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Monday, March 02, 2009

A worthy experiment (Part 1)

Over the last few years I've been having recurring and increasingly painful problems with my back.  Some of this can obviously be blamed on not getting enough exercise and being a bit [~cough~] overweight.  However, over the past five or six years I have become convinced that a good chunk of the blame can be laid directly at the feet (foot?) of my bed. 

About a week ago, I downloaded a nifty computer program (sorry PC people, only available for Mac) called Dream Recorder.  The program is designed to use your laptop and web-cam to monitor your sleep cycles in order to know when you are in the various stages of sleep and when is the optimal time to wake you.  But honestly, if I had an electron microscope I wouldn't be able to locate my interest in those things.  What drew me to this program is that it monitors how often you change position during the night.  For me, this is the single biggest indicator of how comfortable the mattresses are and how good a night's sleep one is getting.

So I downloaded the free trail version of the program, forced myself to go to bed at a reasonable time, and let it record me throughout several nights of (apparently) fitful sleep.  Not only do I toss and turn dozens of times per night, but the built in noise detector revealed something I had never known about myself; I snore!  Who knew?!  I sound like a freaking Harley being ridden through a drainage pipe!!!!

So, armed with this new (and irrefutable) data, I decided that the time had finally come to look into new mattresses

Most people spend about a third of their lives asleep... and even more of that time in bed when one factors in TV watching, reading and other, ahem, popular indoor activities.  Yet for most people, the bed itself is almost an afterthought when it comes to the budget we allow ourselves when furnishing our homes. 

Obviously I'm not talking so much about university students and young adults starting out in their first apartments.  With that crowd, beds, like most of the other furniture, are generally hand-me-downs from family or friends... or sometimes even from the previous occupants (ewwww).

But when we get married or buy our first real home, we generally give more thought to the decorative aesthetics of the bed-frame and linens than to the mattresses... and we tend to forget that, unlike other furniture, mattresses don't become 'classic' with age.

When Zahava and I got married almost 18 years ago, we got a lot of help from our parents in purchasing and furnishing our first home.  Although some of the stuff in our first place was hand-me-down (albeit really good hand-me-down... Danish modern couch, antique secretary and cedar chests, etc.), when it came to our bedroom furniture, we were told, "buy better than you can really afford... we'll help you out". 

And we did: Solid maple Thomasville dressers, armoire and headboard... and two top-of-the-line, extra long twin, Sealy mattresses and box springs *.

But somewhere along the line we did what most people do... we forgot that the mattresses are not really furniture and that they require periodic replacing.  Exactly what that periodicity is depends on the quality of your mattress... and your tolerance for poor sleep and back pain. 

By all rights we really should have trashed our old mattresses when we made aliyah almost six years ago.  But like most new olim, we were fixated on all the shiny new appliances we were going to 'need', and well, mattresses sort of fell off our radar... and our priority list.

Until recently when I realized that my mattress was literally killing me!  

So Zahava and I decided we needed new mattresses.  But what kind?  I grew up with the 'firmer is better' lie, and you can see where that got me.  I'd also had several occasions in my life to sleep on water-beds... and hated the sensation. Which left the middle ground occupied by the uber-expensive visco-foam mattresses.

Yesterday I picked up the phone and called an Israeli company called Comfort Living (full disclosure: one of the nice folks who advertises on this site) and ordered two new mattresses made of the same 'Visco-Elastic Memory Foam' as the super-duper high end US and European beds I've been lusting after for years.  And the price? Surprisingly reasonable!  Really!!

The new beds haven't arrived yet, but when they do, I plan on continuing with my semi-scientific home sleep-experiment to measure...

... If I toss and turn less.

... If my back starts feeling better.

... If I feel more rested in the morning.

Sadly, I doubt there is much even a fancy new mattress can do about my snoring.  But since Zahava has never mentioned it to me, I'm not sure she's even aware of that particular problem. 

[ducks and runs from the room]

* If you are familiar with Jewish laws concerning 'family purity', you already know why we have two twin mattresses.  If not, an equally good reason is that we're both very restless sleepers, and side-by-side twins are much less disruptive to one's bed partner when you keep very different waking hours and schedules.

