The hunt for the perfect mattress

When I can't sleep, I blame red wine, lack of exercise, caffeine after noon or being stressed out. My mind never goes to my mattress. Still, it is an alluring fantasy to believe that with the right mattress it wouldn't matter how much wine I drank, how little I exercised or how stressed out I was — I would still sleep like a baby, my spine would realign and I would awake every day refreshed, beautiful and rejuvenated. My mattress could be the acupuncture, spa treatment and Ambien of my sleep world.

Not likely, sleep experts say.

Mattresses: In the June 23 Saturday section, an article about mattresses misspelled the name of the mattress company that Earl Kluft bought. The name is Aireloom, not Airloome.

"There is zero research to support claims that mattresses promote sleep or better sleep," said Dr. Alon Avidan, associate professor of neurology and director of UCLA's Sleep Disorder Center, a new state-of-the-art sleep laboratory. "Anecdotally, I have patients who have rheumatoid arthritis or low back pain who claim orthopedic foam mattresses feel a lot better, but this is just subjective. No one has done any studies."

Still, step into the world of bedding and you would never know it.

Pseudo-science and doctors' testimonials would have you believe that we are all sleep-deprived princesses, looking for new technologies to get rid of our metaphorical peas. Technology in bedding is becoming as advanced as that of running shoes or rockets, with an explosion of gels, foams, latex and assorted materials harvested from organic rubber plantations and rare sheep around the globe, being molded, refined and patented by innovators and entrepreneurs to provide night after night of perfect, deep sleep.

I knew a mattress wouldn't solve any health complaints, but could a better mattress make me happier?

In a fit of curiosity, my husband and I put on comfortable clothes one Saturday and set out to find the perfect new mattress.


Our first stop was Palmpring, a South Korean company that reportedly has a cult following among celebrities, politicians and other elites in its home country. Founded in 1997 by Korean businessman Dae-seob Kim, Palmpring opened its flagship store in Los Angeles last summer, near Lafayette Park. The Palmpring is all-natural, manufactured in India and will appeal to sleepers with green leanings or allergies. The key to the Palmpring is its internal layer of organic coconut fiber, known as coir, which is mixed with all-natural latex. The fiber comes from the outer shell of the coconut. The hairy husks are recycled, then mixed with resin from organic rubber trees and processed using the Dunlop method (that's right, the same one used for tires and tennis balls). This new material is molded into cubes and cut like a big crispy rice cereal square and forms the part of the mattress that has historically been occupied by springs. This technological leap was the brainchild of Kim, who 20 years ago worked for a fabric company to produce "needle-punched coir pads" to cover the springs inside mattresses. As he was working, he got an idea: Replace the metal springs completely with the coir to create an all-natural mattress.

This coir pad is then alternated with layers of spongy, 100% organic latex harvested from Indian rubber trees. Depending on the firmness you prefer, you could choose pure coir, one layer of coir and one layer of latex, or the 2way, 3way or 4way. (Men, don't get excited — it is just mattress layers). When Palmpring began going to industry shows in the United States, Camilla Kim, the founder's daughter, found that Americans preferred plush. And so the company has introduced the Puri, with two layers of latex atop the coir, to accommodate softer American tastes. The Palmpring mattress latex layer has holes of different sizes and spacing designed to hold the body's "seven zones" and align the spine in sleep.

What does this mattress offer the sleeper? Palmpring believes that its mattresses offer comfortable cushioning and perfect support and that they are healthful because only certified natural and organic materials are used. Camilla Kim says there is a lot of "off-gassing" from unnatural chemical materials in many mattresses, which attacks your body when it is in its most vulnerable state: sleep. She sleeps on a 4way and has been using it for 14 years.

Sealy Optimum

The Optimum, launched in April by Sealy Posturepedic, marries the high-performance, temperature-regulating gel of shoes, undergarments and gloves with the contour-hugging qualities of memory foam to create something mattress aficionados claim is totally new. Gel hit the mattress market in 2011 but has seen a surge in popularity this year, with multiple companies releasing memory foam products infused with gel.

Gel memory foam mattresses are the product of choice for the market's early adopters, says Jamie Piper, senior director of marketing for Sealy. "The consumers we see are looking for something new and different."

Memory foam mattresses came onto the market about 20 years ago, offering a unique feel when compared with traditional ones. With a traditional mattress, a sleeper lies on top of it; with memory foam, the mattress contours to the lines of a sleeper's body, the way an expensive running shoe molds to a foot. Memory foam quickly found fans: About 15% of the market is now memory foam mattresses. But memory foam sleeps hot. So, in the latest tweak to the technology, Sealy and other mattress makers have injected gel into the foam to keep it cool — in the Optimum, the bottom layer is gel fused with memory foam.

The gel memory foam is quick release, meaning it springs back into place five to 10 seconds after you get out of bed, without leaving a permanent sink hole. Sealy has tested it: A robot shaped and weighted like the heavy lower part of the human body has tried out the bed like a person — sitting down, lying down, sitting up, standing up — thousands of times to simulate the sleep of humans over the course of years.

What does this mattress offer sleepers? Sealy believes that its OptiCool memory gel gives customers "the optimum temperature for deep, restorative sleep." Company marketing director Jamie Piper sleeps on Sealy's luxury line Stearns & Foster mattress; she has a Sealy Posturepedic Optimum in her guest bedroom.