their customers. It seems to give them an edge over stores without this technology. That edge would be real if the pressure mapping was independent of any one manufacturer.
This could even be a benefit with mattress-in-a-box marketing. A store could provide pressure mapping for customers trying to choose among various online offerings. The caveat here is the same as for just lying on a bed in a showroom for ten minutes: It is not the same as sleeping on it night-after-night. But the readings may give you a better idea of what works best for you.
Pressure mapping is one means that some smart beds use in monitoring the user’s sleep. The smart bed can then adjust the bed to relieve the pressure. This is coupled with data from other kinds of sensors to improve the whole sleeping experience.
Pressure mapping is also used in designing shoes and foot supports. This actually began with non-electonic methods. The person stood on pressure-sensitive paper or film, and the results were used to design the arch supports. That’s how mine were done 27 years ago.
Now electronic pressure mapping is used, and full-foot support inserts for the patient’s shoes are made. This technology is available through both podiatrists and chiropractors.
Pressure mapping has a vital role in health care. This goes beyond the testing and selection of mattresses. Patients who are unable to shift their positions need someone to move them periodically to prevent constant pressure from causing pressure ulcers, more commonly known as bed sores.
Companies such as XSENSOR Technology Corp., FSA, and Wellsense make and market sensor systems and monitors to detect when and how long pressure has been on the same joints and alert healthcare staff, family members or other caregivers when the patient needs to be moved. Some beds can move patients themselves or stimulate them to move.
Pressure mapping is an example of how modern technology is changing the way we sleep. If it is designed and used right, this could mean more restful sleep for many of us.
Two co-workers wait in line to get their breakfasts at Benny’s Bagel & Coffee Bar before going up to their 11th floor office. Joe says, “You look mighty fresh today, Mike. Must have had a good night’s sleep.”
“I did,” says Mike. “I’ve been sleeping better since we bought that new bed a month ago. Even better now than when we first got it.”
“What kind of bed is it?”
“It’s one of those new smart beds.”
“Smart bed? You’ve got to be kidding! Beds aren’t smart. You can move a few things around on some to make them better, but smart??
“No kidding. This bed is smart. It knows how I sleep. It knows how I am through the day. And it adjusts the bed to make it better.”
“Tell me more. I think I could use one, too.”
What Mike was introducing to Joe is the Smart Bed Revolution. Running concurrently with the Boxed Mattress Movement, it is changing the way beds are made and marketed. While boxed beds make buying a mattress more convenient and less expensive, smart beds promise to give you better, more restorative sleep.
First, what do we mean by “smart bed”? By smart, we mean the bed is able to make adjustments on its own without the user actively changing settings. This is a form of mechanical intelligence. Basically, these are feedback systems. A common example is the thermostat. Set on heat, when the temperature drops below the setting it turns the furnace on. Set on cooling, when the temperature exceeds the setting it turns the air conditioner on. A dual setting thermostat has a set temperature range. Above that range, air conditioning is activated. Below that range, heating is activated.
Some smart bed systems are passive, some are active. Passive systems operate without any input from users. They are preset as made.
One of these systems, phase change materials (PCMs) is used in performance fabrics and in some foams. PCMs use changes in their physical state to keep temperatures within a preset range. Unlike thermostats, you cannot change the setting.
Another preset adjustment system is load transferring. This is done with some sort of see-saw mechanism. Two of these reviewed on Beds.org are winged slats by Thomashilfen and the Lever-Support System used by Strobel Organic Mattresses in their Supple-Pedic mattresses.
More technologically advanced, and the kind of smart bed technology now expanding, is electronic intelligence. This ranges from a largely monitor-and-report function to the bedroom equivalent of modern automotive ECMs (electronic control modules).
The trend toward smart beds actually began with pressure mapping, a means of measuring and recording the amount of pressure put on vulnerable joints by lying on a mattress. This was first used to test the effectiveness of presure relief in mattress cushioning materials, such as latex and memory foam. Later, it was used by a few mattress manufacturers and their retailers to find the best mattress for a customer. Now health care providers can use sensor pads on beds to monitor the pressure on a patient’s body or alert staff when the patient gets out of bed.
Control modules for some smart beds use pressure mapping to adjust air pressure in an air bed, not only in heathcare, but for home bedrooms. More than pressure mapping, these brainy beds also monitor a sleeper’s pulse, blood pressure, temperature, movements and breathing. In a water-air hybrid, the air pressure and temprature are optimized. If the mattress is on a smart adjustable bed, the position is also fine tuned to address issues like snoring, and apnea, and restless leg syndrome.
A popular children’s Christmas song says Santa “knows when you are sleeping, knows when you’re awake.” Some smart bed apps also follow you throughout your day. For instance, Customatic‘s iFit Sleep System uses the personal activity monitor from Icon (the manufacturer of Nordic Track and other fitness devices) to record the user’s body signs during the daily activities. These are analyzed and used to adjust the bed’s settings to optimize your performanc and health.
Smart beds and systems already reviewed on Beds include Supple-Pedic by Strobel, Sleep Number‘s X-12 and Sleep IQ for Kids, Customatic iFit Sleep System, Simmons Beautyrest Smart Motion Adjustable Base, Serta Motion Custom II, and the Kingsdown Sleep Smart Bed.
