Going to the Mattresses

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Nov. 23 2000 2:30 AM

Going to the Mattresses

How to cut through the marketing gimmicks of Sealy, Serta, and the rest.

(Continued from Page 1)

Larry Thomas of Furniture Today—a man described to me as "the guru of the bedding industry"—told me coil counts are "overrated" and "not a good indicator." Yes, if you pay more, you'll get a theoretically better coil design, but better enough to feel a difference? I sure couldn't. Not even between two mattresses thousands of dollars apart in price. So don't worry about the stats—worry about the comfort.

Advertisement

Pillowtops: Pillowtops are soft layers of foam (or cotton, or wool) sewn to the top of the mattress. They're hugely popular. They add hundreds of dollars to your purchase. They are, in my opinion, a massive rip-off. You can re-create their effect with a few cheap egg-crate foam pads. And why spend all that money on springs just to dampen their effect with a giant pillow? If you really want to sleep on foam or cotton, buy a foam or cotton mattress.

Thickness: A recent fad. Some Stearns and Foster (a brand owned by Sealy) mattresses I saw measured about 2 feet thick (and cost $5,000). It looked like they sewed a futon on top of an innerspring. Experts I talked to say thickness is just a ploy: It makes beds look comfy in the showroom. If you notice a difference, mazel tov, but thickness isn't vital to a good bed. You can achieve the same feel with less height (and weight—some mattresses weigh more than 200 pounds and are tough to carry up the stairs).

Mattresses have gotten so thick recently that people are complaining they can't see their headboards. Actual industry response: They made the box-springs thinner. Which of course leads us to ...

Box Springs: I find them wholly unnecessary. Think about it: Presumably, you could put a box spring under your box spring for even more "give" and "support." Another box spring under those two. Where do you draw the line? Also, remember that box springs add significantly to your cost. One reasonable argument I heard for them is that they save wear on your mattress, but I had no way to prove or disprove this.

Many Europeans use platform beds without box springs. Do you hear them complaining? I don't use a box spring, and I don't miss it. It's a princess/pea thing. If you need 17 layers, OK. If you only need one, don't buy a box spring, unless you don't like platforms and can't think of anything better to put your mattress on. My recommendation: Put your mattress on the floor—it saves money on nightstands. Give in to gravity!

Illustration by Nina Frenkel

Is a Firm Mattress Best for My Back? I asked an orthopedic surgeon at something called the National Foundation for Spinal Health. He said a mattress should support you in the "position of function"—the normal curve of your spine when you're standing up. When a mattress flattens the curve (too firm), or exaggerates it (too soft), bingo: back pain. According to him, a supportive innerspring works better than foam, air, or water. The NFSH recommends: the Simmons Back Care mattress. Problem solved, let's go home, yes? No! I soon discovered the NFSH takes money from companies, including, especially, Simmons! Sketchy! Next orthopedic surgeon, please.

This second guy was independent and no longer practicing. He debunked the myth that firm mattresses are best. They are if you get acute back spasms, but for regular back pain your mattress doesn't make much difference. "The back is a complicated structure," he said. "Back pain has a lot to do with how you're built, but not a lot to do with your mattress." So you don't have to feel guilty about buying a soft, cushy mattress. It doesn't make a difference. (Regional trivia: Firm mattresses sell more in the Northeast [you penitent yankees, you!], while soft wins out in the South.)

 

Do I Need All Those Extra Features?

No. Screw 'em. For instance ...

 

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.