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THOMPSON: The art of choosing a new mattress

July 26, 2021 - 12:00 PM



When you’re 18 you can sleep anywhere…in a hammock…on a board…on the ground. At some age — maybe 40, 50 or 60 — your body simply says, “No more!” And at that point, even $5,000 sounds perfectly reasonable to spend on something to sleep on.

Certainly when you’re 70…picking a mattress that works for you is like picking numbers on Lotto Max…you might get lucky! You’ve already reconciled to the fact that you’re going to spend more money on a bed…than your first new car.

You’d think spending too much money for a mattress might be the final hurdle…that everything else would be easy. But, no, my friend…no such luck.

I’ve bought lots of beds over the years. Not once was I ever remotely excited, enthused or even mildly happy about the process. We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping, and I fully understand that a good night’s sleep is impossible without a good bed.

But unlike most other pursuits…coming home with the right bed, well, it rarely happens with me. It used to be you bought a bed by going to a store…listening to the I-used-to-be-a-car-salesman patter of a former-car-now-mattress expert…trying out a few mattresses on display…and proclaiming like Goldilocks, “This one’s just right.”

You can still buy a mattress this way. Of course, you can buy a mattress online, too. Indeed, there are more ways to buy mattresses, and more different types of mattresses than ever.

There are at least 13 - count them - 13 types of mattresses: airbeds, inner-spring, Futons, Gel-Infused foam, wrapped coils, latex, memory-foam, pillow-top, Purple Smart Comfort Grid, waterbeds, hybrid innerspring, hybrid latex, hybrid memory-foam. Within those types there are - and I’m not kidding - hundreds of brand variations…even industry-designation mattresses… like “hotel” and “hospital” certified mattresses.

Nothing we buy as consumers has this many choices…nothing. It all seems a little odd…shouldn’t soft, medium and firm work? Shouldn’t some independent group simply rank the 13 x hundreds of choices? Believe me, it’s hard to get a straight answer on what’s the best mattress. Regardless, whether you buy in-store or online…your chances of buyers’ remorse are about the same.

Almost all mattress sellers offer free returns and money-back guarantees. However, these rarely work smoothly. There’s lots of fine print. You usually have to keep the original packaging…and trying to put, say, memory-foam that has expanded back into the tiny box…impossible.

The other odd thing about mattresses and beds…they seem to have grown in height over the years. Either that or I’m starting to shrink…an inevitability I’m not willing to face for at least another ten years.

Currently, I take a not-quite-run at the bed before launching myself in a “Fosbury Flop” over the edge of the bed…about 36 inches high. Those who do not remember Dick Fosbury…he won the Gold Medal in the high jump in the 1968 Olympics with an innovative if not odd looking backwards projection over the crossbar.

This technique is made all the more difficult in our B.C. home by the placement of a nine-foot Grizzly Bear skin rug on the floor. So, my almost insurmountable bed is guarded by something with twenty 5-inch long claws and a mouth with about - by my count - 42 sharp teeth. I really should look into what kind of life insurance policy my wife has on me.

My sister, Ruth, a reasonable woman with a long record of giving advice worthy of consideration, suggested a king-size bed with a split mattress…one that can be adjusted to my wife’s desire for a softer mattress…and one for me that is firmer. This sounded like the answer I was looking for…a solution…price be damned.

The mattress maker - Sleep Number - gets you excited. It implies that you simply dial up a number for your side…another number for your sleep mate…voila!  I should have known…it’s not that easy.

It turns out Sleep Number offers six different king-size beds, four of them split. That’s the first decision. Then, there are three “series” of mattresses…Classic, Performance, Innovation…and sticking out like my big toe that I often hit at night getting up to pee…one simply named Memory Foam.

How can you not want Classic? But what about Performance? And who doesn’t love Innovation? As for Memory Foam…who knows?

As you read this no decision has been made about our next mattress. That didn’t bother me, too much, until my wife, Bonnie, looked up from reading last night and asked, “What kind of pillows do you want?”

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.

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