Some of the new smart beds and systems are the RestPerformance ReST “Smart Beds” by PatienTech (using BodiTrak Pressure Mapping), new options for the World Luxury Collection by King Koil, Smart Beds Technology by BAM Labs (used by Sleep Number), the Eight Bed using the Luna smart bed cover, Smartress, SONUM Smart Bed Linen, and the Beddit Sleep Tracker. Some of these, not being actual mattresses, may be discussed while covering beds using them.
How smart is your bed? Is it smarter than you think? Do you really want to know?
A popular song recorded in 1954¹ begins with, “Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream.” An old nursery rhyme says, “The Sandman’s coming in his train of cars / With moonbeam windows and with wheels of stars.”
Both of these verses are about the mythical Sandman of folklore in Northern Europe. The imaginary Sandman caused people to sleep, then sprinkled magical sand on them to bring good dreams. The “sand” in the stories refers to grainy particles most people have in and around their eyes after sleeping. It does feel like sand.
Real sand, the kind we find in the ground and on the beach, is made of silica, one of the more common compounds on Earth. Chemically, it is silicon dioxide, SiO2, one atom of silicon and two of oxygen. One tenth of the earth’s crust is silica. It is very stable, and can appear and be used in several forms: sand, quartz, gemstones, glass and crystal, gels, silicone, and integrated circuits. Small impurities can change its properties in many useful ways.
Silica is not toxic. It can be swallowed harmlessly. But silica dust can be hazardous to breathe, since it is an irritant and can clog air passages, and getting this dust (real sand) in our eyes can be harmful by scratching the cornea.
If the sand in our eyes is not real sand, then what does silica have to do with sleep?
The role of silica in sleep may begin even before we sleep on our mattresses. Moisture control is very important to sleep. Not only for comfort, but for freshness. Dampness can corrode metal springs. It can degrade foams. It can promote the growth of mold, bacteria and other undesirable micro-organisms. When a mattress is sealed in plastic, existing moisture is trapped inside.
One way to control moisture is with dessicants. Dessicants absorb and keep moisture from the air. They are often put into packaging with various items for this purpose. That’s what’s in the packets in boxs or bags that are delivered or brought home from the store. What is in the packets is usually silica gel.
According to Wikipedia, “Silica gel is a granular, vitreous, porous form of silicon dioxide made synthetically from sodium silicate.”² Let’s unpack that. “Granular” means that is in the form of grains or beads. “Vitreous” means glassy. We all know what “porous” means.
Beads of silica gel have very small holes, nano-pores, all the way through. They attract and hold molecules of water. This means that there is a limit to how much moisture the beads can remove. To use silica dessicants for a long period of time, they have to be periodically recharged with high temperatures to drive out the water. This limits their role with a mattress to storage and delivery. However, room dessicants which can be recharged or refilled are often used to contol moisture in a bedroom for more comfortable and healthful sleep.
Federal flammability standards set by the Consumer Products Safety Commission require mattress manufacturers to protect mattresses from flashover, engulfing the room in flame. Since the chemicals used to make foam flame-proof are banned because they are toxic, the best way is to wrap foams in something to protect them, a fire sock. Manufacturers have tried to find affordable non-toxic or least toxic means of doing this.
One way is to infuse rayon with silica. Rayon is reconstituted cellulose extracted from wood. Rayon is normally flammable. But when silica is included in the extruded rayon fibers, it changes the burn properties. If fabric made of silica rayon (one brand name is Visil) burns, it forms a protective shield, cutting off oxygen from the foam.
Some persons fear that silica on the rayon will escape as powder and be breathed in by the sleepers. Since the silica is actually part of the rayon, there is little chance of that, unless the thread is seriously worn down, which is not likely since it is beneath the quilting.
A growing involvement of silica in our sleep is in electronics. If we have a waterbed, airbed, or adjustable bed, we have remote controls. These control the temperature in the waterbed, the pressure in the air bed, and positions in the adjustable bed.
Whether wireless or wired, remotes have intergrated circuits. An intergrated circuit is a whole electronic circuit on a thin slice of silicon with a layer of silica. Adding other ingredients in prescribed places in the silica defines the circuit.
This has now become more than controlling the temperature, pressure and position of our bed. Many adjustable beds have a massage function. Remotes can also control night lights, room lights, fans, audio systems, window blinds, you name it.
We even have smart beds. Beginning with remembering our favorite settings, silica chips monitor our temperature, heart beat, blood pressure and breathing. Coördinating this data with settings of the bed, they calculate how we sleep best and adjust the bed accordingly. Some beds can even connect with monitoring devices we take with us to see how our sleep affects daily activities. It seems like the Sandman does not sleep when we are awake!
Many current adjustable bed models have AC and USB outlets for our electric and eletronic devices. And they can connect by Bluetooth to our smart phones, tablets and laptops.
About the sand in our eyes. If it is not silica, then what is it? It is dried beads of fluids from our eyes. Our eyelids constantly squeegee our eyeballs when we’re awake to keep them moist and clear. But when we are asleep, the fluids just sit there. Water in the fluids evaporates leaving behind beads of dissolved substances.
¹”Mr. Sandman”, written by Pat Ballard, recorded by the Chordettes, © 1954.
²Wikipedia, “Silica Gel”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silica_gel, accessed 6/15/2016.
The public, not only in America, but in Europe and the rest of the world, has become keenly aware of the use of chemicals in commonly used items. One major industrial firm1 used the slogan, “Better Living Through Chemistry” until dropping it in response to public concerns over the effects of many chemical compounds on health and the environment.
