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Selecting A New Mattress

Sleep is precious. It heals our body and mind, and refreshes us like nothing else. For some it's often elusive but definitely essential to our survival. The experts tell us we spend approximately 30% of our lives sleeping; yet we take it so much for granted until we can't sleep.

In the development of Bad Backs new bedding range we've spent several months researching and assessing the different types of mattresses, and this article includes some of our research that should help simplify your purchasing decision.

Purchasing a new mattress is arguably one of the most difficult consumer products to buy and equally as difficult for the Bad Backs R & D team to select a range for our discerning customers. There are a number of different types of mattresses from which to choose, including inner spring, latex, visco-elastic (memory foam), water, air-fill, foam and futons. Ultimately, personal preference should determine what mattress is best. There is simply no single mattress style or type that works for everyone.

After spending several months researching various mattress types both in Australia and overseas we have chosen 2 types of surfaces - visco-elastic (memory foam) and latex. We believe they provide the latest in innovation and greatest support, comfort and value. And ideal for use on a solid foundation or an adjustable bed.

When do I need a new Mattress?

Its probably time to buy a new mattress if you're waking up tired, stiff and sore, your current mattress is lumpy or saggy and more than a decade old. And you're more likely to enjoy the bed you finally choose if you take as much time as you need to do your homework.

Road Testing

  • Only try a few different mattress at any one time.
  • Lie on them for at least 10 minutes, and then more than half an hour on your preferred choice.
  • Lay in the various positions that you prefer to both sleep and relax in.
  • If you share a bed, make sure you both lie on the mattress together in your usual sleeping positions.
  • When you lie on your back it should be supported in a slight curve, without a gap between the mattress and your back.
  • When you lie on your side, the mattress should hold your spine straight.
  • A mattress should offer firm and comfortable support that allows you to roll over with relative ease.
  • A solid foundation acts as a giant shock absorber, taking the normal wear and tear of nightly use. Foundations also lend added support, durability and, in the case of adjustable beds, flexibility.
  • Think comfort, support, durability, space and base.
  • Shop for the best value and quality of the mattress rather than for price
  • Shop at a reputable store, one you know and trust to give you good information, service and top quality. Select a store known for its customer satisfaction.
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Here is part of our research on Visco-Elastic (memory foam) and latex foam mattresses.

All About Memory Foam(Visco-Elastic)

Memory foam literally revolutionised mattress manufacturing when it commercialized NASA space research 'visco-elastic' technology. The new innovative properties of visco-elastic support the body in its most natural state and accommodate the body's curves and movements to relieve pressure and ensure a deep, restful sleep.

What gives foam a 'memory' is certain types of materials (polyols) added to a synthetic polyurethane. With the addition of these materials, a non-toxic visco-elastic foam material is created, which increases the density of the foam.

In most cases memory foam mattresses are made with two separate components. The first is the top visco-elastic foam layer and the second is a core made from a high density, traditional foam. The two materials combine to produce a sleeping surface that's comfortable and the ability to contour to any shape or size placed upon it.

Grading Foam

For material to be visco elastic it must be temperature sensitive and have the ability to rebound fairly quickly and return to its original shape.

Memory foam is graded by its visco-elastic nature, and its durability, by grading it down into the following grading system:

Weight (Density in pounds per square foot)

The weight of 'foam' is determined by the amount and quality of the raw materials used in the composition of the polyurethane foam. The more materials, the higher the density and so more visco-elastic it will become. This density will not determine the hardness/softness of the material. This is done through utilizing the ILD rating structure. Many memory foam mattresses use a 4 or 5lb density, but some use as low as 2 or 3 lb densities.

ILD Rating (Indentation Loan Deflection)

Image: Note the impression of the hand.

The ILD rating is going to tell you how hard or soft a material is. The 25% ILD rating is the number of pounds required to achieve a 25% compression of a 4" thick foam using a 50 square inch indentation. Eg... 20lb ILD foam indicates that this material took 20lbs of pressure to indent this foam 25%. Keep in mind the higher the ILD, the firmer the foam.

Health Benefits

Memory foam mattresses help alleviate many of the aches and discomforts that affect the more sensitive areas of the body and are frequently recommended for those who suffer from backache, aching joints, sciatica, tension and headaches.

Memory foam mattresses are hypoallergenic, anti-bacterial, and resistant to moisture build up, mould and dust mite. And so ideal for people with allergies and asthma.

Sleeping on a memory foam mattress is said to produce a feeling similar to weightlessness. This results from the even distribution of the body's weight by the memory foam.

Memory foam today is the USA's preferred choice for quality mattresses.

What is the initial smell associated with memory foam?

