The tall tale of the princess that complained about feeling the presence of a pea through several layers of mattress does illustrate the fact that it has always been a daunting task to satisfy the needs and requirements of all people.  The discovery of REM sleep by Aserinsky and Kleitman in 1953, resulted in the first scientific sleep laboratory to study dreams. Soon, the effect of different beds became apparent and studies expanded into this field. Advanced sleep technology research and development is of vital importance to bed manufacturers and has developed dramatically in recent years. Gone are the days of sleeping on lumpy foam mattresses or coil beds with springs poking in your back!

If you currently need to replace your old bed, or need to cater for expansion in your family, keep in mind that these rapid advances in sleep technology warrants thorough research before investing in that new bed. Particularly so if your last purchase was more than five to ten years ago. The science of sleep technology is aims, amongst others, to assist clients with chronic ailments like back pain, insomnia, and many other sleep disorders. In addition, the goal is to continuously deliver on that promised feeling of being well-rested and energized for the challenges of the new day.

All of this yielded complex new terminology and concepts, which may easily create a sense being overwhelmed by choice. Let us therefore investigate how the ordinary mattress evolved through technological advances in modern mattress manufacturing.  We will also look at and explain the lingo associated with it.

The modern mattress typically has two layers: The core layer, consisting of a coil system that offers essential support; the second layer, the upholstery layer, consists of thick fabric termed ticking, which is the layer that provides that all-important comfort.

THE CORE LAYER

The greatest recent strides in bed design encompass the coil system. It remains part of the main design of the core layer, but has been significantly improved through advances through sleep technology research and development.

Coil-on-coil (one of those new concepts to take note of) refers to a type of luxury innerspring utilised in mattress construction. This second layer of coil lies on top of a bottom layer; the bottom layer boasting a higher coil-count than the upper layer, which provides added support and comfort.

There are two types of springs: Pocketed coils, which are individually wrapped coils encased within the foam; Wrapped coils which are coils wrapped in material and then fixed firmly and deeply in the surrounding foam.

The entire mattress is then wrapped in a thin piece of material called a fire sock. This layer consists of fire inhibiting material designed to melt should the mattress catch fire.  The molten material then smothers the flames. It is made of a combination of fibre, sand and wood pulp.

THE UPHOLSTERY LAYER

Foam mattresses were originally designed to increase blood circulation and to provide discomfort relief at pressure points of the body. There are four types of foam: polyurethane, memory, pure and latex foam.  Pure foam, the latest technology, contains no calcium and is more durable (refer to the new Kooi mattress range).

Polyurethane foam is used in most mattresses. It has the inherent capability to resist body impressions, which are those places that typically collapse under the concentrated weight per square millimetre caused by protruding points of the human anatomy. There are different degrees of polyurethane foam yielding various degrees of firmness and resistance.

A memory foam mattresses also contains polyurethane foam, but in addition to that, contains additional chemicals resulting in a denser product offering superior support. Memory foam possesses an “open cell structure” which reacts to the weight and shape of the human body. The main benefit of memory foam is that it is designed to mould according the shape of a sleeping person, reducing friction and discomfort at pressure points.  It allows for a straighter spine when a person is sleeping on her side, which in turn has been shown to alleviate back and shoulder pain.

Latex foam consists of natural, blended or synthetic components. Latex is a sap which is tapped from the rubber tree and then processed into rubber. It has mechanical properties that make it stronger, more flexible and resistant to wear and tear.

The latest in advances in technology yielded graphite latex. Graphite, a compound added to mattresses to help keep it at normal room temperature, is also a good fire retardant. Avena foam is a patented foam with the same properties of latex foam, but it gives a mattress extra bounce.

Pure foam mattresses differ from memory foam in that it contains no calcium and other chemicals, which provide more support.  In stead, pure foam mattresses are compressed after manufacture, into a super thin product for packaging and shipping. When the mattress is extracted from its packaging, it returns to its pre-packaged volume, but this compression and then decompression yields a mattress that retains its shape and superior support, regardless of pressure points, for a long time.  It is the latest and preferred type of mattress. The latest range of Kooi beds is the only current product offering this technology.

 

KNOW THE LINGO

Due to constant research and development, manufacturers have to develop new terms when it comes to describing the support and comfort of the modern bed. This is what it all means:

Convoluted support foam refers to an advanced support foam produced by a machine containing rotating metal teeth, which creates a column-type system within foam. It is designed to improve cooling, breathability and provide deep compression support.

There are two types of deflection often mentioned when talking about mattresses.  These are Indentation deflection force (IDF) and Indentation load deflection (ILD). Both refer to a scoring system rating the firmness of the foam; the lower the score, the softer the mattress. A high score implies a foam that is very hard.

A hybrid mattress refers to a mattress that incorporates a variety of the foam types mentioned above, with the aim of maximizing support and comfort, as well as minimizing problems that mattresses of days gone by suffered – examples are collapsing or sinking which resulting in back pain and restless sleep.

Pillow top is a term used to describe the padded layer fixed to the top cover of a mattress. It offers added support and all the comfort required from a good bed. This fairly new trend of adding a pillow top to a bed implies that it eliminates the need to turn a mattress as was the case in the old days. In fact, most modern mattress does not require turning at all.

SUPPORT AND COMFORT

These are probably the most common words found when conducting research on buying a new bed. Support references such features designed into a mattress to keep a person’s spine in near-perfect alignment, reducing back pain and limits friction on pressure points of the human body. Comfort refers the ability of, or the level to which a mattress is capable of wrapping around the body, as well as its ability to respond favourably to the shape of the body and to retain its shape.

A good mattress boasts a high degree of “hug” allowing a person to sink into the mattress settling at a deeper level. Limited “hug” or “sinkage,” causes a sleeping person to ‘float’ at the surface level of the mattress disallowing the benefit offered by the support of the deeper core layer.

Responsiveness is a term often used by mattress experts. This refers to the rate at which a mattress is able to adjust to changes in pressure. It is an important feature, since superior responsiveness implies that a mattress will quickly adjust to accommodate pressure points when a sleeping person changes position. Slow response time is a drawback because it often results in a restless night if it takes too long for a person to settle into a new comfortable position after turning in their sleep.

When test-driving a new mattress, always feel for the right bounce. It refers to a mattress’ response to changes in pressure and how it absorbs and transfers energy back into the direction the pressure came from. It is similar in nature to responsiveness but response time mainly refers to adjusting to changes in position. It is undesirable to have a mattress with too much bounce because it will literally cause a person to bounce around in bed, particularly when your partner moves about during sleep. Memory foam has a lower degree of bounce which is beneficial because it absorbs much of the energy and pressure instead of returning it.

Motion transfer refers to the amount of energy transferred from one part of the mattress to another, and important matter for couples sharing a bed. A low motion transfer factor minimizes the impact of movement of one person which means the other sleeper is not disturbed. If you have a partner who is a restless sleeper, motion transfer is really important when choosing a bed.

Lastly, bed gurus talk about deep compression support. This is how a mattress performs when placed under heavy pressure. Mattresses with deep compression support are thicker and designed with extra layers in different compartments of the core layer. Superior deep compression support is of vital importance for heavier people.