It has become fashionable to deride or hold in suspicion anything labeled “chemical” or “synthetic.” But this is the extreme position, and it ignores some general facts. For instance, strictly speaking, every substance is a chemical, has a chemical composition, and is tagged with a chemical name. Vitamin C is ascorbic acid. Table salt is sodium chloride. And water is dihydrogen monoxide. If that is not enough, every organism, plant or animal, has a taxonomic designation (Latin scientific name), and ingredient lists using these terms can be intimidating.
The real question is, “Which chemicals are safe?” When we ask that question, it usually means man-made, engineered chemicals. It can also mean a few natural elements a used in specific ways.
Chemicals found in bedding (mattresses, beds and foundations, pillows, sheets and blankets) can be constituent or additive. Constituent chemicals are part of the bedding itself, what it is made of. In a mattress, these make up cushioning and support components, insulation and linings, and covers. Additive chemicals are applied or infused into the mattress materials/components for specific purposes, such as temperature control, coloring, fragrance, microbe inhibition, and flame retardation.
Memory foam was developed from polyurethane. These are polymers, chains of oily molecules called polyols. Originally, the polyols were all derived from petroleum. Processing makes the polyols link together into long chains, and chemicals are added to make it expand into foam. Other chemicals are added to make polyurethane into memory foam.
Two concerns are the processing of the foams and out-gassing. Processing of foams used to release several emissions into the environment, but public and regulatory pressure has minimized that. Many people simply object to the use of fossil fuels, citing the environmental impact of drilling for, transporting, and refining crude oil.
The other concern is the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the foam in the bedroom. Some of these may have been generally harmful; some have unpleasant odors.
More mattress foams use plant oils for polyols. However, this was only a small percent of the composition. Research has focused on reducing the amount of petroleum polyols in polyurethane and memory foam, but I am unable to reliably verify claims by some mattress manufacturers that most or all of their foam is plant-based.
The greatest and most serious concerns are over the toxicity of additive chemicals, especially those used to meet federal flammability standards, especially 16 CFR Parts 1632 and 1633 of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) codes.
Before 2009, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) were often used in mattress foams to prevent flashover (exploding in flame). That has been discontinued, and foams are protected by being wrapped in fabric fire socks designed to be flame barriers. One is wool, natural but also expensive.
For less expensive solutions, many companies use boric acid powder in the fabric (usually cotton). That is toxic enough, but to meet the higher open-flame standard antimony is added. The controversy is about how toxic antimony and boric acid are, and how much of these escapes from the fire sock to the surface of the mattress.
A less toxic or non-toxic alternative is rayon infused with silica. The silica causes the rayon to soften and ball up when exposed to flame, stopping the spread of the fire. Some persons are concerned that silica is an irritant, that it might escape and cause respiratory problems. Others are concerned about the environmental impact of manufacturing rayon from wood fibers.
A word of caution is offered by one source on Fox News Health:
“Meets technical bulletin 117,” sounds like a seal of approval, but this label, which can be found on organic mattresses too, actually means the product contains harmful fire retardant chemicals.
The International Sleep Products Association (ISPA), a manufacturers group, is working to keep bedding companies from being subjected to the expense of testing of chemicals they don’t use. But they are also trying to get Congress to pass reform of current chemical regulations so that they are not subject to an uneven patchwork of regulations.
However, one mattress manufacturer openly addresses the issue of the flammability standard on its website. Strobel Technologies answers the ISPA paper, Myths and Facts, questioning whether there are really any natural solutions to meeting federal standards. In essence, they put the blame on the standards themselves:
Common sense should tell us there are no natural or chemical free systems that will pass the two-foot wide blowtorch open flame test for 70 seconds.
Besides fire retardants, there are concerns about chemical applications for other purposes, such as sizing for cover fabrics, making performance fabrics, etc. While these may not noticeably bother most of us, there are many chemically sensitive individuals. If you are one of these, you may be able to get a written notice from a physician allowing you to purchase mattresses with no chemical fire retardants whatsoever.
We are still learning about the effects of modern chemicals. The more we learn, the better we can weigh risks against benefits for better living.
“Mattress industry works to fend off unnecessary chemical regulations”
“Naturepedic Founder Speaks at “Safer Chemicals” Symposium” (November 13, 2013)
“Toxic Chemicals in Furniture Linked to Cancer and Other Health Risks” (November 28, 2012)
“GOTS Wins Civil Action against Mattress Companies” (May 3, 2016)
The Mattress & Sleep Company
“The Truth About Chemicals”
Fox News Health
“6 tips to buying a safe crib mattress” By Julie Revelant (Published November 08, 2015)
For a decade, the momentum of mattress-in-a-box e-commerce has been building. From only a very few companies selling mattresses online which are compressed, rolled up into boxes, and shipped via UPS or FedEx, it has expanded to several new firms specializing in this product line. Now most major manufacturers and retailers are entering this market segment.
Mattresses are being followed by adjustable beds. Leggett & Platt had already been delivering adjustable beds to customers, but these were bulky and had to arrive at homes in furniture trucks. The lightweight model, most easily shipped, is the ShipShape.
In 2012, Boyd Specialty Sleep patented a manually adjustable up bed. This bed could by shipped in boxes small enough for UPS (it does take more than one box). One advantage of shipping a manual adjustable is that there is no heavy motor.
