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Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010 09:54 am

Sleep on it

Try before you buy for a great night’s sleep


Do you toss and turn? Do you wake up stiff and sore? Have you slept better elsewhere? It may be time for a new mattress – and finding the perfect fit requires a test drive.    

We spend more than a third of our lives in bed. That’s a lot of use, and an older mattress is likely not giving you the comfort and support you need. The Better Sleep Council, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about the importance of healthy sleep, recommends consumers purchase a new mattress every five to seven years. They remind us that time takes its toll on mattresses, just as it does with home appliances. Sags, lumps, tears and out-of-place springs can wreak havoc on your ability to get comfortable and wake refreshed.  When it stops feeling good it’s time to start shopping.  

Forget about buying a bed from a catalog, ordering from one of those late-night commercials or shopping online. Finding the best mattress for your unique needs requires a hands-on approach.

“Pick three different stores – a department store, a furniture store and a specialty sleep store. At each place, ask to test three different mattresses based on your budget,” says Dale Read, president of the Specialty Sleep Association, a nonprofit advocacy and education association for the mattress and bedding industry. Wear comfortable clothing, and bring your favorite pillow and your sleep partner. Plan to take your time, because a quick toss and turn won’t give you a true feel for the long-term comfort.  “You wouldn’t buy a car without test-driving it first, and a mattress is no different,” Read says. “Lie down for at least 10 minutes to make sure that the mattress is comfortable.”    

Be sure to “rest test” a range of mattress styles:

Air beds.

Air beds look like traditional innerspring mattresses on the outside, but using a hand-held control, you can tailor the pressurized air chambers inside to suit your unique comfort level, from plush to firm.

Flotation beds.

These modern waterbeds bear little resemblance to their cousins of the past. Most look like traditional innerspring mattresses and can be used with standard bedroom furniture, yet they retain the benefits of the fluid sleep surface that made their predecessors so popular.   

Visco foam beds.

Often called memory foam, this temperature-sensitive material is made up of billions of open cells; picture tiny balloons with holes in them. When you lie down, air moves from one cell to another, allowing the mattress to contour the body and offer unique support. Visco foam also can help reduce allergens, such as dust mites, mold and mildew.   

Latex beds.

Flexible and resilient, latex foam beds also contour the body, providing pressure relief and back support. Derived from the rubber tree, natural latex is breathable, so it stays cool in summer and warm in winter. It’s also antimicrobial and resistant to dust mites.

“There are so many choices out there that it can be overwhelming,” Mahoney says.

“Think of a time when you stayed over at a hotel or friend’s house and woke up thinking, ‘Man, I slept great!’ See what kind of mattress that was, and use that as your starting point.” And don’t hesitate to rely on the sales associate to point you in the right direction by asking about your sleep habits and health conditions (like sleep apnea) and your preferred sleeping positions.   There is no one-size-fits-all formula for a great night’s sleep. Size, firmness and materials are a matter of personal preference; focus on finding a mattress that allows your body to relax comfortably, naturally and quickly.

“A good night’s sleep affects everything from our emotional capability to our physical performance, and conversely, we all know what a bad night’s sleep can do,” Mahoney says.