When zzz's are worth the $$$$$
People who own foam mattresses say they offer sweet sleep, sweet relief
LANGSTON WERTZ JR.
* Blog | Give foam a try?
When former Carolina Panthers quarterback Frank Reich left the NFL seven years ago, he retired with an unwelcomed penalty: excruciating back pain.
Reich was considering risky back surgery when he heard about 74-year-old Pineville furniture dealer Charles Tyndall.
For five years, Tyndall has sold a custom-made memory foam mattress and boxspring called the Tyndall-Pedic. Many area residents say it gives them relief from pain like Reich's -- and others say it's helped them sleep better.
After a few weeks with his new mattress, Reich was feeling good enough to play golf for the first time in three years.
"It's hard to believe that my back pain is gone. This is so amazing to me," Reich said.
There's no science to back it up, but plenty of customers like Reich are true believers in foam, which conforms to the body where traditional mattresses wrap cloth around coiled metal springs that push against the body for support.
Today, foam mattresses are a fast-growing segment in the worldwide bedding industry, which accounts for more than $13 billion annually, according to the World Mattress Industry Report.
The foam has its origins in the NASA space program, developed to help astronauts relieve G-force pressures in space travel.
The customer review Web site, epinions.com, has reviews for 91 brands, including Sealy Posturepedic and Simmons, popular spring mattress makers.
Although there are cheaper brands for less than $1,000, most are $2,000 or more. And industry experts say, like with traditional mattresses, you get what you pay for.
Foam mattresses can be made of a solid core or of several layers of different types of foam laminated together.
The higher end models have more of the special visco memory foam on top, which provides body-contouring comfort, and should help increase user life.
Karin Dillner of the International Sleep Products Association said it's especially important for consumers to take time to test a foam mattress before buying.
"When purchasing a mattress," she said, "you should always lie down with your partner, if you have one, in your typical sleeping position for at least 5-10 minutes."
Dillner said often consumers will "just poke and prod" the corner of the mattress and not get a true feel.
"Some people say foam beds tend to sleep `hot' and they don't care for it, while others love it and say it soothes tired, aching muscles," she said. "Some don't notice a temperature change at all. You won't know if you like it until you try it yourself."
Quality can equal pricey
Lexington, Ky.-based Tempur-Pedic is the Kleenex of the foam-bedding segment, accounting for nearly $1 billion in worldwide sales in 2006. In the U.S., Tempur-Pedic sales were up 16 percent last year to $622 million.Tempur-Pedic beds, available in many Charlotte area bedding stores, range from $1,499 to $6,299 for the mattress and foundation. Tempur's most popular version, the DeluxeBed, sells for $2,499. Tyndall-Pedics, which include a memory foam-topped base, range from about $3,000 to $3,900.
Both Tyndall-Pedic and Tempur-Pedic use thick amounts of the visco memory foam at the top of the beds, overtop of regular foam below. This provides comfort, longevity and quality, Tyndall said.
Some foam models, which sell for as little as $800, skip on some of those things.
Tyndall says you see the same thing with traditional mattresses, which can run from $100 to $7,000 depending on size and model.
Tempur-Pedic has a three-month return policy, which amounts to a test drive, so long as you buy directly from the company.
If you don't like it, you can return it for a refund, minus shipping costs -- though it's important to know that the mattresses are very heavy.
Tyndall sells his Tyndall-Pedic bed at his store in Pineville and his new 44,000-square-foot store in Indian Land, S.C., about three miles south of Ballantyne.
He says his foam beds are particularly beneficial for those with chronic pain and other sleep problems.
He says as many as 70 percent of his clients have some type of sleep problem.
"Springs (in mattresses) give you pressure," Tyndall said. "Foam will cradle the body. The man who says coil is the best way has never experienced foam."
Trinity, N.C.-based Sealy Posturepedic has a foam line but has also introduced a latex foam bed. Industry magazine Furniture Today said it expected latex foam bed sales to double next year.
Unlike memory foam, which conforms to your body, latex foam gently pushes back.
Latex foam is breathable and is designed to keep owners warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
Improving on the standard
Tyndall, who's been in the furniture business since 1983, started watching the growing popularity of foam beds around the turn of the century.
He won't reveal everything, but says he drew up designs five years ago with more foam support in the corners than his competition, allowing customers to use every inch of mattress surface. He heard complaints about the foam mattresses retaining heat so he added a material on the top and inside to help control that.
Customers interviewed by the Observer said it works.
Tyndall also offered a full 20-year warranty, minus shipping costs.
Tempur-Pedic, for example, has a 20-year limited warranty. After the 10th year, customers pay a prorated amount.
Tyndall also had his proprietary beds built to different firmness types and offered custom versions where, say, one side could be firm and the other soft. Tempur-Pedic spokesman Mike Mason said his company offers one style of firmness.
Winning over skeptics
Charlotte flight attendant Pauline Thomas said she'd been all over the city trying mattresses last summer when she heard about Tyndall's. She said it didn't take long for her to decide it was the best."And I've slept on tons of beds in my travels," she said. "You sink into it. It was just more comfortable than the other foam beds I tried.
"They were all good. This one is a little better."
South Charlotte chiropractor Steven Jackson bought a foam mattress from Tyndall 19 months ago and had a similar revelation.
"At first, I was thinking, `Maybe I'm just tired,' " said Jackson, of Better Health Chiropractic. "I didn't want to see the hype in all that kind of stuff, but to be honest, it just worked."
What to Consider Before Buying
• Fans say they're more comfortable than springs.
• Precise contouring to body.
• No flipping.
• Less likely to aggravate allergies.
• Price: Twice as much, or more, than most conventional mattresses.
• Heat: Some complain they retain body heat.
• Firmness: Can vary depending on room temperature.
• Durability: Can lose ability to rebound from compression over time.
• Odor: When new (usually found in cheaper models)
• Mattress Buying Guide: bettersleep.org.
Langston Wertz Jr: 704-358-5133