At the 2016 High Point Market Spring show, Classic Brands introduced its new adjustable bed. This powered base was designed to be sold with Classic‘s e-commerce boxable mattresses. Although the Classic adjustable bed can be shipped by UPS and FedEx then assembled on site, it is an upper-end model. It can be head-up or fully adjustable, and it has dual massage, zero gravity, and other premium features.
My expectation is that other manufacturers will follow suit. Adjustable beds will be modularly engineered for smaller shipping packages. The modules will be designed for accurate assembly and set-up at the other end. These will then be the new standard for adjustable beds sold online.
What is Amazon best known for? Online shopping. Amazon began with selling books over the Internet and delivering them through the Post Office, UPS and FedEx. Now they sell almost anything, including beds, mattresses, pillows and sheets. More than just an online store, now Amazon is a marketplace, with manufacturers and distributors posting their products on Amazon.
Likewise, eBay has expanded from an Internet auction site to a marketplace. In addition, eBay started PayPal, which has become the default pay-through platform for many online sellers.
There are a few other online marketplaces. Most major retailers with stores on the ground also have selling locations on the cloud (online). Manufacturers have jumped in also, including major bedding brands. Tempur-Pedic, Serta, Sealy and Simmons not only sell mattresses through retailers; they make direct sales too.
Most consumers have become used to shopping online. This affects the way they shop for big-ticket items in stores. When it comes to bedding, they search the web for mattresses, then search for reviews on the ones that interest them. When the consumers visit the store, they know what they are looking for. They also know what questions to ask.
The major difference between shopping in a store and shopping online is that in a store the customer can see, feel, and try out mattresses. The online-only companies offset this with generous trial periods and return policies. However, surveys show that there is little difference in customer satisfaction between shopping online or in a store.
Since 2006, BedInABox has been selling their mattresses only online. A key to their marketing is the innovation of compressing memory foam mattresses and latex mattresses to fit into a box that can be shipped by UPS or FedEx. This means that their mattresses cut out the costs associated with in-store sales by direct delivery to the buyer. Shipping costs are also reduced by putting the mattress into a smaller box.
Magniflex, an Italian company, has been compressing its mattresses, delivering made-in-Italy beds to US and Canadian customers. Several U.S. companies, such as Boyd Specialty Sleep, have also followed suit.
Since 2013, a number of startup companies have come on the scene with one, two or three models sold only online and delivered compressed, rolled and boxed. With few exceptions, these are specialty sleep mattresses. Some, such as Leesa, Casper Sleep and Yogabed, have only one firmness level. But some offer two or three firmness choices.
One company, Saatva, has innerspring mattresses with a coil-on-coil design. These are not compressible, but the delivery is reasonable. They sell online only, bypassing the retailers. Saatva also has a compressed mattress-in-a-box, Loom & Leaf, which is a foam mattress.
It is evident that shopping for a mattress online is here to stay. Several of the startups (considered upstarts by the established firms) boasted that they were changing the way mattresses are sold. It appears that they are right. Major mattress manufacturers are beginning to follow the example of the newcomers with lines sold only online.
For the last few years there has been a proliferation of start-up companies selling mattresses only online and shipping them directly to the customer in a cardboard box. Just a few of the newcomers are Yogabed, Casper Sleep, Tuft & Needle, Lull and Leesa. The mattress-in-a-box trend actually started in 2006 with BedInABox, which began selling mattresses online, compressing and rolling them, and shipping them in boxes. Before this, a “bed-in-a-box” was a set of coordinating comforter, shams, sheets and pillowcases in a box or vinyl bag sold in a department store.
The upstarts did not offer a menu of several models. Most of them have only one model in one firmness, a few offer a choice from two comfort levels.
At first, this was seen as a fad. But then the fad became a trend, promising to became an established way of marketing mattresses. The established manufacturers and retailers in bedding, the giants, first winked, then chuckled, then grimaced. The newcomers were proving to be a challenge.
Several things which make the mattress newcomers’ products more attractive are price, convenience, and terms.
Direct marketing cuts out the middleman with costs such as overhead and inventory to dictate markups. The prices of the new products are only a fraction of the big-name items. For example, since most of the mattress-in-a-box offerings are memory foam mattresses, the makers compare them to equivalent Tempur-Pedic models. These comparisons dramatically show the price differences.
The new generation, and many in the previous two, have become accustomed to ordering online. With the success and influence Amazon and eBay, most major retailers and some manufacturers sell their products not only in stores and through dealers, but sell or list them online. This has gone very well for items not too big, but larger products such as mattresses were too bulky to ship by common delivery services such as UPS, FedEx and the Post Office.
Along with online ordering and shipping, the start-up mattress firms are offering generous return policies. This only makes sense, since customers cannot try the beds in the showroom before buying them.
The title of this article is a reference to the sequel of Star Wars. But the major manufacturers could not strike directly at the swarm of start-ups. Therefore, they have been doing the next best thing. As the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
Now it is the established players in the bedding market challenging the upstarts. Some, like Boyd Specialty Sleep, joined sooner. Some, like Therapedic, were already selling online. Now a real giant, Sealy, has stepped in.
In March 2016, Sealy introduced the Cocoon by Sealy. This is a mattress specifically designed for online sales and boxed shipping. The line even has its own website. It took more than a year for Sealy to design and test the new product. Rather than a “one firmness fits all” approach, the Cocoon has a choice of Firmer or Softer.
