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NUTS AND BOLTS : Adjustables: You Needn't Take Rest Lying Down

September 22, 1990|PATRICK MOTT

When you're in the hospital, you have to take your fun where you can find it. Filling the urine sample beaker with Heineken is always sure-fire, but you can only get away with it once before someone catches on. Daytime TV gets old after approximately 3.5 minutes, and hearing about your roommate's hernia will lose you in less than half that time.

That leaves the electric bed, which, fortunately, is great fun. It gives you an opportunity not only to control your own environment--all but unknown in a hospital--but to act shamelessly self-indulgent.

Back in the days when they used leeches to treat a hangover, the only way you could get propped up in a hospital bed was to scream for burly nurses, who would muscle you around and shove pillows under you. But with an electric adjustable bed, you can wallow in the cushiest couch potato behavior just by manipulating a few buttons.

This sort of thing translates well into a society crazed for electronics of any kind, particularly electronics that encourage sloth. And what better way to be happily indolent than sacking out in a bed that will do all your moving for you?

The whole idea of an electric adjustable bed, of course, is to help you get comfortable, and they do a pretty good job of it. This is important to many people who have arthritis, back problems or other ailments not relieved by sleeping on a conventional bed.

Generally, said Beverly Dove, a sales representative for Electropedic Products, this means people who are in their late 50s or older, but she added that buyers are not limited to that age group. She said she sold beds to three sisters, all in their 30s, who came to her Garden Grove showroom at the same time and bought the beds on the spot.

"We like to consider them luxury items," Dove said. "Not all the people who buy them have health problems. A lot of them just want an adjustable bed."

Being adjustable generally means that the bed raises at the head and at the foot, elevating a person's legs or upper body or both. There are several reasons why this may be desirable, but the overriding one is that by moving the body into different positions, one shifts pressure onto different parts of the body while taking pressure off of others.

Elevating the legs with a bend at the knees, for instance, is supposed to relieve pressure on the lower back and ease pain in that area. It is also supposed to aid circulation. Hiatal hernia sufferers are said to feel better when they elevate both the back and the legs.

You don't have to be in pain, of course. Cranking up the back of the bed is great for reading and watching TV, and it makes breakfast in bed a lot simpler to get down.

(There are, incidentally, limits to the movement of the bed. You can't crank the head and the foot up simultaneously to full vertical and fold yourself in half. That happens to Inspector Clouseau, not to you.)

The bed itself is not radically different from a conventional bed. The springs in the mattress must be individually hinged, however, in order to allow the mattress to conform to every shape the motor can manipulate it into. Several degrees of firmness are available. (A second product line sold in Dove's showroom, made by a company called Sleeper Lounge, uses a latex foam mattress.)

The lift mechanism consists of an electric motor that powers either a system of pulleys or worm gears that raise and lowers the sections of the bed. There is a stopper at the foot of the bed to keep the mattress from shifting when the head of the bed is raised.

There is another mechanism with some models that will be familiar to anyone who ever fed quarters into a box in a motel room that read "Magic Fingers." Electric massage units are available that, at their most basic, vibrate the mattress beneath you.

The people at Niagara Adjustable Beds call their unit Tranquilssage. A sales representative for the company said the massage featured "three-way action" but declined to provide the price of any of the company's beds, saying, in effect, that you have to see them for the price to make sense.

Dove said, however, that Niagara beds tend to be more expensive that the Electropedic line, which starts at about $400 for a twin and goes up to more than $1,800 for a dual king. The dual king is simply two twins placed side by side, each with individual controls, allowing two occupants to fold themselves around separately from their bedmate. (There is also a dual queen size.)

If you've been wanting one of these things for a while, and you've got the money, succumb. If you've always liked things mechanical, you'll probably have a ball winding the thing up and down, and the massage unit may even bring back delightful memories of an otherwise-uninspired motel on Route 66 near Albuquerque.

Besides, the only other way to get a chance to fool around with an adjustable bed is to land in the hospital. Believe me, buying your own is cheaper.

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