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Pummeling Mattresses for Science

Pummeling Mattresses for Science: Mattress Facts

"If a bed is too soft, it will sag, and your spine will curve improperly," he says, "but sleeping on a concrete slab will not give you very good spine support either. You need a good, supportive surface that will conform comfortably to your body so that whatever your sleep position, your spine will be aligned. Firm or soft, that's a subjective decision," he says. "But you can have a supportive mattress that is also very plush and soft."

The Quest for a Perfect Mattress

In his quest for the perfect mattress, Barman wields an arsenal of computerized weaponry worthy of NASA techies or Hollywood animation wizards. The snazziest is a system called Motion Capture Analysis, in which an animated computer Image — drawn from sensors placed at key points on a reclining subject's body — allow Sealy researchers to check spinal alignment from any angle and precisely test the conformance of new products and materials.

According to Barman, this kind of cutting-edge technology has made Sealy the industry leader in product innovation, and has added to a dramatic overall advance in mattress technology. New spring designs, he says, have made mattresses quieter and more stable; new high-tech foams and fabrics have made them tougher and more comfortable.

Most importantly, he says, even moderately priced mattresses are now engineered to provide more consistent, more comfortably conformant support for the spine.

"Support for the spine comes from the innersprings," he says. "All our mattresses, from entry level to top of the line, have the same spring system inside. What you pay for, as the price increases, is not better spinal support but more plushness, more upholstery, more longevity and more comfort."

So if you're buying a bed, Barman says your first priority is a mattress with quality springs. He also suggests you pay special attention to your bed set's "foundation," the thing we used to call the box springs, but don't anymore since there's nary a spring in most of them.

"Many foundations today have a rigid construction," he says. "They're less expensive, but they have no give. I'd recommend a better-quality 'sprung' foundation. A good foundation with articulating springs gives you stability, but it also acts as a shock absorber for the bed, and that can double or triple the life of the mattress."

How can you be sure you're getting a quality bed? The simplest way, says Barman, is to realize that you get what you pay for, and you'll get a top-quality queen-size mattress, he says, for as little as $800.

"For that money, you'll get a pretty good product," he says. "Just buy the bed which feels right to you, and buy the best bed you can afford."

The worst thing you can do, says Barman, is to sacrifice quality to save a few bucks. "When you think that you'll be spending a third of your life in bed," he continues, "and that a good mattress should last a minimum of 10 years, it's a pretty cheap investment."