Posted by David Bogner on March 2, 2009 | Permalink


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Ordering a mattress without even the 5 minute test? Pretty brave.

If I wake up multiple times during the course of the night, I know that the mattress is pretty bad/uncomfortable. When my mattress back home was replaced, I found myself unable to get a decent night's sleep, and every morning I woke up with back pain. A swap from that mattress to the softest one available (pillow top) made all the difference in the world. After that, it was much harder to get up in the mornings!

Posted by: tnspr569 | Mar 2, 2009 4:39:39 PM

Over the last two years we've changed all the mattresses in the house. All of them are the pillow top versions. Yes, everyone is sleeping better. But there is an added expense--those pillow tops are lots deeper than the old style mattresses and none of the sheets fit the new mattresses. Something to keep in mind when you're looking for new mattresses.

Posted by: Prof K | Mar 2, 2009 5:03:49 PM

We replaced our 12 year old mattress 2 years before we made aliyah. We bought a really firm mattress that is huge and high, we have to climb into the bed. I love it, but 4 years later, I already feel it aging....and doubt we'll ever able to afford a new mattress of the same quality :(

When Isaac's weight is down the snoring is significantly less...just sayin'.

Posted by: Baila | Mar 2, 2009 5:06:01 PM

tnspr569... It doesn't require much bravery when they have the following policy posted on their site: "Return Policy: 14 Day Trial - If you are not 100 percent satisfied, we provide a full refund with exception of a minimal re-stocking fee to cover return shipping and re-upholstering". You can't ask for more fair than that!

Prof K... The other edge of that sword is the fact that we had extra long twins. To get any other size would have meant not only all new linen, but also new box-springs and frames. Luckily, the mattresses we ordered will take our old sheets without a problem. The pillow top mattresses you are talking about are essentially a normal mattress with an extra layer of soft padding on top. That is why the old sheets wouldn't fit.

Baila... Yeah, I know. I'm trying.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 2, 2009 5:10:42 PM

I'm curious to see how your experiment will turn out. I, too, suffer from stiffness and pain in my back when I awaken (unless I medicate before bed) and I'm carrying too much weight since I had a back injury in the early 90's. I have been toying with the idea of getting the air mattresses (I think the brand here in the States is SelectComfort) which have adjustable softness/hardness on each side, but the "Visco-Elastic Memory Foam" has always intrigued me too.


Posted by: ProphetJoe | Mar 2, 2009 5:30:47 PM

Btw, found your site through Rahel (Elms in the Yard) whom I discovered through Robert Avrech at Seraphic Secret.

Posted by: ProphetJoe | Mar 2, 2009 5:32:18 PM

We replaced our mattresses a few years ago - my wife's is a pillow top, but I find it uncomfortable, so I sleep on a much firmer mattress. Yes, they are different heights, so I have a board under mine to make their tops level when they are together.

But, if you are snoring and tossing, your problem may well be sleep apnea, not a bad mattress. You'd have to have a sleep study to verify that.

Posted by: Russ | Mar 2, 2009 5:42:11 PM

But you know that bedding is only one possible source for back problems, right?
You have a job where you spend lots of time sitting, that's a major factor, and you hardly balance that through sports or back muscle training.

About feeling rested in the morning; taking into account that you're a horrible snorer (as per your own specs!), you may want to look into stopping the snoring and improve breathing while you're sleeping. Sleep apnea of some form might also be a clue. That in turn is something a good pillow can help to fix.

Twin mattresses are good not only because of what you have already said, but they allow for each to choose the mattress their back needs. There is nothing more silly than the "partner look" in mattresses.

Last, never least, there are some surprisingly helpful anti-snoring tongue stripes on the market here, which you stick to your velum before sleep (like these breath refreshing sheets that melt on the tongue). It dissolves quickly, tastes like mint, and stops snoring. And then there are several foam formulas which you have to apply to the velum, but I guess it's not for the faint of heart.
Because even if one is not consciously aware of the other's snoring, it's a huge factor in getting a good sleep, because we record noise while sleeping, which affects the level of relaxation.

Hey, do I sound like your family doc now. :/

Posted by: a. | Mar 2, 2009 5:50:25 PM

....revealed something I had never known about myself; I snore! Who knew?! I did! I DID! I sound like a freaking Harley being ridden through a drainage pipe!!!!