Other established firms signing onto the boxed mattress trend are Dorel Home Products with its Signature Sleep brand, Symbol Mattress (Gen-U-Ine Collection), Diamond Mattress (Highlight, Thrive and Avani), South Bay International (Blissful Nights), and Therapedic (EcoGel Flex).
The retailers are getting a piece of the action, too. Now a retailer of a company such as Sealy can have a floor model of the online mattress and process the order for the customer. The customers can see the mattress themselves before buying, but there is no inventory cost, and the bed can be delivered directly to their homes. The trend includes not only mattresses, but foundations.
It remains to be seen how this eventually plays out, but I believe that selling boxed beds online is here to stay, and most mattress manufacturers will be involved. The real question is whether the start-ups can continue to challenge the big boys, or will they become niche marketers.
I remember when as a child I played with other children on a tilting board, variously called a “see-saw” or “teeter-totter.” Pushing with our feet, we would alternately go up and down. Easy enough to do when we were both close to the same weight.
This was where we learned the principle of the balance scale. When one end goes down, the other goes up. and it’s the heavier end that goes down. That’s the way it was on the see-saw. With an average first grader and a fifth grader, the younger, lighter child sat at the tip of his or her end, and the older one sat closer to the middle. Or, to make it fun, two or more younger children would sit on one end to balance an older child on the other. The message was clear: the larger weight pushed up the lighter weight.
The same principle is at work in some mattresses. The pressure-relief of free-flow waterbeds depends on differential displacement. Heavier and larger parts of the body displace more water than lighter and smaller parts. This means that the entire surface of the body is supported equally. Literally, by displacing the water, larger parts support smaller ones.
If that same sleeper lies down on a board or the floor, the larger body parts would bear all the weight. Pressure sores could develop, with slow bruises on hips, shoulders and knees. Without support, the lower back would sag. The sleeper is likely to wake with back pain and sore joints.
Simple cushioning helps with pressure sores by easing the impact on large joints. But cushioning alone does not support the lumbar, nor keep the head and neck in line with the spine. Innersprings were an improvement over plain padding. Pocket coils are even better than the original Bonnell springs. But the principle here was how far down the different coils were pushed.
That changed with the introduction of the waterbed. The differential displacement of fluid support is described above. But that is not the only see-saw support found in beds today. Besides waterbeds, three current mattress features illustrate this idea at work: Thomashilfen‘s winged slats, Lever Support by Strobel Organic Mattresses, and Air–Assist Option, also by Strobel.
Thomashilfen, a German manufacturer of healthcare and mobility products, conceived the concept of self-adjusting balanced support using winged slats. The “slats” are really rods crossing the bottom of the mattress. Along these rods are paired wings. When the wings on one side of a rod are pressed down by a large body part, the wings on the other side press up. This equalizes pressure on both sides of the rod. One claimed advantage of this is that it will automatically adjust the support when the occupant moves. And it automatically conforms to the user’s size.
The key feature of Strobel‘s Supple-Pedic mattress line is the Lever Support System. These are wire rods in the mattress between the comfort layer and the support layer. They are longer than Thomashilfen‘s wings, and there are more of them. Lined-up head-to-toe, they have the teeter-totter effect, as seen in the illustration. when the hips and shoulders push down, the other ends of the levers push up on the neck, back and thighs. Thus the larger parts support the smaller ones.
Strobel‘s Air–Assist Option was borrowed from both waterbeds and air beds. A less than hard-filled air bladder is placed under the Lever Support System. A demonstration unit pictured online shows how when the air is pushed down in one or more places, the air pushes up elsewhere. The same effect can be felt on a not quite fully inflated air mattress.
A certain degree of this kind of support may also be found in gel support.
At least two mattress manufacturers have found means other than waterbeds of using the see-saw principle of fluid support. It remains to be seen what other manufacturers will devise to take advantage of this kind of support.
So often we hear about our need to get enough sleep and to sleep restfully. It is important that we are not sleep deprived. It is a matter of health and safety. It does affect the quality of our work.
A lot of stress is also put on the type of beds and pillows we use. Lack of proper support and cushioning leads to problems with backs, necks and other joints. It can cause breathing difficulties and make them worse.
Other items also factor in, such as nutrition, daily habits, lack of exercise, etc. These can interfere with our ability to relax and sleep. Not all are as obvious as caffeine an hour before bedtime, but they do influence how we sleep.
One factor not previously covered on this blog I have heard about anectodally. Articles I read and pages in books about the colonial era and the early days of our nation revealed the creativity of the early settlers and following generations up to the War of 1812.
What caught my attention was the habit of rising in the middle of the night, staying up for one to three hours, then going back to sleep. They did not lie in bed the whole time. It was not unusual for them to light a candle and write down thoughts which had percolated through their minds while they were sleeping. Some also tinkered with things, fixing or inventing as the case may be. Authors attributed to this a great deal of their genius and accomplishments.
Lately I have been reading about the benefit of pre-industrial sleep patterns. This ties in with sleep research. Growing up, it was common for people in our “developed” country to laugh at the “siesta culture” of lands farther south. The only rationale we could see for the traditional mid-day nap was the heat. Now we see another side to this.
During the past two decades or more, not only health professionals, but industrial engineers and management efficiency consultants have come to look at this aspect of sleep and how it affects our effectiveness in the workplace. Some of the most prolific inventors of the past 150 years, including Thomas Edison, have taken mid-day naps to recharge.
