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Ahhs in the land of Zzzs

Can improved mattress technology give you a good night's sleep? A writer lies down on the job to find out.

June 23, 2012|Hilary MacGregor
  • Filberto Pesqueira ties coils at a factory where Palais Royale mattresses are hand-made.
Filberto Pesqueira ties coils at a factory where Palais Royale mattresses… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

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 mattress could be the acupuncture, spa treatment and Ambien of my sleep world.

Not likely, sleep experts say.

"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 to provide night after night of perfect, deep sleep.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, June 23, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
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.

In a fit of curiosity, my husband and I set out together 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 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 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 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). Camilla Kim, the founder's daughter, found that Americans preferred plush. And so the Puri has two layers of latex atop the coir, to accommodate softer American tastes.

She sleeps on a 4way.


Sealy Optimum

The Optimum, launched in April by Sealy Posturepedic, marries the temperature-regulating gel of shoes 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, including Serta and Sleep Number.

Gel memory foam mattresses are the product of choice for the market's early adopters, says Jamie Piper, senior director of marketing for Sealy. 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. 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, mattress makers have injected gel into the foam to keep it cool.

The gel memory foam is quick release, meaning it springs back into place five to 10 seconds after you get out of bed.

Company marketing director Jamie Piper sleeps on Sealy's luxury line Stearns & Foster mattress.


Palais Royale

At the upper end of the market is the Palais Royale, a $33,000 (for a king) hand-made mattress that is 15.5 inches thick and layered with the highest quality traditional materials such as wool and cotton and the newest in mattress technology. The Palais Royale combines the artisanal workmanship of a company that still uses the materials and methods it utilized in the 1930s and '40s with a newly patented design that E.S. Kluft & Co. Chief Executive Earl Kluft claims is the first change in mattress construction in millenniums.

"In our industry, there is a lot of marketing hype," said Kluft, a third-generation mattress maker who bought the Airloome mattress company in 2004 and founded E.S. Kluft. "This is the first and only new design patent in [mattress] construction. There is nothing else like it."

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