While memory foam does not contain toxic ingredients, it can have an odour that may stay for a few days. For those people sensitive to smells, manufacturers suggest airing out the room and wash the sheets after the first couple of nights. Air fresheners on a night stand may also help nullify the smell.

Will a mattress topper do the job?

Deciding on whether you need a new mattress or mattress topper should be simple. If your current mattress has not lost is integrity and solidness, then a topper may be just the savings that you are looking for. But if the mattress and / or base are lumpy, sagging, or too soft, a mattress topper will not provide the correct support.

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Spring Mattress vs Memory and Latex Foam

While a spring mattress was the standard for many years, memory and latex foam are becoming more and more popular due to their high level of comfort and overall body support. While spring mattresses can feel nice to sit and lay on, they will not offer anywhere close to the body contouring and spinal support that memory or latex foam can offer.

Feeling hot!

In the past this was more of a problem than it is today. Foam, by nature, tends to hold heat next to our body and thus creates a hot feel. Most of the memory foam manufacturers today produce the visco-elastic with an open ventilation cell structure, so you should not get that feeling with the better mattresses.

Memory Foam versus Latex Foam

There are many similarities between memory foam mattresses and latex foam mattresses. However, latex foam mattresses are usually much firmer and springier than a memory foam mattress. Some individuals may prefer a latex foam mattress versus a memory foam mattress just for this reason. However, memory foam will not push up against your body as you rest.

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All about Latex Foam

Latex Development

Latex is just natural rubber that is made from the sap of the actual rubber tree. Approximately 30-40% of the milk is latex and must be extracted prior to undergoing the process of pouring and curing.

Early natural latex would vary in consistency and quality because there were no standards for how much of what was tapped from the rubber tree was used.

Development of the latex mattress is the result of a long line of innovations in rubber technology, including the discovery of vulcanization (process to strengthen and increase resiliency of natural rubber) in the early 1800s, followed in the 1920's by E.A Murphy's (scientist for the Dunlop company) discovery of how to create the necessary bubbles to establish the first latex foam.

The newly created latex foam rapidly grew in popularity in a range of products.

Prior to World War 2 most latex used in producing products was natural. But with restricted access to latex during the war, scientists developed a synthetic polymer that behaved in a similar manner.

Production Methods

When it comes to the production of latex mattresses, two main processes are used. The Dunlop process, which is the oldest form of latex processing still used today, and the Talalay process, which is a newer process. Both processes offer advantages, and in many cases, the production method is simply a matter of personal preference for consumers.

In the Dunlop method the latex milk is first whipped and poured into a mould. It's then covered and heated until it vulcanizes (treated with sulphur at a high temperature in order to increase its elasticity and strength). During the heating process, the naturally occurring sediments in the latex settle at the bottom, resulting in foam that is denser on the bottom than on the top. Dunlop latex is denser, more durable and springier than Talalay latex and more suited to people looking for a firm mattress.

In the Talalay process, only a small amount of latex compound is poured into the mould. Air is extracted to perfectly distribute the foamed liquid inside the mould, and to create a consistent round, open cell structure. The mattress core is then flash frozen, resulting in an 'airier' latex. Carbon Dioxide is then introduced to cause the mixture to gel. Finally, the latex is vulcanized (treated with sulphur at a high temperature in order to increase its elasticity and strength) until it has cured through. If you are looking for a softer mattress then consider one made with Talalay latex.

Some manufacturer's producing cheaper latex add fillers such as clay to make the latex go further, and so a quality product will come at a higher price.

So in addition to 2 different kinds of latex to choose from (natural or synthetic - all latex is either a blend of the two or 100% natural latex), you also need to determine which method of production (Dunlop or Talalay) to choose from as well.....or simply choose what feels the most comfortable.

What is 'zoning' in a latex mattress?

Zoning is when a mattress is staged in different densities to cater for different areas of your body. For example a mattress needs to be softer over your shoulder area and firmer over your lower back where you need more support.

Image: Note the different zones within the mattress

Zoning is not always included in latex mattresses.

Latex Foam - Health Benefits

The most important benefit of a Latex mattress is its body contouring ability which, like memory foam, allows it to adopt the shape of the person sleeping on it. It relieves pressure points allowing for better circulation and in turn reduces tossing and turning for a deeper, more restful sleep. The independent cell construction is not prone to transfer movement, allowing two people to comfortably share the same bed without disrupting each other.

They have an excellent lifespan.

Latex foam is naturally anti-microbial and resistant to dust mites, whilst the pin-core design of latex improves breathability of the mattress and reduces moisture build-up. This makes latex ideal for asthmatics, or anyone with allergies or breathing problems, and stays cool in summer and warm in winter.

Latex foam mattresses today are Europe's most popular choice in bedding.

Ultimately the goal is to be well informed about the choices available to ensure you find the right bedding to suit your needs.

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