Three things have taken us away from the double sleep time which had been common hundreds of years ago. One is industrialisation and round-the-clock production. A second is the availability and affordability of artificial lighting, first kerosene and gas, then electric. And in our time, the proliferation of entertainment, information and electronic communication has kept us awake watching, listening, playing and keeping in touch.
We may not be able to have a natural dual sleep cycle with waking activity between the sleep times as our great, great, great great grandparents had. We can try to adjust our schedules to allow time to sleep and wake naturally. And if we can, it would be beneficial to at least have a time of relaxation some time during the day.
If enough of us are motivated, including the shakers and movers, we may be able to enable our people to rest naturally, even if it means taking a siesta.
For many of us, the box spring is a Ho-Hum item. We buy a mattress, and a box spring is included. When the new mattress is delivered and set up, the box spring is placed on the rolling steel frame, which is adjusted for fit. Then the new mattress is placed on the new box spring. We think we know what a box spring is, so we just take it for granted.
The truth is, that plain old box spring under our bed might not be as old a design as we think. It may be something new, and if we did not pay special attention to it, that may not be realized. But before we go on to what is new in box springs, lets go back to why we have them in the first place.
We now have several kinds of foundations for beds, many owing their origin to the box spring, even if that is not what they technically are. Why a box spring? It was first put under an innerspring mattress to keep it off the floor or ground. The user was free to flip the mattress without bringing up a layer of dirt. Appearing on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time were springs inside the wood-framed foundation. Coils heavier-gauged than those in the mattress were nailed or stapled to a wood frame with cross slats. The coils were wired together and the top edge bound with a perimeter rod. This was the standard design.
With the introduction of foam mattresses, box springs were unsuitable. Most manufacturers of memory foam and latex (foam rubber) mattresses began providing foundations with solid or slatted wood tops to provide consistent support for the foam support cores of these specialty sleep beds. Slatted foundations provide underside ventilation for cooling and freshness. But the foundations continued to be called box springs out of conventional use.
Luxury mattress makers began making their own 8-way hand-tied box springs for better support, but these were too pricey for the general public. Then makers of components for innerspring mattresses and box springs developed new designs for the new mattresses. One key feature of these newer designs is zero-deflection or minimal deflection. Deflection is the amount the surface of the box spring depresses under weight. Reducing deflection, but still having resilience was a key to the box spring acting as a shock absorber withour overflexing the mattress.
The Semi-Flex® by Bedding Components (a subsidiary of Leggett & Platt) and the PowerStack by HSM Solutions are similar in concept, though differing in actual design. Heavy-gauge wire forms flat-bottom “V”s and flat-top “A”s for firmer support with needed give. These and the perimeter and cross wires are welded together to form a one-piece spring for a zero-deflection box spring.
Bedding Components has a few more designs, such as Sigma-Flex® and True-Flex™ modular systems. The uniquely-shaped non-coil springs interlock. Modules are fastened to the frame with the connecting components. These have the advantage of more bounce than Semi-Flex and PowerStack. And since they are modular, a box spring of any size can be constructed.
Semi-Flex and PowerStack box springs are suitable for memory foam, gel, and latex mattresses. Sigma-Flex and True-Flex can be used with innerspring mattresses (ask before getting them for a foam mattress, airbed, or softside waterbed).
New coils are also being developed for box springs, but since they have a higher deflection, they are usually reserved for innerspring mattresses.
What’s new in box springs? The springs. Other innovations may be reported on later as they come into view.
If anyone of us knows what progressive rate springs (PRS) are, the first place we expect them is in wheeled vehicles. In fact, that is the intended application of progressive rate coiled springs, and that is what comes up first in an online search. So it surprising to find “progressive rate springs” in the description of a mattress. And a waterbed mattress, no less!
Before we go on, let’s see what a progressive rate spring is. Some of us may already know, but not everyone.
A progressive rate spring is a spring with a rate of compression which increases as the spring is compressed. For instance, a normal spring has a linear rate. If it takes 20 pounds to compress it the first inch, it will take another 20 lbs. to compress it another inch, 20 lbs. more for the next inch, and so forth. So it takes 60 pounds to compress that spring 3 inches.
However, if this is a progressive rate spring, it takes more than 20 lbs. for the second inch, and even more for the third. As can be seen in the HyperCoils illustration above, the coil is wound tighter at one end that at the other. There are several PRS subcategories, but they apply the same principle.
Now how did that spring get into a mattress? The progressive rate springs in a few softside waterbed models by Sterling Sleep Systems are not exactly the same. They have the same property of a progressively increasing rate of compression, but they are not metal, and they are not coils. They are made of foam.
Progressive rate springs made of foam are not the first foam springs reviewed on Beds.org or covered on the Beds Blog, but they may be the oldest. The first ones covered were Octasprings featured by Dormeo. After that were the Dream Cells used by Reverie, the adjustable bed manufacturer, in its own mattresses. But the ones by Sterling were patented in 1990.
The Sterling Sleep Systems progressive rate springs are in intergral blocks. That means they are individual units that are part of one piece with the others. The concept is simple enough. Inverted cones or pyramids descend from a block of foam. The rate of taper and the densities in the foam control the rate of compression. The patent is broad enough that anyone else using the concept needs a license from Sterling.