Posted by: zahava | Mar 2, 2009 5:56:47 PM

I can never sleep well when I am sleeping on a bad mattress, which usually happens when I am a guest at someone else's home. But I bought a new bed 2.5 years ago when I moved to NY and I love it!

Posted by: Sara K | Mar 2, 2009 6:12:56 PM


Zahava, you must be his wife! I have sleep apnea and my wife says I snore too... your reply sounds *just* like her comments to me!


Posted by: ProphetJoe | Mar 2, 2009 6:21:47 PM

1) In the immortal words of Terry Pratchett: "A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores."

2) If you have not listened to a classic radio comedy sketch known as "The Bickersons" starring Don Ameche and Francis Langford, then you must.

3) I second (third?) the motion that you look into sleep apnea if you have not done so already.

Posted by: efrex | Mar 2, 2009 7:16:40 PM

Sounds like a decent policy, but I hate being charged any fees whatsoever for returns/exchanges. I always seem to get screwed over by places that charge such fees whenever I order from them. When I exchanged my mattress, we only had to pay the difference between the price of the two mattresses - I think. Hopefully your new mattresses are as comfortable as expected!

Now has Zahava never mentioned the snoring problem or do you simply not recall it being mentioned? :-P

Posted by: tnspr569 | Mar 2, 2009 10:12:05 PM

You will not regret this purchase!
Another good investment might be a professional office chair. If your back is killing you, you proabably need to look at your posture when sitting at the computer, as this is the real killer these days. I know it made a real difference for me...

Posted by: FT | Mar 2, 2009 10:34:18 PM

'Visco-Elastic Memory Foam' Sounds good! Which makes me think that our matress needs replacing too.
Keep us updated please.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Mar 2, 2009 11:37:22 PM

You snore and toss and turn. Do you wake up refreshed? Have you ever thought of going to a sleep clinic?

Posted by: hjs | Mar 3, 2009 4:02:42 AM

Um, David... maybe it's time for you to get a sleep study?

I hear adenoid issues run in the family...

Posted by: uberimma | Mar 3, 2009 5:57:36 AM

i read this and my first thought was sleep apnea. but you may also want to explore RLS - sometimes that gives you bad sleep too. some people are snorers, just who they are.

but a new mattress is always a good thing, and as a fellow back pain sufferer, i empathise with your pain.

Hugs from frozen Montreal.

Posted by: Hadassah | Mar 3, 2009 6:41:35 AM

As regards snoring, many years ago I did some research on the internet, and ordered a Makura buckwheat pillow. When my husband uses it properly (dent in middle which supports the neck) he hardly snores. It made a huge difference.

Posted by: Caroline | Mar 3, 2009 8:09:36 AM

My husband finally got around to having a sleep study done after I spent a year sleeping in the guest room. He now has a CPAP machine to help his apnea and snoring and while it makes a noise, it's much more bearable than the snoring. (Just as an aside, if you're with Macabbi, you need to take the paperwork you get from your ENT to your GP and then get the Hitchayvut for a sleep study).

And as others have said, it's not just a factor of what you sleep on, but HOW you sleep... I find I often wake up (even when I'm not 38 weeks pregnant) after sleeping in the same position for sometimes as little as an hour or if I'm totally exhausted, I'll get 3-4 hours and wake up with my arm or leg numb... and it's that pain that wakes me up.

Posted by: Devo K | Mar 3, 2009 11:31:49 AM

Want to get in the habit of rotating/buying mattresses regularly? Want any suggestions about what topic(s) you should look into to strengthen your resolve to develop the new habit?

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Mar 4, 2009 9:11:15 AM

I would suggest that you look into better chairs and the height of your desk as well, especially if the back pain is in the lower area. Seems to be a growing problem and I believe it has a lot to do with our posture, the type of chair, etc.

As for a mattress, the Sleep Number bed is supposed to be excellent, though I don't know how it works if you need it to be a twin (because you can control each side of the bed but that's different from your reason why you have separate beds.)

Posted by: jaime | Mar 5, 2009 7:59:41 AM

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