How are these springs used in a waterbed? The PRS blocks are placed in the bottom of the water bladder with the points down. A row of blocks runs along each edge, and a row crosses the mattress in the middle. The ones along the edge are for edge support, and those in the middle are for lumbar support. Because the rate of compression is progressive, this system automatically adjusts to the body weight of the sleeper.
As we discover other types of foam springs and their applications, we will report on them.
Vinyl – it is literally everywhere. It covers our houses, carries water into the house and sewage out, and bags our food and our garbage. It is hard; it is soft. It can be the box and the wrapping. We can pour out of it, drink from it, eat off it, and eat with it. It can protect our mattress, and in some cases can be the mattress. And it can be the casing on our remote.
When we say “vinyl” we usually mean polyvinyl chloride, also called PVC (there are other, non-chlorinated vinyls). It is a thermoplastic, which means it gets softer when warm or hot. PVC is a polymer, many smaller molecules linked together. In this case, the monomer is vinyl chloride, a molecule of vinyl acetate with one hydrogen atom replaced by chlorine.
One vinyl chloride monomer is linked to another and so on, producing a chain which is very strong and very stable. In this sense it is like polyethylene, nylon, polyester and other synthetic materials.
PVC is naturally rigid, but it can be made softer by adding certain ingredients, such as phthalic acid. This vinyl can be barely bendable or very foldable.
When we buy a new mattress at a store, it is usually wrapped to keep it clean. A memory foam or latex mattress may be compessed and rolled up. In this case the wrapping also keeps it compressed until ready to unroll at its destination. The wrapping for these mattresses may be vinyl, but not necessarily so.
If the mattress is an airbed, the air chambers are more likely to be vulcanized rubber, but some manufacturers (such as Vinyl Products Manufacturing) use PVC. But if it is a waterbed, the bladder is most likely vinyl.
An airbed has a remote control for the air pressure, and a waterbed has one for the heater. If this mattress is on an adjustable bed, there is a remote control for the motors, the massage, and other features. The cases of these remotes are mostly hard plastic. In some cases this is vinyl.
These is some controversy over the use of vinyl, especially with food and in bedding. These issues center around its composition and the manufacturing process.
Polyvinyl choride contains chlorine. Chlorine by itself is toxic. But in compound with sodium it forms salt, which is a safe substance. The concern with PVC is the chance that chlorine could leave the plastic and be carried in the air. This is unlikely except when the vinyl is overheated or burned. One sorce commented that in a house fire, there are other, more hazardous fumes produced.
If this is very flexible vinyl, the phthalic acid is in the form of phthalates, which are toxic. Pthalates are also used in flame resistant treatments. The concern is that phthalates would be off-gassed, polluting the sleeping area. However, as with chlorine, this is not considered very likely by some authorities. In otherwords, well-made vinyl is less hazardous than chemical FR treatments. But a word of caution here: vinyl made in China and a few other countries might not be properly cured, releasing gasses which have unpleasant odors and may be toxic.
As to the manufacturing process, the vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) is volatile, and can be in the air of the manufacturing plant and in the emissions. But since the mid-1970s, procedures have been upgraded to prevent escape of VCM into the workplace atmosphere, and it is removed from plant emissions.
Vinyl is everywhere because it is versatile. It can be used for many things. It is also durable, but this durability raises another concern: disposal. However, it is generally safe. It can keep things clean. It can be shaped in endless ways. Whether we like it or not, for the foreseeable future, vinyl is here to stay.
Many of us have dreamed at one time or another of floating on a cloud. Sometimes using a high-end luxury mattress is described as “sleeping on a cloud” or “sleeping on air.” That is not always just a figure of speech. When we use an airbed, we are literally sleeping on air. As with any mattress concept, the goal is restful, restorative sleep.
The modern airbed had its beginning with bicycles and automobiles. The first pneumatic tires (inflated with air) used innertubes, rubber tubes filled with air to specific pressures to support and cushion a vehicle at the same time. The technology was developed of manufacturing and sealing the tubes, along with pumps and valves for inflating them and gauges to measure the pressure. Also developed were means of repairing innertubes.
Then came inflatable air mattresses for camping. These could be deflated, rolled up and stored or carried to the next camping site. This made camping much more comfortable, especially when the sleeping area was bumpy. One chamber became two or more to make the surface and the support of the air mattress more even.
The camping mattress became the overnight guest mattress, handy when there were more sleepers than available bed space. flocking or fabric was bonded to the rubber or vinyl mattress.
Eventually, air mattresses made their way into the bedroom and onto the bed. Some people used them as toppers on mattresses that were too firm.
Then regular mattresses were made for the bed, at which point they were called airbeds. ComfortAire had a role in making airbeds popular, with remote controls to operated installed pumps for filling the bed and adjusting the pressure.
Select Comfort launched the Sleep Number bed. Select pressure levels were identified by number. For a two-person bed, each side of the bed was inflated separately, so each sleeper had their own Sleep Number. An ad read, “What’s your Sleep Number?”
The airbed has been refined until today it is a sophisticated option for a mattress. Comfort materials and quilting have been added, so now there are airbeds with latex, memory foam, gel–foam and pillow tops. The current trend of smart beds includes airbeds, such as the Sleep Number X12. They are often paired with adjustable beds.
So remember, when you are sleeping on an airbed, you really are Sleeping on Air.
It used to be that the shortest mattress coils were the 4″ Bonnell coils in a sofabed mattress. The reason they were so short, when most coils were 7 or 8 inches high, was so the mattress could be folded to fit inside the sofa under the seat cushions.
With the introduction of pocket coils, the trend was for innerspring coils, at least the wrapped coils, to become taller, up to 9 or 10 inches. This allowed greater conformabiity and more weight-bearing capacity for these independent springs.
Then came much shorter springs, dubbed microcoils. Almost always pocket coils, these were shorter than the sofa bed coils, less than 4″ high. A sheet of these super short coils could be inserted into the comfort section of a mattress, such as between foam layers. Or 3″ to 4″ coils could top a traditional innerspring, such as offset coils, for a coil-on-coil construction.
Among the advantages of using microcoils are the option of placement closer to the sleepers, the increaased resistance to sagging, and the flow of air through the coils.
At some point, manufacturers and retailers began to distinguish the shortest microcoils from the others. Some began to call these minicoils. But in normal usage, micro is smaller than mini. This meant for some having to rename the coils taller than 1½” to 2″ as minicoils.
Now some manufacturers, including Hypnos Beds and Chattam & Wells, are calling the shortest coil springs nanocoils. Nano is definitely smaller than micro, so this makes sense. It would be a great idea if this terminology were universally adopted by those who make these very small coils or use them in products. Then minicoils could describe coils closer to 4″ high.
What the mattress industry needs is standard definitions for small coils. The question is, “Where do we draw the line between micocoils and nanocoils?” Another issue is how tall a microcoil has to be to be called a minicoil. If the term nanocoil is reserved for those less than ¾” high, then we can call springs between 2″ and 4″ minicoils.
For now, NanoCoil is a trademark of Bedding Components, a subsidiary of Leggett & Platt, so use of the term seems to be restricted to their products.
The title of this post sounds like either an ad or a put-down of waterbeds. When waterbeds hit the market in the early 1970s, some people remarked, “You call that a bed?” But waterbeds became wildly popular. In 1987, they constituted about 22% of mattress sales in the United States.
So what are waterbeds? Why did they become popular? Why did they decline? And where are waterbeds today?
Waterbeds are also called water mattresses and flotation beds. The modern waterbed is like a water balloon, but sturdier. It is a bag filled with water and framed to hold its shape. The most common retaining material is polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This bag, or bladder, is filled with fluid, usually water. As the water bears the weight of the sleeper, it fits itself to the body’s shape, like water forms around the hull of a ship. In a sense, the user is floating on the water.
The principal reason waterbeds became popular was pressure relief. This is the reason waterbeds were invented in the first place. When the first modern waterbed went on the market, waterbeds had been in use for close to 150 years.
The first waterbed was the Hydrostatic Bed devised by Dr. Neil Arnott, a Scottish physician. He suspended a canvas sheet over a tub of water. The patient, for whom ordinary filled mattresses were too hard, was placed on the sheet, and the water supported his weight conformably. This relieved pressure on hips, shoulders and any other protruding parts to prevent or relieve bed sores.
Sometime before 1855, waterbeds were being used in hospitals in the United States. They were mentioned in North and South by Elizabeth Gaskel (1855) and A New Beecher Church by Mark Twain (1871).
Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein foresaged several features in modern waterbeds. Why did he do this? His own need for better sleeping support and the time he spent in hospital beds.
It was C. P. Hall in California who finally patented the modern waterbed in 1971. The pressure relief it offered had great appeal. and waterbed manufacturers proliferated. Many innovations made waterbeds even more appealing.
Why did waterbeds decline after gaining over a fifth of the market? The introduction of memory foam mattresses. Memory foam, developed by Tempur Sweden (now Tempur-Pedic) from pressure-relieving viscose foam designed for astronauts, offered pressure relief without the weight of the water and the filling and maintaining of a water mattress. Airbeds also grew in popularity with the Comfortaire mattress.
The waterbed may have declined, but it did not go away. There are several waterbed manufacturers and several outlets for sales. Here is where the Internet may have helped the waterbed industry. With fewer brick-and-mortar retail stores carrying waterbeds, they can be found online.
There are two basic kinds of waterbeds: hardside and softside. In a hardside waterbed, the water mattress is placed in a rigid frame, usually wood, on a solid platform. The frame of a softside waterbed is inside the mattress cover. It is usually made of extremely firm foam. Two advantages of softside water mattresses are they are standard sizes, making buying sheets easier, and they look like a regular mattress.
More graded types of waterbeds are the design of the water chamber. This ranges from the entirely open free-flow water mattress to multiple chambers. In between are various kinds of filling fibers or foams. Some have special structures for lumbar support.
One manufacturer of waterbeds already reviewed on Beds.Org is Boyd Specialty Sleep, marketed under the brand Boyd Flotation. They list 7 softside waterbeds on their Boyd Flotation page (Meridian, Equinox, Cashmere, Pembroke, Dreamscape, Essex, and Brighton), but each of these actually has several models or variations. Boyd also makes hardside waterbeds. These are listed on waterbed retailer websites.
Current models of waterbeds are quite sophisticated. And it does not have to stay in one spot for years. Glideaway now has a rolling bed frame made especially to handle the weight of a waterbed. If you need the pressure relief and can handle the weight, you may consider a waterbed along with pocket coils, airbeds, latex mattresses, and memory foam mattresses. Maybe you could float like a boat.
Boyd Specialty Sleep:
United States Watermattress:
Sterling Sleep Systems:
Strobel Organic Mattresses:
American National Manufacturing:
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